Special Economic Zones - A Deep-Dive Into Their 1.000+ Year-Old History as Laboratories of Governance Innovation
Podcast Ep. 28 with Thibault Serlet
Thibault is one of the world's leading thinkers on the past, present, and future of governance innovation through SEZs.
SEZs are business parks that are geographically walled off from the countries they're in and have their own laws.
The most famous examples are Shenzhen, China, and Dubai, UAE, which both were growing into modern megacities and hubs of technology & prosperity.
With the Open Zone Map Project, Thibault found more than 5.000 SEZs worldwide, a fact that is little known in the Western world.
(SEZs and startup cities are linked concepts - Thibault also developed the Startup Cities Map that clarified what we could reasonably call “startup cities”.)
SEZs have a fascinating history, including the trade and export hubs of Europe starting in Champagne, France, proto-venture funding of city captures by crusaders, and as a tool to modernize an economy of 1bn+ people in post-Mao China.
What makes SEZs so interesting is that they make governance innovation possible on a small scale, which is not possible on a large scale due to entrenched interests. Successful innovations can then scale.
That makes SEZs a laboratory for the future, both when it comes to governance innovation, and when it comes to harboring innovative firms or individuals.
We talk about the pitfalls of governance innovation, such as the failed libertarian attempts since the 1960s Operation Atlantis.
Also, like anything, SEZs can be used for horrible things like human trafficking in the Golden Triangle in Laos.
SEZs are a tool and can be used for good and evil.
To illustrate their potential, Thibault talks about how they could be used to test policies to combat climate change, such as a carbon tax or a biodiversity futures market.
SEZs and governance innovation are at the heart of unleashing the potential of stranded technologies and starting a new wave of technological progress.