It is easy to mock the absurdity of California Forever, the new city that a group of tech billionaires want to build amid cattle pastures 60 miles north of San Francisco. Its wealthy backers frame the project—envisioned as a mega suburb with dense housing and walkable streets set on 60,000 rural acres—as an innovative solution to California’s housing shortage. But their bumbling and villainous antics may ensure it never gets built.
The particulars of this caper veer into the ridiculous. Flannery Associates, the billionaires’ front group, sneaked around for five years on a stealth mission to snatch up $900 million worth of agricultural land in Solano County, where land use laws expressly forbid projects like the one the group proposes. The company lavished money on local landowners, overpaying for the land by millions and creating a frenzy. Then, after some local landowners resisted their offers, the billionaires filed a $510 million lawsuit against them. Ironically, the plutocrats turned plaintiffs accused this handful of holdouts of “endless greed.”
Solano County residents—whose approval will be needed next November for the project to move forward—are understandably dubious of the shady billionaires and their secretive plan for a new community whose name sounds like a celebrity cemetery. At packed town hall meetings, community members from cities like Fairfield, Rio Vista, and Vacaville have voiced fierce opposition. They fear the project will spur environmental damage, traffic, pollution, and sprawl.
Yet there’s potentially a more sinister angle. California Forever aligns suspiciously with a cultish dystopian movement to build so-called “network states”—private zones where tech zillionaires can abandon democratic society to live under the rule of their own private micro governments. The secret plot to assemble vast swaths of land and build a new city fits a pattern of wealthy Silicon Valley types attempting to construct similar enclaves around the globe. San Francisco billionaire Michael Moritz, a driving force behind California Forever, appeared to hint at the idea in his pitch to potential investors back in 2017.
“He painted a kind of urban blank slate where everything from design to construction methods and new forms of governance could be rethought,” reported The New York Times, which first revealed the billionaires’ plan.
What does it mean to rethink “new forms of governance”? In a new book called Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy, historian Quinn Slobodian chronicles the efforts of billionaires to create “alternative political arrangements at a small scale” through “acts of secession and fragmentation, carving out liberated territory within and beyond nations.”
In a world of intensifying crises like climate change and economic inequality, some billionaires have a novel solution: high-tech secession. [Continue reading…]