Imagine a city state in the middle of the Caribbean, made possible by 21st-century technology and surrounded by, and interspersed with, canals of clear, blue water, a clean and beautiful place to live and raise families. Visualize, if you will, an oasis in the middle of the ocean: office buildings, hotels, theatres and shopping centres, sitting slightly above the sea in neat rows surrounded by greenery and flowers. This is a new country, which will be built in a moderately tropical sea, a perfect climate, a paradise: Utopia!" - words of welcome from the official web site of the principality of New Utopia.
"SEE THAT one? It's bigger than Grand Cayman," says Prince Lazarus Long, pointing to a blob on the map pinned to the wall in front of us. The blob sits in the northern Caribbean, to the south-west of the Cayman Islands, and represents the Misteriosa Bank, which is something most people would call a reef but which Prince Lazarus prefers to call an underwater island. It's the largest of three reefs in the area which together add up to a surface area of 285 square miles. The Prince first came across their existence about four years ago and they were exactly what he'd been looking for in order to bring to fruition a remarkable scheme which he first hatched a decade ago. At their shallowest point, they're only a foot or so beneath the sea. More importantly they lie more than 100 miles from any other country, which means they're in international waters. And Prince Lazarus has laid claim to them as the site of his planned capitalist paradise: New Utopia.
Later this year, if everything goes to plan, a construction company will begin pouring piles at 30ft intervals onto these virgin reefs. Then precast- concrete platforms will be placed on top of them, and on top of these a city will be erected. Plans for the initial stage of development include 1,200 apartments, a 350,000 sq ft shopping mall, five hotels, a bank, a 150,000 sq ft medical centre, a casino, a convention centre and a university offering scholarships to students from every country in the world.
There will be no taxes in New Utopia, with the single exception of an import duty on consumable goods, nor will there be any kind of welfare system. A constitutional sovereignty, the country will be run by a board of governors appointed by the Prince himself. Currently these governors are scattered around the world, awaiting the time when they can formally take up their posts. All of them, the Prince told me, are experts in their chosen fields.
The first phase of construction is scheduled to be completed by the beginning of September next year and on 1 December 1999, the new country's first birthday celebrations will be held. Prince Lazarus will be crowned and will bestow titles upon those who have helped to make New Utopia a reality. A host of celebrity guests will be invited who will be able to watch the inaugural New Utopian speedboat grand prix and generally marvel at this glittering monument to free enterprise. Maybe they'll take a ride on one of the numerous water taxis that will ply the city's canals, or maybe they'll just go for a stroll in the park and admire the huge, three-sided water wall at its centre. This will be the veritable totem of New Utopia, for each of its sides will represent one of the new country's main sources of income: the banking and insurance industries; a state-of-the-art anti- ageing medical centre; and tourism.
That's the plan, at any rate. At the moment, New Utopia is more science fiction than science fact. Indeed it sounds like the deranged idea of a raving crank, but in fact it's being put together along sound business lines by a man with a successful record of entrepreneurship. Prince Lazarus has no doubts that his new realm will rise from the sea. "There is nothing, no law, that can stop me," he told me. "If for some reason it's slowed down or postponed, I'll still make it happen. It's something that needs to happen.
We were talking in the unlikely setting for the headquarters of this grand enterprise, an unprepossessing house in a quiet cul-de-sac in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the ramshackle living-room which is the nerve centre of the operation, there's a flag of New Utopia on the wall (blue, with a white star surrounded by gold laurel leaves), and beneath it sits a computer, which for the moment is the only means of reaching the principality of New Utopia. It currently exists simply as a web site, a virtual country floating in the ether of hyperspace, but any day now, if everything goes to plan, it will start to become a physical reality.
"Pioneers have always ended up either full of arrows or with a lot of real estate," the 66-year-old Prince told me as he sucked on his pipe. "I've done both in my time, but this time I'm gonna end up with all the real estate. I'm pioneering something I can be proud of. I hope to have a lot of fun. I've had a lot of fun so far in putting it together, and at my age it's the sense of achievement that's important, not the money."
The Prince was formerly known as Howard Turney and he was born and raised in the small town of Bowie, Arizona. As a young man, he cowboyed for a while and spent a little time in the services before embarking on a life as an entrepreneur. "It took me a few years to realise that I had more intelligence than the average person, and more imagination," he said. Over the years, his intelligence and imagination have been put to the service of a variety of schemes. He spent a while in the restaurant business and he spent a while developing and marketing grocery products. He had an intensive shrimp-farming operation for a time and made a pile in the used-generator business.
But if the name of Howard Turney is familiar to you - and it's possible that it is - it's because of a little discovery he made back in July 1990. At that time he was 59 years old and, by his own admission, going to seed. He had a 44-inch waist and his hands shook. He looked more like 70. And then he read a report in the New England Journal of Medicine concerning a study of Second World War veterans who had been injected with human growth hormone for a period of six months. The result, said the report, was that they lost 14 per cent of their body fat and gained 9 to 12 per cent more muscle mass. They also reported having increased energy, stamina and sex drive.
At the time, human growth hormone was only available in America specifically for the treatment of dwarfism. However, Turney managed to befriend a doctor in Monterey and acquired a supply for himself. He took his first injection on 3 January 1991 and has been injecting it on a daily basis ever since. "Feel that," he said, taking off his jacket and showing me his upper arm. I felt it. It was hard as a rock. He does no weight training or other serious exercise, and yet his waist is now down to 32 inches. His hands no longer shake, his sight has improved, his hair has thickened and he implied to me, in not as many words, that the lead has returned to his pencil. "I'm 66 going on 40," he said cheerfully, "And I've not had any negative side effects at all."
He founded an anti-ageing clinic administering human growth hormone in Mexico and then went on to set up a network of similar clinics in the States. He was famous for a while and, over a period of 18 months, television crews from around the world flocked to interview him. But when the drug manufacturers began distributing human growth hormone for themselves, he dropped the business and now has no direct involvement in anti-ageing medicine. However, he knows some doctors who do. He hinted at this when he told me, "There are things on the horizon that people today can only dream about. We are not that far from being able to live multiples of what we look at now as the maximum lifespan."
"What sort of things?" I asked.
"Things I can't tell you about because they were told me in confidence," he replied. "Tests and studies are going on ... " Then he paused. "Turn your tape recorder off."
I did as he asked and then he told me about a research project currently being carried out by some scientists with whom he's acquainted. It involves the single injection of a retrovirus which would halt ageing in its tracks. More than that I cannot tell you. He told me that tests have been successfully carried out on mice and that in a couple of years it should be ready for human use. Naturally such a drug would be unlikely to get a licence from the American Food and Drug Administration for 20 or 40 years, if that. But there's nothing to stop it being used in a state of the art anti-ageing medical facility in a new country where such restrictions don't apply. And if there should be only an infinitesimal chance that it might work, there are bound to be a lot of wealthy people, Americans especially, willing to pay a lot of money to give it a try. Prince Lazarus has already negotiated the rights to administer it.
However, as the Prince is keen to stress, anti-ageing medicine is by far the least important of the three strengths of New Utopia represented in its giant waterwall. Its primary function will be as a tax haven that will "out-Cayman the Caymans". Prince Lazarus foresees his new country becoming "one of the big financial centres of the world", a free-market oasis without government constraints where money can be made and stashed and the taxman never calls.
But there's a possible problem with all this, and that's the question of whether New Utopia needs to be recognised as an independent country before it can operate as a legitimate financial centre. The Prince was initially keen to become a member of the United Nations and last year he sent a formal application to secretary general Kofi Annan. The response from the UN was that they would prefer to wait until New Utopia had actually been built before committing themselves to anything. However, Prince Lazarus has now cooled somewhat on the subject of UN membership.
"They're trying to implement worldwide banking rules and regulations that are not in keeping with the philosophy of New Utopia," he told me. "Plus they have a refugee policy for all their members. As a new little country, I cannot afford boatloads of people from Central America or Cuba or Haiti coming to my shores, because I have no welfare system, and I have no plans to have a welfare system."
According to Ian Sawyer, a business consultant and offshore expert based in Sutton Coldfield who has been appointed New Utopia's Minister of Corporations, UN membership is not a necessity. "There's no legal requirement to be in the UN," he told me. "And I think for the purposes for which New Utopia is being constructed, there will be no real major benefit." Sawyer has been obtaining views from banks and corporations on the matter of New Utopia's legitimacy, and so far, he said, he has had "absolutely nothing negative back on it whatsoever. The offshore side of it can legally function once there is a physical presence there."
The Prince told me that when he last counted, there were 463 fully paid- up citizens of New Utopia. Citizenship is currently available to anyone willing to fork out a minimum of $1,500 for a New Utopian five-year bond which will pay 9.5 per cent annual interest. As the Prince points out, this is peanuts compared to, say, the $55,000 which a tax haven like Belize charges for citizenship. He's confident that by the time the birthday celebrations come around he will have his planned full complement of 4,000 passport-bearing New Utopians. "I have thousands and thousands of people who have been sent information who I'm sure are just waiting to see the construction start before they jump on the bandwagon," he said.
"Everything is very genuine, very straightforward and very above board," Sawyer reassured me, adding that he is "very confident" that New Utopia will be built. In fact he's already looking forward to living there.
"We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter, a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets and inviolate homes ... With the sign of the dollar as our symbol - the sign of free trade and free minds - we will move to reclaim this country once more from the impotent savages who never discovered its nature, its meaning, its splendour. Those who choose to join us, will join us: those who don't, will not have the power to stop us; hoardes of savages have never been an obstacle to men who carried the banner of the mind." - from John Galt's speech to the nation in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
THE PRINCE officially changed his name to Lazarus Long three years ago. He'd decided there were too many Howard Turneys around, and anyway, as he puts it, "Prince Lazarus has a ring to it." He took his new name from a character in Time Enough For Love, a novel by the American science-fiction author Robert A Heinlein. "I admired his philosophy. It was so close to my own philosophy," he says of his fictional antecedent.
The Lazarus Long of Heinlein's epic saga is centuries old and lives in a world where ageing is a thing of the past. His "philosophy" amounts to a series of pro-individualistic slogans that can fairly be said to represent the thinking of the man who created him. Heinlein coined the phrase "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" and among his other catchy apophthegms are "All men are created unequal", "Taxes are not levied for the benefit of the taxed" and "Beware of altruism. It is based on self-deception, the root of all evil."
Heinlein died in 1988, but his works live on as seminal texts for the libertarian movement which thrives in America and in particular on the Internet. Libertarianism comes in many forms but roughly speaking it stands for the rights of the individual to make his or her own choices without government interference. Gun laws, drug prohibition and taxes are considered violations of a citizen's rights, and the welfare society is anathema. "He who governs least, governs best" is the libertarian motto.
"The reason for New Utopia's existence is the philosophy behind it," the Prince told me. He describes himself as "a moderate libertarian" and, like Robert A Heinlein, he believes that democracy doesn't work, which is why it won't exist in New Utopia and why he has proclaimed himself a prince. "A democracy has to turn into a welfare state," he said. "The nature of a democracy is that people who have nothing or very little outnumber the people who have assets. And they will constantly vote people into power to give them more and more bread and more and more circuses. The welfare state cannot survive, as you saw with Communism."
If Heinlein is an influence, the true philosophical inspiration behind New Utopia, indeed the person who could fairly be said to have written the blueprint, is another key figure in libertarian thought - Ayn Rand. Although generally written off as a capitalist fascist during the Sixties and Seventies, in recent times, Rand has come to be seen as more and more of an influential figure, at least in right-wing business circles. A Soviet emigree who fled Russia with the coming of Communism, she was the founder of "objectivism", a philosophy which holds that the highest purpose of existence is to live for oneself, and that altruism is evil. Her most famous work was the vast novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, which depicts a strike by America's most talented individuals. Tired of a collectivist society in which they are bled dry by their unappreciative fellow countrymen, the prime movers and money-makers disappear one by one to a hidden valley in Colorado, where they establish a new community based on laissez-faire capitalism. It is called Galt's Gulch, after the strike's leader, a brilliant engineer called John Galt.
In its own small way, New Utopia will be the concrete realisation of Rand's fictional community, a haven for capitalists the world over who believe that all men are not created equal and that the welfare society can go to hell. "I have very little patience with people who will not work and will not contribute to their own welfare," the Prince told me quite simply.
In fact, Prince Lazarus is not the first to attempt to put Rand's ideas into action. In 1995, a group of businessmen placed an advertisement in the Economist looking for others to join them in founding Laissez Faire City, a free-market paradise which would be built on 100 square miles of land leased from a friendly government. "When Laissez Faire City becomes a reality," said the advertisement, "Rand's spirit will undoubtedly become one with the rays of the sun which shall shine down on what may become known as the miracle city of the 21st century." Laissez Faire City has yet to be built, and when last heard of, the trustees were contemplating Peru as the site of their great adventure.
Another scheme was Oceania, a planned giant floating city based on libertarian ideals, which attracted a fair amount of publicity a few years ago. "The problem was that it was conceived by a bunch of radical militiamen," the Prince told me. "Everything was going to be legal - you could carry an anti-tank gun down the street if you wanted. And they were going to have duelling made lawful. Now who is going to invest their money in something like this, where some drunk challenges you to a duel and kills you? There's not much incentive there." Indeed a continued lack of investment means that Oceania still exists only as a web site.
Money is the key. The Prince has sunk $400,000 of his own funds into the founding of New Utopia, but that's a long way short of the $216 million required for the first phase of construction. Raising capital is in fact the job of the New Utopia Development Trust, which is registered in Belize. Neither the Prince nor any of his governors are members of the Trust, which acts as an independent developer and will pay a small percentage of its construction costs to the New Utopian government.
John Shannon, an entrepreneur based in Houston, is the Trust's general manager charged with coordinating its activities. He told me that although there have been delays in getting construction underway, he's confident that it will begin in the near future. "I wouldn't be spending any time at all on it if I didn't think it was very probable that it will be built," he said.
The Trust's problem, as Shannon admits, is that at the moment it's asking for a large leap of faith from potential investors. "The parameters of starting a country are much, much different from raising capital for something with a specific business plan and a specific return on investment expected in a certain time frame," he said. "This is a huge endeavour - it's a multi-faceted situation. Once the platforms are built and once the people start coming down there, then it becomes a simple matter of capital investment, but until you get to that point, it takes mavericks pretty much to go and do what could be considered the biggest crap shoot in history."
When Shannon first heard about the crazy idea of New Utopia, he decided that he had to meet the man behind it face to face. "I wanted to look into his eyes before I could feel comfortable in believing it was real," he said. "I had to feel his honesty and integrity." So he looked into the eyes of Prince Lazarus Long and he was satisfied with what he saw. "The thing is," he told me, "people are so conditioned to feel they need to seek permission to do things that they're not used to someone going out and staking a claim. It's those who make things happen that drive the world."
So will it really happen? Can it really happen? Prince Lazarus is quietly confident. "It's unusual, it's unique, it's never been done before," he said.
"But that doesn't mean it can't be done."
! The New Utopia web site is at http://www.new-utopia.com
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