Picture it: a city, nestled among the desert dunes. Clean streets, clean air, high-speed transportation. A collection of the world’s brightest minds from tech, healthcare, engineering, art; all gathered together to create a utopia that rethinks the model of a capitalist society.
That’s what billionaire Marc Lore is considering building in the desert, somewhere. Lore wants to found a city called Telosa, based on a system called, “equitism,” and he hopes to move people in by 2030. But why does this concept sound so familiar?
City of Telosa
So what is the city of Telosa? It’s a concept created by Lore with one principle in mind – equitism. Lore wants to buy land somewhere in the deserts of the West, or in Appalachia, around 150K acres. There would be indoor farming, energy-efficient buildings, autonomous electric cars, and high-speed transportation. The core premise? Equitism. It’s a community-ownership model wherein the government of Telosa owns the land people build their homes on, allowing the land itself to build equity over time. People would own their homes and items on the property. At first, people from all jobs would be welcome. Lore plans, once he settles on a location, to move around 1,500 people in by 2030. These people are from all walks of life; doctors, baristas, artists, and everything in between.
Fortune reports, “In theory, that land’s value would grow over time. Lore predicts that as the city grows, the land could eventually be worth $1 trillion, and earn $50 billion annually from investments that would be used to ensure that every citizen – no matter their income – had equal access to healthcare, good schools, parks, safe streets, and transportation. Lore calls it ‘equitism,’ or a twist on capitalism.
‘I’m trying to create a new model for society, where wealth is created in a fair way,’ Lore explained from his New Jersey lake house. ‘It’s not burdening the wealthy; it’s not increasing taxes. It is simply giving back to the citizens and the people the wealth that they helped create.’”
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
It sounds great, right? Experts say, “not so fast.” Throughout human history, people have obsessed over the idea of building Utopia; a place where no one wants, no one struggles, and everyone is focused on a shared common goal. Sound like a cult? Maybe, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to build them over and over. Bill Gates has plans to build a smart city outside of Phoenix. Jeffrey Berns has begun building a much larger smart city elsewhere, in Nevada. Zappos founder Tony Hsieh tried to reimagine downtown Las Vegas as a utopic city center where people could congregate and exchange ideas, access services, and generally be good people. He died before his vision could be realized, and it mostly fizzled as big name companies continued to gobble up businesses now defunct after the pandemic.
And it’s a common theme throughout our entertainment history. Stories range from the playful and idealistic – such as children’s novel, “Dinotopia,” which imagines a world where dinosaurs are alive and everyone works together in harmony – to the macabre. In a video game series titled Bioshock, a billionaire builds a Utopia at the bottom of the ocean to get away from the horrors of war and society. There gathers the world’s best scientists and artists, until a quest for betterment goes desperately awry and everyone dies. Well, sort of.
It may be fantasy, but the concept that a utopic society may be unachievable in our current society is certainly not a new one. Fortune shares, “Dennis Gilbert, emeritus professor of sociology at Hamilton College, in Clinton, NY and author of The American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality, said the idea is naive. Growing U.S. inequality over the last 50 years is largely the result of changes in the job market and in American families, he said. Technological advancements and dependence on imported goods means fewer high-paying jobs for low skilled workers in manufacturing. At the same time, a gap in marriage rates between college and high school educated people has widened and translated into more single-parent households being dependent on low-paid jobs. Home ownership, said Gilbert, has played a role in inequity, but it isn’t the fundamental problem.
‘The notion that some person will be able to solve our problems outside of a political context—I don’t buy it,’ Gilbert said. ‘But wealth gives people a platform. You’re smart, confident and successful. You think it’s possible to save the world.’
… Since the 19th century, researchers have long studied utopian cities, and they have largely found that top-down economic models don’t work, said Mark Giliem, a urban design professor at the University of Oregon. Cities, he said, grow organically in response to millions of factors.
‘Lore talks about reformed capitalism, but who will be in charge?’ asked Giliem. ‘I think this sounds dangerous.’”
Telosa: When, and Where
It’s okay, no worries says Lore; he doesn’t plan to be in charge. An opinion piece from The Guardian highlights the skepticism that people feel over this grand promise Lore is making; “But it won’t work. It won’t work because one guy doesn’t get to decide how the world, or even a city, should work. Even if he’s collaborating with the greatest ‘thinkers’ and architects and scientists of our time, just a glance through Lore’s portfolio will reveal that all of his big ideas and fancy language about the betterment and advancement of society are pretty hollow.
This is a guy who built his fortune in part through Walmart, a labor-busting company that pays its own workers so little that they often have to rely on government-funded welfare programs despite being employed full-time.
Lore made another chunk of his fortune by selling a venture to Amazon, a company so odious in its treatment of workers that even the Wall Street Journal has turned up its nose. Both of these companies have been instrumental in funneling money and joy from the lower classes and handing it over to a select few who can think lofty thoughts about, ‘What would make society better?’”
Aside from the challenges of bringing water to the desert, you have to find a way to bring the society out of people. And since the billionaire class is – ostensibly – the very downfall of the capitalist society Lore proposes to shed, a billionaire isn’t exactly the ideal leader for this utopia. If, however, you’ve heard all the pros and cons and are interested in joining Lore on his journey into the desert, you’re in luck. There’s already a website and an Instagram where you can go to get more information. The reality is, succeed or fail, every attempt at building a utopia is another step forward because we can learn from the mistakes we can’t make in a closed system like capitalism. And since humanity has ever held close the idea of utopia, it does hold a certain appeal. Let’s just hope it ends better than Bioshock.