FAQ: Why not just hide?
February 2, 2009 by admin
I’ve gotten this question several times recently, so I’ve drafted an answer for the book’s extended Q&A. Feedback would be welcome.
Some people’s instinctive reaction is to question why we need new countries when bad laws can just be dealt with by ignoring them, hiding illegal activities. What would you want to do on a seastead that you can’t just do in your own home? There are a number of serious problems with hiding as a solution to bad laws:
* **Integrity**. Imagine asking gays “Why do you need to be accepted by society, when you can just hide your sexual orientation and do whatever you want in the bedroom?” Being able to live one’s lifestyle openly and honestly, whatever it may be, is of enormous value to integrity and self-esteem.
* **Scale**. Hiding is a solution that only works at small scales. The bigger and more successful your movement or community, the more likely it is to be noticed and shut down. We are not interested in starting something where success will quickly and inevitably breed failure. We want to change the world, and that means building something way too big to be hidden.
* **Limited scope**. Some activities, by their nature, are easy to hide (drug use). Others are not – opening a hospital. Hiding thus greatly limits what can be done. And hiding works terribly for systems (as opposed to activities) – how do you hide the fact that 1,000 people have agreed to be bound by a new legal system from those trying to enforce the new one? Our main goals, after all, are at the level of systems. We think the world would be enormously better if people had more freedom to create and experiment with alternative political systems, because we think that existing systems are far from optimal and cause a great deal of suffering. Existing systems would be even worse if we couldn’t hide from their bad laws – but we dare to dream of a world where we get rid of bad laws instead of hiding from them.
* **Long-term planning**. A life of hiding is a life of uncertainty. One never knows when one will be exposed and suffer consequences for hidden actions. This is personally stressful, and bad for business and investment.
* **Security by obscurity**. Protecting by hiding is simply another version of [this rightly-maligned concept from computer security](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_through_obscurity).
* **Capital and Property**. As Hernando De Soto documents in [The Mystery of Capital](References.html#DeSoto2000), wealth differences between nations can partially be traced to differences in their capital markets. In rich nations, property rights are clear and enforced, business is done out in the open, and so businesses can get loans to expand. In poor nations, most things are done on black markets where property rights are fuzzy, and most capital is informal. This means that small business owners can’t get loans, because they can’t prove what they own, and investors don’t have confidence that the business can continue operating. Restricting yourself to the black market can be quite profitable (consider drug smuggling), but it is also a dangerous life (consider drug smuggling). To really change the world, we need investment, contracts, and property rights, and that means operating in the open.
As you can see, hiding is totally unsuited for people with integrity, who think big, want to reform political systems, plan for the long-term, raise investment, and run businesses. If that sounds like you, then seasteading is your kind of movement. Everyone else is welcome to keep on hiding.