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Posted: July 23, 2014

The futurist: Disrupting government

Why countries will soon sompete for citizens

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the first of two parts.)

In 2002, Roger Ver was honing his entrepreneurial skills by selling products on eBay. It was in the aftermath of the Twin Towers disaster when one of his products called “Pest Control Report 2000” hit the radar of Homeland Security, and he was charged and convicted of selling 14 pounds of explosives without a license.

He dismisses the product as little more than a “firecracker to scare birds from cornfields,” but ended up serving 10 months in federal prison.

While his computer-parts business made him a millionaire by age 25, Ver became truly wealthy after investing tens of thousands in Bitcoin in 2011, a crypto-currency that he bought for $1 each and trades in the neighborhood of $600 today.

Now, at age 35, Roger Ver has adopted the moniker “Bitcoin Jesus” and is one of the currency’s most ardent supporters as well as a major investor in Bitcoin startups. 

At the same time, he has another agenda. He is now traveling the world, explaining to wealthy people everywhere how they can invest as little as $400,000 in the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitt and become a citizen there. 

After finishing his probation in 2006, Ver moved to Tokyo to stay off of the radar of U.S. officials. In February, he got his St. Kitt’s passport and renounced his U.S. citizenship that same month. 

“I didn’t hurt anybody. I had nothing but happy customers, and the U.S. government locked me in a cage," he said. “So I want nothing to do with those people. I don’t want to support them. I want them out of my life.”

St. Kitt has become a magnet for wealthy people around the world because they require only an investment, not residency, to gain citizenship.

With transportation systems growing more efficient, and intrusive technologies leaving many feeling hyper-exposed and alienated by their government, conditions are now ripe for a massive wave of governmental disruption where wealthy individuals choose to “vote with their feet” and abandon their home country.

Here’s why a massive shift is about to occur that will force countries to compete for their own citizens.

The Story of Iraq

In 2003, President George Bush let the world know that the U.S. military was planning to attack Iraq and capture Saddam Hussein.

During that ramping up period, it didn’t take a genius to understand what was about to happen, and many wealthy and professional people proceeded to abandon their homeland of Iraq. The country suffered a massive brain drain as lawyers, dentists, engineers, architects, professors and business owners all gathered up their families and moved to other countries.

This exodus of talent has had a long-term residual effect, since most of these families have not returned over a decade after the official war ended, making the rebuilding of the country far more difficult. 

Growing Migrant Populations

Migrant populations around the world continue to grow. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2 percent of the world’s population, were international migrants, compared with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990.

Europe and Asia combined are the home for nearly two-thirds of all international migrants worldwide. Europe is the most popular destination, hosting roughly 72 million international migrants in 2013, followed closely by 71 million in Asia.

In 2013, half of all international migrants lived in 10 countries, with the US hosting the largest number (45.8 million), followed by the Russian Federation (11 million); Germany (9.8 million); Saudi Arabia (9.1 million); United Arab Emirates (7.8 million); United Kingdom (7.8 million); France (7.4 million); Canada (7.3 million); Australia (6.5 million); and Spain (6.5 million). 

Abandoning Citizenship 

The United States is one of only two countries that taxes citizens or permanent residents wherever they reside, including an estimated six million Americans living outside the country. (The other country, incidentally, is Eritrea, a single-party dictatorship.)

Citizens or permanent residents of every other country end their obligation to pay income tax after a sustained period of non-residence from that country, generally one year or longer.

Taxes are just one of many reasons people choose to abandon their citizenships, and the numbers tend to drop during Presidential election years. Here are the official numbers for people renouncing US citizenship over the past seven years:

  • 2007 – 467
  • 2008 – 231 (Presidential election year)
  • 2009 – 742
  • 2010 – 1,534
  • 2011 – 1,781
  • 2012 – 932 (Presidential election year)
  • 2013 – 2,999

Even though the numbers are climbing, in a country of 320 million people, they are still too small for leaders to dedicate much attention to.

However, in addition to renouncing citizenship, people can simply relinquish it. Relinquishing citizenship is a process that no one seems to be tracking, and some are estimating the numbers to be as much as four times higher.

If the actual number in 2013 were four times higher – 12,000 – it would still be considered a tiny number. But if a high percentage of them were high-profile millionaires and billionaires, the whole world would begin to take notice.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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