Our Social Goods: Citizenship-as-a-Service

In most countries, you can change the city or state where you live fairly easily. Why is it so hard to change country where you live? From escaping oppression to seeking opportunity, there are many reasons you might want to change your country. But, as immigration struggles around the world show, it’s very hard to change your country. In this day and age, maybe it’s time for citizenship as a service.

As-A-Service: A Silicon Valley View

What does it mean to provide something “as-a-Service”? This phrase, and arguably mindset, has blossomed in Silicon Valley here in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the IT and software world, something-as-a-service usually means that customers can access the functionality and benefit of a product without the upfront investment in infrastructure and even staff. Instead, customers can buy the functionality on a subscription basis and have it provided over the internet.

The convenience of the as-a-Service approach means customers have a much easier method to replace a provider if they choose. They don’t have modify or abandon a bunch of infrastructure, retrain or replace a bunch of employees. Customer simply move their subscription.

This is big business. Amazon Web Services, Oracle Cloud, and Microsoft Azure all compete for running the web processes for big organizations.

The US Department of Defense recently moved its cloud computing subscription from Amazon to Microsoft. Price tag: $10 billion. 

Anything as a Service

This service-centric notion has grown beyond big business IT services. You can get your small business accounting software as a service (Quick Books) and design software as a service (Adobe).

It’s not just business, either. You can buy consumer products services through a subscription order it through an app.

Housing, transportation, food, and energy are core costs for any household. The as-a-Service model is coming for our personal lives.

Social Goods as a Service

The as-a-Service model is spreading through business and consumer goods. But what about social goods?

As a reminder, social goods are products and services that could be provided through private enterprise, but are instead provided by government or non-profits. Reasons vary for relying on government or non-profits but can include social policy, lack of an effective market mechanism, or economies of scale. For instance, cities can offer public transportation through private enterprise, like private toll roads, but usually use government action because of economies of scale offered by government taxation to build, maintain and subsidize the system. (Read more).

Many of the social goods that we rely on are provided at the national level and are connected to our citizenship:

  • Legal system (including laws, regulations, and courts).
  • National defense.
  • Interstate transportation.
  • Healthcare.
  • Land and water management.
  • Food safety.
  • Immigration and border systems.
  • Electoral systems.
  • National parks.
  • Financial markets.
  • Social welfare services.

But what if I’m not happy with my national social goods provider? Currently my main recourse is voting and petitioning the government. Basically, I have to lobby my provider to change because I have no other option. It’s like convincing the cable company to provide better service, except there’s no way to easily cut the cord.

Citizenship as a Service

I’m well educated, make a decent living, have a good net worth and credit score. I think a lot of countries would like to have my citizenship business.

If I’m unhappy with my current citizenship services, I’d like the option to change my national social goods provider. It would be like buying a subscription to, say, Costa Rica or New Zealand.

In this system, countries that are desirable, that offer great services and have a strong brand, could command a premium amount of tax dollars in exchange for socials goods. Citizens who are not happy with services could easily opt for another provider.

There could be reciprocity even, so that I could switch my provider without having to relocate geographically. With reciprocity, I could buy a citizenship-as-a-service subscription to New Zealand but remain living in California, closer to my family. New Zealand and the US could agree to recognize and honor subscriptions from each other’s customers / citizens. (I supposed that the EU is a little like this.)

There would have to be a minimum subscription commitment. Maybe five or ten years. Social goods on the national level are big enterprises and work best with stability in funding.

A Market for Citizenship

Citizenship-as-a-Service would increase market competition of my tax dollars. The fans of free markets should like this.

This market is already starting. As described in this BBC article, many countries now grant a passport in exchange for significant investment in the country. Prices range from $50,000 in Latvia, to $500,000 in the US, to $10 million in France. 

Clearly, prices, supplies, and other barriers need to come down before competition and choice in citizenship becomes a reality even for the middle class.

But imagine, if countries lost their monopoly hold on their citizens, then what would change?

(Image courtesy of AlphaStock Images)

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