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 – it turned out he was in fact a citizen of New Zealand and had been a citizen since 2011 (Nippert 2017a). The New Yorker inadvertently broke the news of Thiel’s property purchase 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), and should the big pandemic come, should artificial intelligence turn on humans, or should we have a third world war, Altman said, he and Thiel would fly to Thiel’s property 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 stopped being a silly preppers fantasy and became a potential 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, the two authors make 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 that cybercash would undermine government control of finance, finally leading to a collapse of the nation state and democracy. From the ashes of this collapse will rise, they predict, a new ‘sovereign individual’ with a transnational outlook. And they single out New Zealand as the likely place this sovereign individual will thrive and benefit economically (ibid. 265).

Notice now again, like in previous blog posts on this site, the entanglement of attempts to create virtual spaces with real politics. Thiel’s private escape dream moved capital, sparked investments, and changed 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. And he had by all accounts done this quite actively in the years surrounding his successful application for citizenship after which his interest seemed to have waned (Nippert 2017c). But the notion that wealthy over-sees investors were buying up property in New Zealand as part of their apocalypse escape plan was not taken well by the recently elected Jacinda Arden-government and led 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.). See next:

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