It's become something of a cliché to say that mega-corporations are as powerful as entire countries, if not more so. And while that sort of grandiose assertion about the overall power and influence held by companies is certainly up for debate, there's no question that there are companies whose pervasive reach into our daily lives is indeed alarming. But what would happen if that (admittedly porous) membrane between government and corporation were to be erased altogether? Residents of Nevada might soon find out.
Draft legislation backed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, and obtained this week by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, suggests Nevada's effort to entice tech companies to set up shop within the state could go so far as to allow qualifying businesses to establish "Innovation Zones" — autonomous corporate territories that would essentially operate as their own counties. Per the Review-Journal, that would include the ability to impose taxes, establish school districts, operate courts, and "provide government services."
It's important to stress that the proposed legislation is very much just that: proposed. And as a draft, it's still subject to change before it's officially introduced. Still, that allowing corporations to essentially create their own municipal governments is being discussed at all is a sign of just how far the idea has come — particular if the state's governor is on board. In fact, when Sisolak introduced the then-still-undefined idea of "Innovation Zones" during his State of the State address last month, he even had a company in mind: Blockchains, LLC, which purchased nearly 70,000 acres of land outside of Reno in 2018.
The massive land-buy is key to establishing the Innovation Zone that would operate as its own corporate government. According to the draft legislation, in order to qualify, a company would need to be focused on "innovative technology" (think cryptocurrency, AI, etc) and would have to purchase more than 50,000 acres of uninhabited land within a single existing county. The company would also need to have a quarter of a billion dollars — and promise to invest a full billion within the coming decade.
Crucially, the draft legislation makes clear that the zones would be governed by a three-person "Board of Supervisors." Additionally:
The exercise of any power or duty by the Board supersedes the exercise of that power or duty by the county in which the Innovation Zone is situated. The adoption of any ordinance by the Board of Supervisors supersedes any ordinance on the subject adopted by the board of county commissioners of the county in which the Innovation Zone is located.
And who would be on this all-powerful board? Per the draft:
The governor shall appoint the initial Board, provided that such appointments shall be made within 270 calendar days after the date of creation of the Innovation Zone. The Board consists of three members, two of whom must be appointed from a list of at least five nominees proposed by the applicant.
In other words: The majority of the board would come from people nominated by the company establishing the Innovation Zone.
For just one uniquely Nevadan way to look at the implications of the proposed legislation, consider that in Nevada, the power to authorize legal brothels resides with each individual county (with populations over 700,000) in partnership with the local sheriff. Under this draft, it seems plausible that a tech juggernaut, after establishing its own Innovation Zone, could — under the right conditions — start operating its own brothels as part of its municipal control.
While "company towns" are hardly a new phenomenon, this uniquely 21st-century spin on the concept — particularly the emphasis on big tech corporations whose influence on our lives is already concerning enough — takes things to an entirely different level.
It remains to be seen whether the draft will be changed substantially before the bill is officially proposed. In the meantime, prepare yourself for the idea of some cryptocurrency company opening up the Buttcoin House of Ill Repute just off the Vegas Strip.