The Complex Legal Frameworks where Special Jurisdictions Nest

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Startup Societies, SeaZone, Special Economic Zones , nestedness, Legal structures, Floating Island Project in French Polynesia, Complex governance


For the last seven years within the Startup Societies movement, there has been a surge in entrepreneurs, developers and online communities, including Network States, who intended to create autonomous special jurisdictions. But understanding how to create a jurisdiction, let alone an autonomous one, is very different from wanting to create one. Among Startup Societies types, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are one of the most sought models by private developers. After all, SEZs enjoy autonomy, and the jurisdictional arbitrage has led to significant economic and social transformations in some parts of the world. But getting there is hard. Zones are not created in institutional and legal isolation. This paper shows the institutional and legal frameworks Startup Society entrepreneurs need to navigate and to entangle to create a new jurisdiction. To do so, the paper uses the complex governance concept of “nestedness”. My argument is that establishing a new jurisdiction necessarily entails dealing with existing, nested complex governance structures, both regulatory and institutional, and that doing so is hard. I use complexity to show why it is hard. The findings are extracted from research I conducted between 2017 and 2019 on an attempted Maritime Special Economic Zone (SeaZone) called the Floating Island Project in French Polynesia, based on ethnographic research methods; Namely participatory observation and document analysis. This paper synthetizes the nested regulatory frameworks concerning immigration, real estate, taxes, blockchain, and infrastructure regulations the SeaZone creators needed to untangle and have a competitive framework. This paper makes a significant contribution to the field of special jurisdictions by highlighting the challenges and complexities involved in establishing Zones characterized by autonomous governance, legal, physical, and digital extraterritoriality. It concludes by emphasizing the importance of a practical approach in the Zone creation process.

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