On self-sovereignty and being an internet citizen
Technological paradigm shifts bring about equivalent shifts in belief systems, culture, art, and social structures. You can listen to a fairly detailed version of this argument, mapping these changes at the cusp of renaissance and right now, in this podcast.
Of course, the focus today is on the internet and, by extension, crypto. the belief is that the information revolution started a few decades ago still has most of its course to run — when it comes to propelling these real-world seismic shifts.
In the age of internet, many of the givens we used to take for granted are becoming less and less relevant. Of course, these changes don’t happen overnight and legacy structures can remain around for a very long time (sometimes centuries or millennia), after they have lost its dominant function. Regardless, we can already see some major structural changes taking place and, in this article, I will focus on three big shifts that are close to my hearth.
What’s central to all three is the idea of self-sovereignty, or taking ownership and agency over one’s own affairs, without relying on (often authoritarian) third parties.
It is hard to argue against the fact that geographic boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant. I have experienced this in a few different forms.
Over the course of the last 12 years, I have lived in five different countries. At current, I am a citizen or a residential / work permit holder in four of these simultaneously, spanning two continents. Of course, thanks to covid, I am currently spending all of my time in Singapore, but I do have a residential addresses of some sort in two others.
Despite living in Singapore, I bank in the UK (more on this in the next section), thanks to Monzo and its 0 fees on foreign transactions. In order to access some other products that are not otherwise available, I use my EU-based address and citizenship in [an EU country]. I maintain my entrepreneurship visa for Malaysia, anticipating the borders re-opening in a few months, and being able to resume travel back-and-forth.
The question I hate the most is ‘where are you from?’ because, despite being born and raised in [an EU country], I don’t identify with any one country in particular. I can’t and I don’t want to imagine a world where I can’t move freely based on opportunity, and where I can’t access investing in certain products, because of the citizenship printed on my passport.
When I joined my first startup back in 2016, I was amazed how we were running a distributed team across some 10+countries, whilst still being a relatively small company. And how well this worked. For some jobs (especially IT, as long as you can speak good English and are savvy enough), the global salaries market has been flattened already, and this trend will only continue. I can’t and I don’t want to imagine a world where I can’t access a work opportunity because of where I am based or a world where I cannot hire or contract the best candidate for the job, because of their geography.
Whilst already being able to do a fair amount of geographic arbitrage, as per the above, there are still some major hassles associated with this. For example, in order not to lose my UK resident status, I have to spend a certain number of days in that country. Or, in order to not lose my privilege of residing inside Singapore during covid, I cannot leave and re-enter the island. I am privileged enough that, partly due to my nationality, obtaining visas for these countries has not been hard, but not everybody is in the same position.
Apart from the obvious fact of countries having to compete for capital and talent, my hope and expectation is that, as information, communication, and governance technology keeps evolving, nation states keep losing more and more power (both in the minds and hearths of people and in legal terms). The new modes of governance currently being tested on the blockchain (DAOs et al) are especially interesting to watch, when it comes to this.
I have touched on this lightly, above. At present, about 90% of my savings is in crypto. My crypto is mostly held using my own private keys and I use decentralised lending, liquidity provision, and yield farming, to earn interest. Out of the remaining 10% — most is in stocks, options, and property. About 2.5% overall is in fiat currency (GBP & EUR). This represents about 3–4 months of my financial runway, so I don’t need to be converting part of my crypto back into fiat each month, in case the value goes down. Yes, you got it right, my current income is entirely drawn from crypto.
Thanks to Binance, the on- and off- ramps from fiat to crypto are very good, including my Binance MasterCard, which allows me to hold several different cryptocurrencies (including stablecoin) and spend them directly at any merchant that accepts MasterCard (read — ANY merchant). The crypto automatically converts into fiat, at the instant my card is presented at a payment terminal.
Despite living in Singapore, I don’t keep any SGD — save for some petty cash — as I prefer using my GBP-denominated Monzo or my crypto-denominated Binance accounts. Likewise, I did not have a local bank account at all, whilst living in Malaysia for a year and a half.
The advantages of holding mostly crypto are mainly — hedging against inflation by not holding assets controlled by the government, lack of restrictions as to where, when, and how much of money I can spend, and portability — not having to move my money around at all, when I change countries. Please note, none of this involves tax avoidance, which I don’t recommend and don’t engage in (luckily Singapore has a 0% tax on capital gains).
In the near future, in order to enable a global citizen lifestyle and ever-more globally interconnected economies, digital currencies will increasingly take the central stage. As this happens, your citizenship and residential status will be less and less relevant, when it comes to participating in this new economy.
This one is probably discussed a bit less often than the other two but likewise important. Taking ownership of one’s own health is, in most places, still harder than you may think.
Yes, I’m partly talking about the fact that most of my health records are still not digitized and/or don’t reside with me — my comprehensive file from my first 18 years of my life is currently residing in a single hand-written hardcopy somewhere inside my childhood GP’s filing cabinet. I own some x-rays of my spine on a CD, which is a progress, and I own a lot more of my real-time health and wellness data coming from the three to four smart devices I use on a daily basis (though at the moment this data is in no way aggregated).
In addition to this, I am talking about my rights to self-determine what kinds of treatments I wish to seek for various conditions — whether the goal is to alleviate an ailment or proactively achieve a higher level of (physical or mental) fitness. This would include taking drugs which are (unfortunately still) not legal in most countries, like marihuana or MDMA, or modifying one’s own body with implants or changes to DNA. Yes, most of the latter is still not feasible today, but we are quickly moving in that direction.
My hope and expectation is that, in the near future, as the power of centralised authorities erodes, along the axes of geography and money, the way one can manage their own health and wellness will also become open to a host of new possibilities, without much of the red tape currently in place. Yes, this will potentially result in huge discrepancies in access based on wealth, but that is a separate thought.
There is definitely a lot more written and discussed on self-sovereignty, especially in the more tech-friendly and libertarian circles, in an increasing number of pockets around the world. This article does not aim to be the most comprehensive or best-argued summary, rather an elucidation of my own, quickly evolving point of view on this topic, largely based and coloured by my 30 years’ worth of personal experience. I’m hoping to explore each section in much more depth, in the future, in separate posts and self-experiments. Hope you enjoyed!