The Rise of Global Trade Cities That Operate Outside the Law

Illustration for article titled The Rise of Global Trade Cities That Operate Outside the Law

It's not the Illuminati, but there is a New World Order cropping up all around us — if we're willing to look closer and see.


Keller Easterling is an architect, writer and professor at Yale University. Her most recent book, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (Verso, 2014), examines a new global network woven by money and technology that functions almost like a world shadow government. Though it's hard to grasp the full extent of this invisible network, Easterling argues that it's not too late for us to change it.

The power players in this new order are associated with governments, corporations, and other non-government entities. Easterling calls them masters of "extrastatecraft," an undeclared form of public engineering that exists outside of any recognized laws. In her book, she teaches you how to detect extrastatecraft at work, and discover new ways to "hack" it with surprising approaches to political activism.

So what is this extrastatecraft, and why should you believe that it's any more real than the Illuminati? We've got a series of examples below, sourced from Easterling's years of data, image collection and research, compiled in Extrastatecraft. In these videos, you can see advertisements for special trade zones that operate outside the law — these ads are aimed at attracting businesses to these cities, which operate under extremely vague and lax national and legal restrictions.

This week on Thursday, December 18, io9 will also host a Q&A with Easterling, where she can answer your questions and discuss the implications of this global trade network flourishing beyond the reaches of the law.

Smart City Almere: The Special Economic Zone

One example of extrastatecraft is the proliferation of "Extra Processing Zones" (or EPZs). You may have heard of Dubai, but that's just one of many dozens of "free zones" operating independent of domestic laws of their host countries, offering the global business elite a set of incentives—tax exemptions, foreign rights to property, cheap workforce, streamlined customs, deregulation of labor or environmental laws. An emergent genre of urban porn, urban music video or urban trailer now promotes the global city building epidemic.


Kuwait Future City, or the "City of Silk"

In the typical template for these videos, a zoom from outer space drops through clouds to reveal the location of a new world city. The stirring music of an epic adventure or western accompanies a swoop through shimmering cartoon skylines, resorts, suburbs and sun flares.


Gabon, SEZ, Nkok

A deep movie-trailer voice repeats all the mantras of free trade and incentivized urbanism to which foreign investment has become addicted—no taxes, no bureaucracy, streamlined customs, and deregulation of labor or environment law.


Jebel Ali Free Zone

As global business consulting firms cheer them on, the zone is now bathed in redemptive rhetoric and treated as the precondition for entry into a global marketplace.


Lekki Free Trade Zone, Nigeria

Comically drunk on heroic urban aspirations the videos distract from their inherent violence as they mix things like fantasy environments, Hegel quotes and buildings shaped like diamonds or dolphins.


Astana, Kazakhstan

New Financial City of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia


Valerie Jo

For those who can afford to benefit, it's like a dream. But most of us would be the underpaid workers who make it run, unprotected by criminal or labor laws.