By Joe Jarvis
Scandinavia is often associated with socialism in the muddled minds of Americans. Despite this, the world’s newest experiment with a completely private city is in Norway. Liberstaden aims to provide all services, from roads to fire departments, through the private sector.
Liberstad advertises itself as “a little piece of freedom.” The city’s founders aim to purchase a few hundred acres of farmland in southern Norway to establish a free market enclave.
The project was started by John Holmesland and Sondre Bjellas. They formed the Liberstad Drift Association, which will be responsible for the initial development and operation of the property. Their plan is to build a vibrant community with all the comforts of a modern world, with only minimal laws and taxes.
Liberstad will have no city council or government. Instead, the tone of the city’s development will be organically guided by the first settlers. They can establish businesses, erect buildings, grow vegetables, brew beer, or pursue whatever other economic activity they are interested in.
Liberstad’s few laws and regulations will focus on protecting people’s rights. The founders believe in the non-aggression principle, which states that using non-defensive violence is unethical. They also want to protect participant’s property rights to help grow a thriving free market.
The government of the neighboring municipality looks favorably on the project. According to John, the local government hopes Liberstad will increase tourism and business activity. Although local governments in Norway are allowed to collect property taxes, the municipality where the land will be bought does not currently collect property taxes, and John feels confident it will stay that way.
In regards to the larger Norwegian government, companies in Liberstad will only need to pay taxes if they do their business using the Norwegian kroner, John tells me.
“When it comes to businesses in Liberstad there will be both legal and non-legal (not illegal) businesses there. If you are planning on accepting Norwegian kroner for your services or goods you will have to register a legal company in Norway. This might be the case if you want to have a business for tourists and visitors to Liberstad.” “But if you want to have a business specifically for the residents of Liberstad and you choose to only accept alternative currencies, there is no need for permits or registering a legal company, and earnings in alt-currencies will not be tax collectable, as long as you don’t exchange it into Norwegian kroner. The earnings can be used to buy goods and services from other non-legal businesses in Liberstad that also accept alt-currencies.”
This opens up the exciting possibility of a commerce center that does not require government currencies to function. When I asked if there were any sensitive legal logistics that he would not necessarily want public, John replied:
“The national government of Norway might not like the idea that we want to create a city and a society where we exclude them, but there is nothing illegal about it.”
The plan is to pre-sell plots of a quarter acre. Costs is $4,300 per lot, putting the price in U.S. dollars at about $17,200 per acre. Pre-sale buyers are guaranteed a plot, and plots will be chosen by the buyer after the land is purchased on a first come first serve basis.
Plots sold in advance will be significantly cheaper than land sold after the purchase. Liberstad’s founders will sell about 62 acres initially, at which point they will have the funds to purchase a larger property. They are interested in a property which has been taken off the market and reserved for Liberstad. John plans to purchase the land by the summer of 2016, even if that means taking out a loan. There are already 60 participants requesting land, and when that number reaches 100, John expects the project to be fully funded.
This may be John Holmesland’s first go at growing a society from scratch, but he has been in the construction industry for fifteen years, and is confident in his abilities.
Like many others in the liberty movement, John struggled to find an outlet where he could feel free, without becoming a hermit.
“Since becoming an anarchist about 6-7 years ago, it’s been bothering me more and more that I was living in a statist community in a political town, where I couldn’t really relate to my neighbours or do anything about the things that were bothering me. And I didn’t enjoy my work as much anymore, as I was forced to fund the very things that I was against. So my initial plan was to buy a farm in a remote area in the countryside, and move there with my family. Start living off grid and just distance myself and my family from the government as much as we could, and pay as little tax as possible. But I wasn’t entirely happy with this plan as I didn’t want to distance me and my family from other people.”
John was spurred to start Liberstad after reading an article by Jeffrey Tucker on Atlantic Station, a thriving section of Atlanta, Georgia that is all privately owned and operated. He thought that this sort of outlet–a private city with like minded individuals–would give him the community he desired, without having to exit society. Quite the opposite of seclusion, in fact, he would be building up society, just not the type you typically find formed by governments. He posted his idea online and was encouraged by the response.
“The idea got a lot of positive feedback and this is also where I met Sondre Bjellås who is a fairly known anarchist in the anarchist/libertarian movement in Norway and has been writing about and promoting anarchism since 2011 in his blog “Uten Stat” (Without Government).”
From there, John got to work on making his dream a reality. There is definitely much groundwork to be laid, but the great thing about a free market is the spontaneous order it creates. John’s job is simply to create the fertile ground in Liberstad, so that individuals and groups, working together voluntarily, will have the opportunity to grow into a lush mini-society.
Current State of the Project
John hopes to break ground on Liberstad in 2016, after getting enough participants in the initial pre-sale of plots. He says that interest has been steadily growing, and he is waiting until he is sure there are enough serious investors to move forward. He expects some people will back out, which is why he is going above and beyond the necessary numbers before moving forward.
John is prepared to move he and his family to the property as soon as it is purchased, and begin working full time on Liberstad. Fiber optic internet will be one of the first projects to develop the property, in order to make sure it has all the modern appeal and accessibility for those who work online.
John’s goal is to create a fun environment with entertainment for permanent guests and tourists alike. In fact Liberstad seems poised to become quite the arts center, as the project has received interest from “several musicians, concert promoters, a record label, a recording studio, and also an amplifier producer,” according to John. Therefore a large concert and entertainment area will also be an early endeavour.
To kickstart the tourism, a campsite and village of rental cabins is planned as one of the first projects that Liberstad Drift AS will work on. The idea is that if this becomes a tourist destination, it will help advertise Liberstad, and give it a positive buzz. After all, what better way to win hearts and minds than providing a fun social environment?
So far, many people interested in buying plots want to do so simply for themselves, to join a community of likeminded people. But plenty others want to start businesses. John quickly expects the private city to sprout a bustling main street filled with pubs, bakeries, tattoo parlors, grocery stores, shops, and even private child care.
John has gone into this looking to make his and his family’s lives as great as they can be. He knows the project will be a lot of work, but says what he, and others, will create out of Liberstad will be worth it. Ultimately, John wants his project to empower others, and spur them to create the type of society that they want to live in.
“I hope Liberstad can encourage and inspire others to do the same. I hope anarchists, voluntaryists and libertarians everywhere will start to create private cities and communities. This can be done right now in most countries in the world, and it’s not necessary with big loans or rich investors to get started. Large pieces of land in rural places can be bought very cheap if enough people join together.
“These private cities and communities will not only be a fun and rewarding project and a great place to live for anarchists and libertarians, but it will also attract other people and help spread the philosophy of voluntaryism and anarchism.”
I soon hope to be writing a follow up piece about Liberstad in action. With interested participants, a friendly local government, and a dedicated and energetic leader, the momentum is going.
The best part is, that staying true to the free market, John is focusing this communities’ foundations in serving not only the need, but the desires of the consumer. The vision for Liberstad is a place where you can raise a family, have a fun night out, vacation, work, and simply, live. It is a community that can be shaped to each individual’s wants and needs; you don’t have to be a farmer, or a prepper, or a survivalist.
With people like John, we can have hope that the future will offer us many options for the type of life we want to live. Liberstad is one vision of the future, but like John said, there are a million ways to grow a mini-society! Liberstad just might be one “little piece of freedom” that can get the ball rolling.
Update: Liberstad is moving forward and is now selling plots of land. Get your updates at http://www.liberstad.no/