South Norwood, the unassuming splodge in the London Borough of Croydon is no more. Long live the People's Republic of South Norwood! You may not have noticed, thanks to a concerted media blackout by The UK Establishment (though the WSJ did get wind), but last Friday was the day of the Great South Norwood Referendum and the dawn of a new Republic. Inspired by the Scottish Independence movement and frustrated by the disdain with which local government treats the area, local heroes The South Norwood Tourist Board held a (definitely absolutely legitimate and totally binding) referendum for the community: Should South Norwood remain with Croydon Council, unite with an Independent Scotland, or declare their independence? The public spoke, and voted to boot out their uncaring and overbearing masters to go it alone with a whopping 53% of the vote.
It's hardly surprising that the downtrodden population of South Norwood had enough of Croydon Council, who have simultaneously ignored pleas to clean up and invigorate the area, whilst clamping down on displays of frivolity and fun. Notoriously, head of the Council's Health and Safety outlawed plans for the community-led 'Lake Naming Ceremony', inspiring a crowd of revellers (and a gang of Morris Dancers) to hold an illegal event in subversive defiance. It will be written in history that the naming of Lake Conan Doyle sewed the seeds of secession.
Now that South Norwood has established its independence it faces a number of tough questions. What does this mean for its governance and security, its relationship with the UK, and its currency? Addressing these will be challenging, but there's every indication that an independent South Norwood could thrive.
At first glance South Norwood is remarkably unremarkable. Long overlooked by pretty much everybody, it is yet to benefit from the gentrification of neighbouring Crystal Palace or the massive regeneration of Croydon town centre. Yet, with its blossoming community spirit (galvanized by the tireless tourist board), more lakes than the lake district, and a country park grown on top of an old sewer farm, its potential is undeniably huge.
Clearly, it is for the people of South Norwood to decide what shape their Republic takes. But as an ex-resident and dear friend of the area, I’ve outlined a few of the topics they need to address, and give a few suggestions on how to achieve a radical, yet roaringly successful Republic:
The first issue to tackle is that of governance. How shall people be ruled, and how shall laws be made? Should, for example, The Republic have a head of State? A symbolic one may suffice, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who apparently lived there for a bit) or Pickles the dog (who discovered the stolen FIFA World Cup in a bush) are good contenders. There's also Ray Burns a.k.a Captain Sensible of The Damned, who already has a community garden installed in his honour.
Perhaps the people of South Norwood will opt for a proportional electoral system: with a population of about 14,000, the area's certainly small enough to adopt a straightforward proportional model, although PR creates the risk that Winston McKenzie, organizer of the infamous UKIP diversity carnival could hold some power. Going further, some form of direct democracy might even be possible. Regardless, electoral architects could do far worse than to read Douglas Carswell's iDemocracy for some inspiration.
However, we know that democracy can be troublesome, and that most voters are often (quite rationally!) spectacularly ignorant on basic political issues. What if democracy's not actually the 'least worst' system? One alternative, particularly for a Republic of such size, would be sortition- the selection of decision-makers by lottery. With its roots in Athenian democracy and still used in Jury service today, those selected could wise up on facts for the duration of their term and make decisions based on what's actually best for the Republic, instead of shoring up votes and a political career. There are other, more elaborate alternatives (such as Moldbug's suggestion that governments should be based on the profit motive, with bureaucrats seeking to increase their profits by boosting the value of the land, thus making it a lovely place to live) - but why not just abolish all government and embrace a form of market anarchism? It probably wouldn't be worse than the system the South Norwooders left.
Another pressing issue The Republic must address is that of their currency: what should an independent South Norwood use? Clearly, South Norwood could unilaterally adopt the pound without the permission of the UK, just as the ASI has argued for Scotland. Should PRSN wish to tie itself to the economic fate of the UK, it could -literally- just keep on using the pound. However, South Norwood could also protect its own economy and shore up against demand-side recessions by allowing private Norwood Banks to hold reserves of GBP and issue their own notes on a fractional reserve basis, adjusting the supply of money in response to demand. (Again, the detail's in the report!)
Admittedly, that does seem a bit excessive. Another option would be for South Norwood to issue their own currency (perhaps the Norwood Crown). Down the road the Brixton Pound is well-established and well-liked; those behind it could certainly lend a hand with an eye-catching design and the logistics of issuance. And with the news that Brixton is also scheduled to hold a referendum on its independence, perhaps a currency union is on the cards.
Yet the people of South Norwood have already shown themselves to be a tech-savvy, forward-thinking bunch, as evidenced by their use of a high-tech, online voting mechanism . So why not make Bitcoin SE25's new currency? If the Assistant Governor of Australia's Central Bank thinks its good enough for Scotland, it's probably good enough for South Norwood. In fact, they could go one further, and join Iceland, Cyprus, the Oglala Laktota Nation and others in creating their own national cryptocurrency. If they act quickly, they could beat Ecuador in creating the first government- ordained digital currency.
South Norwooders could adopt any of these options. But why not do away with legal tender completely and embrace free banking: the great people and businesses of the area accepting whichever competing currencies and payment methods (what about interpretative dance?) they so choose.
Clearly the most exciting part of forming an independent territory is deciding the guiding principles and policies to pursue. Again, such matters should be decided by the citizens, but here are a few pointers:
South Norwood should get in touch with the organziations who’s raison d’etre is to look at how to achieve growth and political and economic innovation within small, autonomous communities. Some groups such as Charter Cities and Startup Cities aim to create refuges of experimentation within amenable host nations. Others, such as the Seasteading Institute work within a paradigm of complete territorial autonomy and independence. Politically neutral, all of them value radical ideas, economic progress and the freedom for individuals to join such communities and innovate.
Tips on running a successful Republic can also be gleaned from examining things like Legatum's Prosperity Index, Heritage's Index of Economic Freedom, the Index of Freedom in the World and the Tax Competitiveness Index. Countries topping these rankings have probably got a few ideas worth borrowing.
The Republic could also look at which UK laws most need a radical overhaul, and lead by example. Planning laws are a key example. Far too many houses in the area are left vacant and boarded up, yet could be put to good use. Similarly, perfectly useable patches of land lie tangled up in legal battles and the quest for planning permission, sprouting brambles and dirty mattresses in the meantime. Liberalizing planning laws would allow creative uses of neglected spaces whilst providing the area with an economic boost.
The Republic should also embrace an open borders policy, as research repeatedly shows that reducing barriers to migration benefits both migrants and the culture and finances of the host country. An open Republic which builds on its cosmopolitan roots would be a successful one.
I encourage The Republic to experiment with radical new ideas. It could scrap alcohol duty, revitalizing some of the area's more shabby-looking pubs. Or it could legalise the consumption and production of Marijuana, using taxes levied on it to fund social expenditure. From there the UK's confusing, intrusive and expensive welfare system could be replaced with some form of Minimum Income or Negative Income Tax. Deer could be introduced to every park. Uber could run the public transport. The possibilities are endless.
It really is a brave new world for the people of South Norwood. The Scots may wonder if this is an omen for the success of their own referendum, but it's unlikely: even free-thinking South Norwooders eschewed the offer of being part of an independent Scotland. This is perhaps a shame, given the ASI's prior work on forging a union between Scotland and other countries seeking freedom from illiberal control.
Nevertheless, the prospect that Croydon Council refuses to accept the secession and continues to 'rule' its (ex)citizens with an iron fist is very real.
I wish all the best for The People's Republic of South Norwood. But whatever the outcome of their independence, it's good to note, on the eve of an even bigger, game-changing referendum, the diversity and breadth of untested policies and fresh ideas out there - and how many of these could make countries, communities and individuals happier, richer, more successful and freer.