Redefining “Country”

by Jeff Thomas, International Man

“Will the Emerging Europe become an active participant in the construction of a new international order, or will it consume itself on its own internal issues?”

The quote above is from the book, World Order, by Henry Kissinger.

Of course, Mister Kissinger has been known for decades for his desire to create a New World Order, based loosely on the Westphalian system. On the surface, the quote seems reasonable enough, as he muses over the two choices that are given to mankind in going forward.

As a career diplomat, he offers us a choice between “A” and “B”—order and chaos. But then, every diplomat understands that it’s easier to convince others if “A” and “B” are the only possibilities offered. What he carefully does not suggest is that there are further possibilities.

The world is not at all limited to either an elite control over the entire world or chaos. In fact, in my view, the more choices of different types of countries, the better.

From the point of view of despots, the larger the country, the better it is, as it means increased power and wealth for the despot. From the point of view of the citizen, however, the opposite is true. The smaller the country, the closer the people are to their leaders in every way—and, by extension, the more control they have in the way the country is run.

Additionally, smaller countries have to be a bit more creative in attracting people. If they have no “City of Light,” no “Big Apple”, they may seem less attractive. Smaller also means less industry—certain types of jobs may not be available.


And so, smaller countries have to be more creative if they are to attract people. A case in point is Estonia. Recently, Estonia opened its digital borders. Anyone, anywhere in the world can now open a bank account or start a business there. It’s not necessary that the individual reside there; he can be an e-resident.

E-residents do not necessarily hold work permits, visas, passports, or other paraphernalia of nation-states, but then they don’t need them.

Estonia may be the first country to make this move, but it’s unlikely to be the last. As others create such opportunities, each will have its own twist on the theme.

John Clippinger, a digital identity researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has said, “This is the beginning of the erosion of the classic nation-state hegemony. It’s going to get whittled away from the margins.”

Unlike Mister Kissinger’s concept that all people must accept a government that they had no part in creating and no choice in accepting, the world would be a far better place for the vast majority of people if they could select whatever country offered the features that most appealed to them. Indeed, the ideal would be to cherry-pick the best opportunities from each country.

It’s the norm today for people to prefer to shop at a shopping plaza or mall, as the choices they may consider are far greater than in the general store of yesteryear. There is truly no reason why this concept cannot be extended to include countries.

Individuals who are shopping for countries that fit their needs might choose one country in which to live, another in which to do business, another for banking, etc. In fact, this is the very concept of internationalisation. However, the world has not yet made internationalisation a household word, and most people do not presently recognise that they can, in fact, shop for countries, like anything else they may need.

“We Try Harder”

Large countries (and dysfunctional conglomerates such as the EU) invariably think big, which means that one size is forced to fit all. Smaller countries tend to come under the heading of the Avis Rent A Car motto of bygone years: “We try harder.” Like Estonia, they have to come up with a better mousetrap if they are to attract people. With smaller countries, a greater variety of choices can be expected. Additionally, smaller countries can adapt more easily, changing their offerings as people’s requests change.

The question is what direction the world will take. There can be no doubt that leaders of the most powerful countries will continue to pursue greater power, with corresponding decreases in the freedoms and options of their people.

Will this mean that the leaders of the US, EU, Russia, and China will eventually sit around the table with a Bargain Bucket from KFC and make all the decisions for the world? Or might the opposite happen—the world would split further into an EU/US and BRICS polarisation, similar to George Orwell’s Oceania and Eastasia?

Or might there be a third possibility—certainly not taking the place of large nation-states, but offering a host of alternatives and, as Mister Clippinger suggests, whittling away at the margins?

Whatever the future, we might all ask ourselves what choice of “world” we seek for ourselves and our families. Certainly, there will be those who will identify with the attractions available in larger countries, with larger concentrations of people and a greater variety of opportunities.

And there can be no doubt that there will also be large numbers of people who wish to live under the wing of large countries, so that they can receive from the government largesse that they have not earned.

Size Matters

Large countries will always have their loyal supporters, those who could not imagine themselves in a more “boutique” country.

To some degree, this is because, in the past, agriculture defined the value of a country, and later, manufacture did the same. Size and prosperity were largely synonymous.

But this is no longer so. For decades, we have seen some countries prosper dramatically because of attractive banking laws, advantageous tax regimens, lower crime, better weather, etc.

Now in the age of the Internet, we’re likely to see an entirely new array of opportunities. Not unlike shopping at a mall, people may have the opportunity to go online and shop for countries that have a far wider array of choices than the old “general store” countries.

The more prevalent this trend becomes, the closer we get to redefining countries. Borders would have less importance, when access to the country’s primary attributes (through e-residency) would often be less dependent on geography.

One further facet of this discussion deserves some thought. In a world where the variety of countries is increased and access to those countries is increased, each individual becomes less of a slave to any one country.

To be sure, there will always be those countries that will try to limit their citizens’ abilities to escape (and, throughout history, those countries that enforced the greatest restrictions have always been the ones that have become or are becoming the least desirable). However, as the number of opportunities grows, so the power to control people declines.

Greater choice for all people can only be a step in the right direction.

Editor’s Note: In addition to Estonia, there are other attractive jurisdictions that are cause for optimism. Some are ideal places to reside. Others are great places to park some savings or to invest in. Others are optimal for conducting business. Yet others are perfect for obtaining a second passport. You can find out our favorite jurisdictions in the IM Communiqué.

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