Peter Thiel’s New Zealand citizenship: Billionaires get citizenship abroad so they can run from the problems they create — Quartz
2017/01/30 Leave a comment
We don’t know the exact details of Thiel’s naturalization yet, but it’s hard to imagine that his exorbitant wealth didn’t help. New Zealand offers residence permits to rich investors—the hacker Kim Dotcom, who’s facing extradition to the United States, bought his way there by investing millions of dollars—and grants citizenship in special circumstances to people who don’t meet the five-year residence requirements.
In these discretionary cases, New Zealand’s immigration minister has to personally approve the petition and deem it “in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature.” (Thiel does not appear to have won any prizes for his humanitarian efforts.)
Thiel’s opinions will affect some 300 million Americans, most of whom who do not have a backup passport—or indeed, even the funds for a plane ticket abroad. More and more countries are adopting special citizenship laws to let in extraordinarily rich or talented people, whether it’s athletes, experts, or entrepreneurs. As I note in my book, The Cosmopolites, for your average billionaire, having a Plan B country has become practically de rigueur. Citizenship-by-investment is estimated to be a $2 billion a year business. A half-dozen countries, from tiny specks in the Caribbean like Antigua to EU member states like Malta, openly sell their passport to wealthy individuals so long as they are not known criminals. Even the US effectively sells green cards through its EB-5 investor program.
It’s one thing for a wealthy private citizen to buy herself options to make traveling, living, and working abroad easier. Hypocrisy among Trump’s inner circle—and indeed, in all contemporary American politics—is hardly breaking news. And the irony of a Trump confidante revealing himself to be a rootless globalist is admittedly delectable. It’s also not all that surprising: Trump’s pick for trade secretary, Robert Lighthizer, has attended the Davos World Economic Forum 15 times.The fact that Thiel can easily run away from the very rules and regulations he’ll be helping Trump shape, however, is not funny in the least. Thiel is in a position of immense power as Trump’s advisor. His opinions will affect some 300 million Americans, most of whom who do not have a backup passport—or indeed, even the funds for a plane ticket abroad. The ease with which Thiel can opt out of American society speaks to the very concerns that conservatives themselves have voiced about the denationalized “Davos man” for decades. When Samuel Huntington worried in 2004 that America’s elites were “seceding,” he could have easily been talking about Thiel—or any number of Trump’s cabinet appointees, for that matter.
It is the current system of passports and nations and states, along with moralistic attitudes about patriotism, that enables the rich to opt out. On the surface, there seem to be immense contradictions between the nationalist, populist, protectionist rhetoric that Trump spouts and the acquisitive globalism of a Peter Thiel type. But these twin ideologies coalesce in a mutually supportive way. Trump said in a December speech that there is no world currency, no world flag, and no world passport. That’s true. But the continued primacy of the nation-state is precisely why the practice of “sovereignty hacking” or “jurisdiction shopping,” as exemplified by citizenship-by-investment programs and offshore tax registries, has become so prevalent among those who can afford it. Picking and choosing residencies, citizenships, and tax regimes helps the wealthy exist as though the world had no borders at all, which means they can throw their support behind nationalist policies that will close off options to everyone else. It is the current system of passports and nations and states, along with moralistic attitudes about patriotism, that enables the rich to opt out.
Thiel knows this world very, very well. In fact, Thiel apparently found the concept of hacking sovereignty so compelling that in 2008, he gave his personal and financial support to the Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that promotes the creation of artificial floating nations in international waters. The political philosophy behind seasteading can be summed up as follows:
Governments are bad
Governments have a monopoly on sovereignty
Governments would be less bad if they had to compete on the open market with each other for capital, companies, citizens, and ideas
No one can compete with governments because governments control the world’s land
The only spaces that aren’t controlled by existing governments are in international waters
Creating lots of new countries in international waters will increase competition and make all governments better