Selling Sovereignty on the Retail Level

"Golden Visas" and the glories of decoupling citizenship from nationalism.


Cutting-edge libertarian-world projects such as Seasteading and Liberland are rooted in the idea of widening competition in sovereignty. They also reflect the idea that the trappings of sovereignty that a globetrotter might value needn't rely on physically inhabiting a particular piece of land.

Liberland wiki

The Atlantic has published a feature focused mostly on the nation of Cyprus' "golden visa." The country essentially sells citizenship to foreign investors "by setting a price on passports," James Bridle writes. "If foreign nationals invest in property above a certain price threshold, they can buy their way into a country—and beyond, once they hold a citizenship and passport."

Given the annoying rules a given country might place around their passport—including being fully up to date on taxes they claim you owe—there are obvious benefits in being free to choose from more than one.

A few nations offer such visas, but Cyprus, being part of the European Union (E.U.), offers an especially valuable set of travel rights. As Bridle points out, in Cyprus the whole transaction, "including acquisition of suitably priced real estate, can be carried out without ever setting foot on the island. The real estate doesn't even have to exist yet—it can be completely virtual, just a computer rendering on a website. All for just 2 million euros, the minimum spend for the citizenship by investment." This is an important development for anyone interested in the advantages of magnifying competition between states.

Some Cypriot politicians are alarmed at the possibilities of bribery and of passing on special benefits to pals in law and property development, so they want to demand that every citizen who buys Cypriot rights be a matter of published public record. "What third-country national, with a good reputation, would object to his or her name being made public once their application is approved?" asks the Cypriot Mail. But as Reason's Matt Welch has reported, dual passport holders have every reason to fear official harassment and might reasonably object to having it flagged that way. (Bridle's story has an interesting detail about the looseness of "sovereignty" for small nations such as Cyprus when faced with the power interests of bigger ones, noting how "At one end of the island, fields of satellite dishes at NSA/GCHQ's Ayios Nikolaos Station keep a close watch on the Middle East; at the other end, across the bay from Limassol, U-2 spy planes and RAF Tornadoes bound for Syria and North Africa roar out over the sea.")

Markets in sovereignty, as some critical of the Cypriot experiment note, can indeed mean that folks with big money will seek tax rules more congenial to them. The Atlantic writes off the current practice as not much more than "an international, distributed version of gentrification"—though some of the practices it discusses, such as Estonia operating portions of its national health care system via blockchain, promise what even Bridle sees as benefits to the less-well-off.

The idea of virtualizing sovereignty has value and importance far beyond any individual's tax bill (not that that tax bill is any of your business, would-be complainer). In a world seeing a resurgence of a hostile, illiberal nationalism based on ancient notions of "blood and soil," it's good to see a growing recognition, and practice, of the idea that the things we want out of being a "citizen" needn't rely on actually standing on a given piece of land, much less having had a sufficient number of ancestors who did.

Encouraging governments to see citizenship as something not imposed on you or attached to you by luck (good or bad) of birth but something they should strive to make attractive to people with a choice in the matter has great potential for making the world a more interesting and freer place.