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Introducing Ulex: Towards Open Source Law for New Nations

Open Source Laws

Would you build a beautiful new home on old, rotten foundations?  I suspect you’d be careful from the very start, building a solid home from the ground up.

So too for those who aspire to create seasteads, startup cities, and other consent-based communities. If we want build something more advanced than the nation state, we should begin with something better than a state-supplied legal system.

But what legal system should we use? We can find an answer to that question in the history of computer science.

At root, both computers and governments run on code—formal algorithms that make their subjects perform specific functions. Computers have evolved much more rapidly than governments, though. That means that the history of software development can tell us a lot about the future of legal systems.

Early computers ran a lot like governments do today:  developers wrote a unique operating system for each new machine. Bell Lab’s published UNIX, the first operating system written to run across computing platforms.

Things really took off, though, when personal computers made it possible for millions of consumers to choose their favorite operating systems. That burst of competition created proprietary operating systems like Microsoft Windows and Apple’s OS X, as well as open source operating systems like GNU/Linux.

Politicians have long been stuck in a model that computer scientists outgrew back in the days of shag carpets:  Each government wrote and ran its own legal code. Only recently have a few innovative countries realized that they can reassure investors, and increase local economic growth, by copying laws from other places. Dubai has attracted investors to its International Financial Centre by importing common law principles from England and Wales, for instance, while the ZEDE program recently launched in Honduras opens the door to importing laws from private sources.

Seasteads, startup cities, and other consent-­based communities will probably not want to run proprietary legal operating systems lest they end up with the government equivalent of Windows 95 or an old Apple OS. They will instead probably seek out something more akin to Linux, the most successful open source operating system.

Anybody can download Linux to run on their computer; anyone can access the source code and alter it to suit their particular needs. Yet no one controls Linux. Instead, a community of like-­minded users shapes it in a flexible, organic, and consensual process.

What would a Linux­-like government for seasteads, startup cities, and other consent­-based communities look like? It would look a lot like Ulex, the open source legal system described in my Voice and Exit talk. Watch the video to learn more about how we can evolve from nation states to stateless nations.

Voice and Exit 2016 is in Austin, TX on November 11th-13th.

Voice and Exit 2016 is in Austin, TX on November 11th-13th.