Lake Wanaka

In January 2017, news spread across the world media that Peter Thiel, multi billionaire and Silicon Valley venture capitalist, had – two years prior – purchased a 477 aches property on Lake Wanaka in New Zealand. Furthermore, he had done so without needing the approval of Oversees Investments Office – as it turned out he was in fact a citizen and had been a citizen since 2011 (Nippert 2017a). The New Yorker inadvertently broke the news Thiel’s property in New Zealand in a feature article about Sam Altman – fellow Silicon Valley tech investor (Friend 2016). “I prep for survival” Altman said talking casually about his hobbies (ibid: 9). Should the big pandemic come, should artificial intelligence turn on humans, or should we have a new world war, Altman and Thiel would fly to Thiel’s house in New Zealand and sit it out (ibid.).

Altman and Thiel were not the only ones who had singled out New Zealand for their escape. Following the election of Trump in 2006, New Zealand experienced a rising interest in claiming citizenship and not a small number of ultra-wealthy North Americans bought property in New Zealand (Osnos 2017). The notion of impending doomsday had long been cultivated by the tech elite of Silicon Valley and the election of Trump marked for many the moment a possible nuclear world war, went from being a silly preppers fantasy to a possibly scenario (ibid.). But why New Zealand? To understand this we have to understand the role played by one specific book called The Sovereign Individual co-written by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg (Davidson & Rees-Mogg 1997). Davison has made a living as an advisor the super wealthy on how to benefit from economic disaster. Rees-Mogg is a former editor of The Times and father of one James Rees-Mogg lover of Brexit. In this book two authors makes a detailed analysis of the, then, current markets and forsaw among other things the rise of cryptocurrency, or ‘cybercash’ (ibid.: 215). They went on to argue how cybercash will undermine government control of finance, finally leading to a collapse of the nation state and democracy. From the ashes will rise a new ‘sovereign individual’ with a transnational outlook. A likely place to benefit economically in this era; New Zealand (ibid. 265).

Notice now again the entanglement of these attempts to create virtual spaces with real politics. Thiel’s escape dream moves capital, sparks investments, and change policies: Once Thiel’s purchase had reached the news, it soon became clear that he had been fast-tracked to a New Zealand citizenship (Capital Finance International 2018) using an “exceptional circumstances” clause in the Citizenships Act (Nippert 2017b) effectively dodging the legislation concerning oversees property purchases. The exceptional circumstance mentioned in the application was Thiel’s investments in local start-ups in New Zealand and his role henceforward as a sort of ambassador of New Zealand promoting the country’s interest in venture capitalist circles. Which he did most actively in the years surrounding his successful application for citizenship after which his interest seemed to wane (Nippert 2017c). The notion that wealthy over-sees investors are buying up property in New Zealand as part of their apocalypse escape plan was not been taken well by the recently elected Jacinda Arden-government and lead to a tightening of the “regulations around the land purchase by foreign investors” directly attributed to Thiel’s operations in the country (O’Connell 2018). While New Zealand might be Thiel’s escape room it is more than that. He has famously likened New Zealand to Utopia (Gobry 2011) a phrase that makes legal scholar of Auckland University, Khylee Quince pause (O’Connell 2018). A Maori herself, she alerts her interviewer to the fact that the idea of New Zealand as a utopian place has a colonial baggage. It is, she says, “the language of emptiness and isolation” (ibid.).

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