Greetings From Telosa (Population 0, for Now)
Bloomberg Businessweek|September 06, 2021
Tech entrepreneur Marc Lore is planning to build a utopian megalopolis somewhere in the U.S. “Let the land be owned by the people!” he says. “But in a capitalistic sort of way”
Joshua Brustein

In an American economy of winners and losers, it’s clear where Marc Lore falls. He founded two e-commerce startups and sold them for $550 million and $3.3 billion before spending the last five years running Walmart Inc.’s online shopping division. Since announcing his departure from Walmart in January, Lore is on a victory lap that seems to include doing everything short of climbing into a rocket and shooting himself into space. Yet somehow, even as he’s bought a stake in a basketball team, begun learning the basics of his new Steinway grand piano, and planned a reality show (it’ll be like Shark Tank but with bigger checks), Lore has found time to ponder what he sees as the biggest challenge facing the U.S.— the country’s massive wealth gap. “Most civilizations in history at some point fall, right?” he says. “This is going to bring down America.”

Lore laid out his plan to solve things during repeated phone and in-person interviews over the past six months. In early May he invited me to his apartment in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood for lunch. Covid-19’s winter wave had waned, and vaccinations were becoming more widely available, but interacting with humans still felt weird, so Lore had arranged to have the walls on the top floor of his $43.8 million penthouses retracted, allowing the breezes coming in from the Hudson River to ventilate one of his living rooms.

Lore sat facing out onto one balcony whose main feature was a life-size bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin. Wearing an all-beige outfit that matched, with unsettling precision, his beige couch, Lore explained how everything changed for him several years ago when he read Progress and Poverty, the 1879 manifesto by the economist and journalist Henry George. The book’s core argument is that private land ownership is to blame for rising inequality. Land in unoccupied areas is often worthless, George wrote but gains value when people move nearby. It’s a society that’s creating this wealth, but the benefits accrue only to whoever happened to own the land in the first place, giving them the ability to get rich without providing anything worthwhile.

George argued that heavily taxing the value of land would increase both economic efficiency and social justice. His book was a 19th-century blockbuster and has maintained a steady fan base ever since. His adherents argue that a land value tax could enable the elimination of most other taxes, including traditional property taxes, which assess improvements on the land in addition to the land itself. This idea has never been put into practice on a large scale, but it’s gone through something of a resurgence in the past decade, gaining praise from economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and inspiring arguments that similar thinking should be applied to other large pools of capital.

The idea of a philosophy that the Atlantic magazine referred to in 1913 as “Government Without Taxation” has obvious appeal to Lore, who’s on the hook for about $270,000 annually for New York City taxes on his apartment alone. He isn’t shy about expressing his skepticism that the government will spend it well, suggesting that taxpayers should be empowered to vote on which specific government projects their taxes are applied to, so the proposals have to “fight one another” to move forward.

Lore is particularly attracted to the strain of Georgism that involves creating a trust that holds the land in a community and uses the income it generates to fund social services. From that idea, he’s come up with the modest proposal to start a private foundation, buy 200,000 acres or so of land, probably somewhere in the American West, and build a 5 million-person city from the ground up—a Georgist utopia that will serve as a demonstration project for a new, fairer phase of capitalism.

“If you went into the desert where the land was worth nothing, or very little, and you created a foundation that owned the land, and people moved there and tax dollars built infrastructure and we built one of the greatest cities in the world, the foundation could be worth a trillion dollars,” Lore says. “And if the foundation’s mission was to take the appreciation of the land and give it back to the citizens in the form of medicine, education, affordable housing, social services: Wow, that’s it!”

The wealth-sharing that would come from the foundation, Lore says, mimics the way employees at startups are paid partially in stock. He says he’s planning the city much in the way he’d launch a business. For the past several months, Lore and a handful of colleagues have painstakingly brainstormed the new municipality’s official values and developed its logo; Lore conducted a survey of his LinkedIn followers to help him pick a name. They settled on Telosa, which derives from an ancient Greek word meaning “highest purpose.” He’s hired a team that includes a transportation planner, an engineer, and an urban historian. His real estate consulting firm has narrowed the search for a site down to about six states and has even identified some specific 50,000-plus-acre parcels in Nevada—whose governor has proposed rules to encourage new cities—as potential sites. In June, Lore commissioned Bjarke Ingels, one of the world’s most famous architects, to be Telosa’s chief architectural designer.

Lore acknowledges this is all a bit preposterous. He’s rich but not rich enough to fund such a large development project by himself, and he can’t say with any specificity how he’d get the money. He hasn’t acquired land or water rights, precursors to undertaking the daunting task of persuading people to leave real cities for his hypothetical one. Nor has Lore figured out how the foundation would operate or persuaded local officials to grant it the power it’d likely need to function. Clearing those hurdles would get Telosa to the point where Lore could see whether his unproven economic model would actually succeed.

Telosa taps into a long-running—and mostly unsuccessful—the tradition of trying to improve urban life by starting new cities from scratch. Sarah Moser, an associate professor of geography at Montreal’s McGill University who studies planned cities, has identified about 150 greenfield city-building projects being planned around the world, backed either by governments or private interests.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKView All

The Most Broken Business in America

Biden’s Build Back Better plan may make day care more affordable for parents—if the providers don’t go belly up first

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

Strongmen? Us?

Don’t let their confidence fool you: Xi, Putin, and other authoritarians are increasingly vulnerable at home

6 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

The Gucci Girlfriend

A love affair with Sheree McLaughlin led fashion scion Maurizio Gucci to leave his wife—a decision that would get him killed. As audiences ready for Ridley Scott’s retelling in House of Gucci, McLaughlin shares her story for the first time.

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

Crypto's Regulation Fix: We'll Handle It

Execs say traditional agencies don’t have the tools or expertise to oversee the sector alone

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

Ghost at the Controls

Boeing insisted pilots didn’t need expensive training for the new 737 Max and wouldn’t have trouble diagnosing software errors midflight. Then Maxes started pointing themselves toward the Earth. Adapted from the new book Flying Blind: The 737 Max Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing, by Peter Robison

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

Xi's Great Moderation

The Chinese leader wants to downsize the real estate sector, even if it means sacrificing economic growth

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

There's a Blockchain App for That

○ The technology is being used for digital health passports, banking, and gaming

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

Teaching Digital Currencies Not to Guzzle

Alternatives to “mining” augur power-sipping coins

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

Rivian's Success Is a Tribute to Tesla

Why is a company with no sales worth $130 billion? Belief in EVs

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021

Retailers Gain The Upper Hand

○ Supply chain disruptions will mean fewer deep discounts for shoppers this Christmas

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
November 22 - 29, 2021
RELATED STORIES

California 1st to Set Quota Limits for Retailers like Amazon

California became the first state to bar megaretailers from firing warehouse workers for missing quotas that interfere with bathroom and rest breaks under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that grew from Amazon’s drive to speed goods to consumers more quickly.

3 mins read
Techlife News
September 25, 2021

LORETTA LYNN DEATH CURSES STRIKE AGAIN!

Ranch foreman drowned in flood is 5th tragic victim

3 mins read
Globe
September 13, 2021

LORETTA LYNN FACE FROZEN!

Too many nip/tucks at age 89

2 mins read
Globe
August 16, 2021

SIZEABLE GAINS

BY REPURPOSING AN EXISTING HULL DESIGN, HAS BENETEAU JUST REINVENTED THE 55-FOOTER?

10+ mins read
Yachting World
August 2021

A Colossal Secret

Ian Evenden discovers how British WWII braniacs, faced with an impossible task, helped save millions of lives and invented the computer as we know it

10+ mins read
Maximum PC
May 2021

Moral Panic Is Back With a Vengeance

Lil Nas X’s “Montero” is the latest song to raise the hackles of conservative commentators—and everyone has a little something to gain from the controversy.

6 mins read
New York magazine
April 12-25, 2021

‘Poyer is a vital part of our success'

For more on what’s happening with Buffalo’s defense, here are some highlights from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s recent press conferences.

5 mins read
Bills Digest
January 26, 2021

COUNTRY CATFLIGHT!

Loretta Lynn & Dolly feuding over Nashville TRASH TALK!

2 mins read
Globe
January 04, 2021

Ruptured Achilles ends Lorenzo Carter's season

NEWS & NOTES

4 mins read
The Giant Insider
November 2, 2020

The Ears of Scotland!

What You Don’t Know About... Scottish Folds

6 mins read
Cat Talk
October 2020