Suppose you wanted to build an entire country from the ground up. How would you start?

I'd start with the furniture.

When you design a home, you first figure out what furniture arrangements you like, and how the kitchen is laid out. That tells you what shape and size the rooms have to be. Next you imagine what tasks need to be accomplished in the house and you layer on the functionality. For example, you make sure there is storage in the garage, and that the laundry room is near the master bedroom. And you want the sun orientation to be a big part of the planning.

Once you have individual rooms designed, the next step is figuring out how they flow together. And from that you get a good idea what the outside of the house looks like. Once the house is done you can start doing some city planning. You'd want bike paths and dog parks and fun places for neighbors to gather. You might ban cars from the city entirely.

Now let's assume your planned city has free Internet and everyone is connected. And let's further imagine that a big player such as Apple or Google is behind the venture. Everything from your lights to your grocery shopping would be managed by smartphones. Every citizen over the age of 10 would have one.

The biggest potential of this planned city springs from universal Internet access. Once you have every citizen online, you can move all billing, voting, and government services online. And anyone could take any online class from home. There's a lot you can do when you have 100% Internet penetration.

Now that you have the perfect city design you can duplicate it until you form a nation. You might need to put this nation on barges on the ocean, or perhaps you buy some land from a country that has extra. Perhaps you pay taxes to the host country in return for military protection.

You could design your government from scratch. The Internet probably makes some new forms of government feasible, such as a direct democracy, as opposed to a republic, for issues that aren't especially complicated.

Pick any frustration from you current life and you can imagine how a planned country would make it better. Commute too long? Fixed. Cost of living too high? Fixed. Childcare too expensive and inconvenient? Fixed. Don't have time to exercise? Fixed. Too much crime in the neighborhood? Fixed. Drunk drivers? None. Healthcare? Universal and inexpensive because your doctor consultations are via Internet.

At tax time, every adult gets an email that says "This is what you earned and this is what you paid." Done. You never have to see an accountant.

It's hard to imagine a problem that couldn't be fixed or improved by a country that is planned from the furniture up and has universal Internet connectivity.

I could imagine an existing country authorizing these "start-up" cities within their own borders, as test beds. After twenty years, whatever is working in the test cities gets implemented countrywide.

Designing a country from the furniture up would have been impractical twenty years ago. To do this sort of thing right, you need high end CAD software and the ability to visualize everything from the furniture to the street layout in 3D. You need smartphones. And you need a fiber optic Internet connection to every home.

My larger point is that I think the future will include cities planned from the furniture up. And that era will see enormous economic activity. Living the old way, in legacy communities, will feel like camping compared to the cities of the future.

I would be surprised if planned cities are not being discussed somewhere within Google.

My new book is How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. It's my best work.

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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 11, 2013
For a while there, it seemed like Google was the company to design this smart city. But now I think Amazon should build it, and Google should map it and deliver the e-mail.
Nov 9, 2013
Scott, there is an article about this topic at Exame, Brazil's most famous business magazine:


It's in portuguese, but google translator should do the trick.

Check out Songdo, in South Korea. From what the article says it should be the closest thing to what you've imagined.

Nov 8, 2013
how about no irs and have the state you reside in collect taxes through the sales tax? Nice and simple no accounting no more tax forms no more shady right offs and no more hiring a lawyer to sign off on your tax forms.... Any thoughts????
Nov 7, 2013
China has a number of "planned cities" as you describe them. They are empty.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 2, 2013
Sounds interesting.
If you're really interested in this, this is one thing to look at: http://urbanizationproject.org/blog/charter-cities
Nov 1, 2013
I think the most recent south park episode (taming strange) is a good enough reason not to centrally plan anything.

BTW, doesn't china have experience with planned cities? How did that turn out for them?

Nov 1, 2013
I think the most recent south park episode (taming strange) is a good enough reason not to centrally plan anything.

BTW, doesn't china have experience with planned cities? How did that turn out for them?

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 1, 2013
With all the politicians, then the lawyers....
Oct 31, 2013
>It's hard to imagine a problem that couldn't be fixed or improved by a country that is planned from >the furniture up

riiight... that's why North Korea, Pol Pot, public education, and the Mao regime worked so well.

Scott, we know that you know when you're spewing stuff from the Prince of Insufficient Light. The question is: why does a guy with hundreds of millions of dollars use them to torture himself and others? Why don't you found some biotech company in Thailand and cure cancer, or something like that?

Occam's razor says that you're a Cthulu cultist, which would explain your joy in destruction and evil. But I hope not.
Oct 31, 2013
Hell yes.

Of course, all the actual ideas mentioned don't seem that good, so if you were actually pitching this you should probably change those.
Oct 31, 2013
Phantom II nailed it. Spot on!
Oct 31, 2013
Scott - evolution frequently generates solutions which 'just work', not those that are best possible. Witness the human back. Also, as I have said here before, I have doubts as to the efficacy of online teaching.
Oct 31, 2013
This reminds me of both Disney's original concept for EPCOT and The Island for Science. EPCOT ideas went into Celebration city. The Island for Science failed because they couldn't attract enough companies that wanted to do research at their location. This seems like a interesting idea, hope someone runs with it. How could you start it on a small scale with room to expand?
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 31, 2013
[Commute too long? Fixed. Cost of living too high? Fixed. Childcare too expensive and inconvenient? Fixed. Don't have time to exercise? Fixed. Too much crime in the neighborhood? Fixed. Drunk drivers? None. Healthcare? Universal and inexpensive because your doctor consultations are via Internet.]

Now that I think of it this reminds me of a Dilbert where the PHB assumes anything he doesnt understand must be easy to do.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 31, 2013
The thing is, the design you use is going to be different depending on what natural resources are available to you. The Country you'd make in Alaska where you have oil, timber and plenty of game animals is going to look different than if you made a country on Nauru, a landmass made of fossilized bird droppings. Personally I'd go for a Microstate where your neighbors like you and will deal with things such as defense for you. I think Andorra has a pretty good set up. No one asks Andorra to help them invade Iraq. Being left alone is a good country design, as long as it's not because your country is a desolate waste land. It's also good to have the classic Oregon policy, "come and visit, but please don't move here." I would go for that old world charm for a city, let foot traffic rule the downtown, but you'd want electricity and Internet.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 31, 2013
[To be fair, you and I can only be sure that at least one of us is an idiot. Studies show that idiots don't know who they are. -- Scott]

Well, we don't have to blindly guess at the answer to that. Just look at the things each person is saying, and see how well they match up with reality.

Note my careful use of the word "reality". Not "an ideal that I have in my head" or "my personal preference" or "a hypothetical", but actual, observable reality.

I know you do these things as experiments, but I'd be interested to see how your experiments would change if you spent some time studying history. Particularly the history of Communist/fascist states and their efforts to steer society in a particular direction through mass conformity (as well as the history of government-run and organized economies). I believe you'll be less inclined to propose certain experiments once you realize how utterly and massively such ventures fail with regularity.

I'm not saying that you're intentionally proposing "Communism", btw. I'm saying that the only way to achieve such a conformist and State-run outcome would be to use something like Communism. And in an imaginary world where everyone wants the same thing (which they don't), puts in the same amount of work (which they don't), plays by the rules (which they don't), and totally doesn't mind the State running every aspect of their lives (which they don't), then your vision might be feasible. But since that world doesn't exist, never has, and we have no reason to believe it ever will, I would suggest experimenting with ideas that actually have a relation to THIS world.

Otherwise, why not just "imagine" anything? Hey, I know... what if we built a whole city around the concept that gravity doesn't exist? We could build the houses out of light-as-air materials! We'd save a fortune! Transportation costs would be obsolete, because we'd just float everywhere! And we'd have no need to waste money on stairs or elevators, and we wouldn't need any railings, because it's not like anyone could fall off anything. Isn't this an interesting idea everyone?!?

No, it's not. Because it's imaginary and not based on anything that has ever been observed on this earth. You'd be a fool to build an entire city (let alone a country) around make-believe concepts.

FYI, I find these posts to be a very interesting insight into the myopic mindset of well-to-do city-dwellers. It's almost as if you're unaware that an enormous part of the county exists which not only doesn't live in a city, but doesn't WANT to live in a city, doesn't WANT to be connected to the internet all the time (or at all), requires a large amount of uninhabited land, and where it would be laughable to get rid of things like "cars". Where do you think the provisions for your imaginary city would come from?

Oct 31, 2013
I'll assume this post isn't in jest, which, to be honest, is a bit difficult.

The first problem with planning a city is that it doesn't allow people any freedom with respect to their living situation. What about people who would rather live in a, ahem, de-luxe apartment in the sky-y-y? Or an urban farm? What if people hate the design of your "perfect" house? Even if you have some variation in the plan, the sheer *sameness* of it would drive a lot of people away. You could plan to make different types of housing available, of course, but you don't know how much of each kind to provide.

The second problem with central planning is that cities change over time. By the time you have gathered your requirements, the requirements will have changed. Even if you get every detail exactly right at the point in time you do the planning (highly doubtful), it will be outdated in five to ten years at most as populations change and businesses come and go. Innovation is stifled the longer you insist on sticking to the original plan, because new commerce has to fit into the mold of infrastructure built for old commerce. And if you update the plan, you're as much as saying that planning doesn't work.

The third problem is money. As I've said before, government-run (or -sponsored) initiatives have no incentive to control costs through efficiency. Actually, the opposite is true; when funding is by government fiat rather than income from customers, the only thing a business needs to optimize is its size, because size equals impact equals votes. So this giant planning process is almost guaranteed to drive up the cost of pretty much everything in the city -- either that, or higher taxes to pay for it.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 31, 2013
It is easier to have new ideas, than to get the old ones out.

Cities are an industrial age construct and before that a trading one. They work on the idea of the people having to go where the work was.

The mass market for those jobs has gone and people can do many of the remaining jobs from anywhere. So cities, themselves, will disappear - why sit in the commute, breathe the fumes etc. when you can sit by the river and still make money and be in touch with people across the globe?

Income Tax is also an out of date concept, set up by Britain to fund a foreign war. As people and their trades become more mobile this will become impossible to collect. Taxes on what we consume are far fairer and more flexible. But these too are only for physical goods. What happens when we can grow our own food and make whatever we want with our own printer?

The Nation State is also a transitory concept of the 17th century, set up to replace the ties of religion. Countries like Germany and Italy didn't exist before the 1800s - there were just principalities. It isn't "a given" as the best way to organise communities. Now we feel stronger ties to people in far flung parts of the globe than those down the street, why pay for the deadbeat down the road?

Finally, the worst of all worlds is to set up the new one within the old. That's like Nokia setting up a smartphone division within its main business or Microsoft making a tablet. The new one will be constricted by the old thinking and the "rules". The old one will feel the new one is cannibalising its profitability and best ideas. There would be war. Or the new one would be stuck with the high tax, low representation system we have currently.

But all of this is fiddling while Rome burns. While we are talking about reorganising, it happens all by itself. Life is what happens while you're busy making plans.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 31, 2013
If there is one lesson to learn from the rise and fall of communism, it is that "central planning rarely works."

[The worst thing communism did was give us bad analogies for the rest of eternity. -- Scott]
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 31, 2013
I've had this same thought many times... What would happen if a country was run by a corporation? Haiti after the earthquake would have been a perfect test bed. Besides, for 8 billion dollars, didn't we just basically buy it?

Anyway, if you ran an entire country as a large corporation, a fairly large amount of bureaucracy could be eliminated. Healthcare, civil services, and housing are all guaranteed, as well as your job, because you worked for the country/corporation. If the people in charge are a bunch of pointy-haired bosses and sociopath CEO's you'd have Soviet Russia. If you had the Google Guys running it, you'd have a pretty swell place to live/work and be happy.
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