Speculator: island in the sun

Apr 01, 2008
<p>Could sovereign states be spun off as IPOs?</p>

In the old days, a sovereign was a tangible thing, a round, golden item – but German chancellor Angela Merkel has raised the question of how much sovereignty is worth. The tiny principality of Liechtenstein joined the UN only after Iraq invaded Kuwait in order to get cheap anti-annexation insurance. Washington had previously demurred at tiny microstates joining the world body but Liechtenstein’s Prince Hans-Adam II happens to be a personal friend of George Bush Sr.

Until recently, the principality’s banking security made Fort Knox look like a tin moneybox. Short of outright invasion, there wasn’t much taxmen elsewhere could do about the sovereign state. But now Germany is doing all it can to get its hands on the euros stashed in blind trusts in the mountains between Austria and Switzerland.

Britain invented the gold sovereign, has an actual sovereign, and represents almost a thousand years of continuous sovereignty – but while Liechtenstein was using its sovereignty to protect the fortunes of plutocrats, the UK has been hosting the plutocrats themselves. Gordon Brown feared that Greek shipping magnates, dodgy Russian bandits and many others would flee the country in a flock of frightened Gulfstreams at the merest hint they might have to pay tax like lesser mortals.

With all this liquidity sloshing about, surely the time has come to spin off a sovereign state as an IPO, so that hard-working entrepreneurs can participate in some of this sovereignty – and have enough financial clout to frighten any prying snoops.

In an age when Microsoft is financially bigger than all the microstates put together, sovereignty surely has a price tag. One problem is that you need inhabitants to have a sovereign state, but you do not want too many of them.

So I have a plan. Pitcairn is a British colony, peopled by 47 descendants of the Bounty mutineers, whose governor is the British high commissioner in far-away New Zealand. Half the adult males on the island were found guilty of sex offenses in 2004; some were sentenced to prison, others, community service.

Pitcairn is on the decolonization list of the UN, and the lawyers for the accused actually questioned British claims to the island. After all, when they landed, the mutineers hardly claimed the land for queen and country.

With a promise of generous stock options for the 47 inhabitants, they will soon be clamoring for independence – which is when we will set up the Plutocracy of Pitcairn Inc. All shareholders will qualify for a passport, and for a nominal extra fee will become accredited envoys with diplomatic passports. Of course, each share’s value will make Berkshire Hathaway look like a penny stock.

The Plutocracy of Pitcairn’s sovereign wealth fund will be so big that no government will dare act against it, in case we disinvest. It will be the first country in the world set up and run on sound business principles. And yes, just because we can, the currency will be the gold sovereign.

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