Vote Seasteading – The Seasteading Institute November 2012 Newsletter

by

Dear Friend of the Seasteading Institute,

With the U.S. election just two days away, I wish to offer a prediction and a personal anecdote, in preparation for the inevitable sound and fury coming in Tuesday’s wake. I predict, no matter who wins, we will all in due time be disappointed by the lack of effectual representation.

Last year, economist and friend of the Institute Arnold Kling asked an important question on the blog EconLog: “Why do seemingly dramatic elections have relatively minor consequences?” He answered, “the political process is run by insiders, whose interests remain relatively stable. Voters can change who gets to exercise power, but they have no influence over how it is exercised or for whom it is exercised.” Depressingly, Kling regards the situation as unfixable. He continued: “Politics will remain a game where insiders battle over resources while outsiders are manipulated.”

But let me not be too negative, nor dissuade you from voting. I cast my ballot here in California last week, but this time around it felt different than in previous elections, prior to my joining The Seasteading Institute. Rather than pulling the proverbial lever with the vengeance of a partisan, I cast my vote with zen-like calm. Because of my new focus on enabling a more evolved paradigm for improving governance, I was able to fill out my the ballot with a healthy dose of detachment. This does not mean I don’t care what happens here and now on land — I care deeply. As Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Detachment is not indifference. It is the prerequisite for effective involvement.” I have simply learned that individual votes have very little effect on our politics; allowing my sentiments to get swept up in the superficial political battles of the day only angers and ages me. Rather than ineffectively weighing in on US electoral politics, I take great pride in knowing that I am working to have a greater effect on our future through seasteading. I hope you feel the same pride if you support the work of the Institute.

I want to thank our supporters for giving me the opportunity to detach from domestic politics and focus on a brighter future.

Vote Seasteading,

Randolph Hencken

Executive Director

 

Table of Contents

“Vote Seasteading” By Patri Friedman, Founder and Chairman of the Board
This version has been edited to reduce its length, read the full original blog here.

It is November 2012, and I ask you to join me in a thought experiment. Let’s cast our minds back, and imagine…

Imagine it is 1998, and Digital Equipment Corporation’s “AltaVista” is the most popular search engine on the young internet. Two Stanford graduate students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have an idea for a better search engine. With DEC’s annual shareholder meeting coming up, Larry and Sergey organize an activist campaign, soliciting their community to write letters to the board of directors and distributing material to current shareholders. Their goal is to get nominated, then elected to the board of DEC so that they can implement their new algorithm in Alta Vista. With only claims about their algorithm — no proof, no website, no users, their attempt fails. Larry & Sergey go back to focusing on their studies, and Google is never born.

Imagine it is 1975, and the most popular personal computers are Tandy’s TRS-80 and Commodore’s PET. Steve Wozniak, an Engineer at Hewlett-Packard, and Steve Jobs, a technician at Atari, have an idea for a computer called the “Apple I”: smaller, faster, more capable, and more elegant than any personal computer to date. Both Steves pitch the idea to their employers, but Atari is happy making video games and HP making calculators; neither company wants to risk a personal computer enterprise. They try pitching their design to Tandy & Commodore, whose in-house engineers, resentful that these outsiders are better designers, convince their management that trying outside technology isn’t worth the risk. Tandy, Commodore, Atari, and HP “stay the course,” Wozniak creates brilliant new graphic calculators for HP, Jobs starts a health-food store, and Apple is never born.

Imagine it is 1775, and the Thirteen American Colonies of the British Empire are unhappy with how they are being governed from afar. But the British-American colonists are determined to “stay the course,” and so they continue petitioning the Crown, protesting unfair laws, and hoping for change. Some colonies manage to get new Colonial Governors, but with the same system, and the same incentives, little changes. America is never born, the world doesn’t see the tremendous power of constitutionally-limited representative democracy, and monarchies last an extra century. 

Fortunately for the world, events did not turn out like in our imagination. In every one of these cases, the world benefited enormously from a group of bold pioneers, willing to leave the beaten track and try something new. And in every case, innovation would have been difficult or impossible within existing companies and power structures. Yet somehow, in a world defined by technological breakthroughs from those who didn’t “stay the course,” in a country founded on a complete break from the governing traditions of the day, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of history. 

As today’s systems age, innovation becomes more desperately relevant to modern politics every decade. Yet while tens — perhaps hundreds — of millions of people are focused on which way the dinosaur will lumber next, almost no one is focused on what new political species we could evolve. Electoral activism is bad for your blood pressure, and it doesn’t need you. Structural activism will help you feel empowered, and there are so few of us that every person matters.

This is my platform: we need Googletopias and Appletopias: brilliant new political systems, built on fresh ideas, started in empty areas, and governing only those who choose to opt into them. And I believe that seasteading is our best bet to create this startup sector for government.

So as the November Presidential elections dominate every form of media, I ask that you take a deep breath, disengage from the popularity contest, and think big. Vote: Seasteading.

Seasteader I, Available for Charter

The Institute is in talks with multiple parties about chartering Seasteader I, our 275-foot ship donated to us this past summer. However, we haven’t yet signed a contract with any group, and are still soliciting chartering proposals. As a nonprofit, we can lease her to a mission-aligned group at a below market rate, providing a unique opportunity for qualified groups to experiment with seasteading business plans. 

Please share our request for proposals web page with anyone who may have leads for her use.

Assessment of Sustainable Energy Technology Aboard Seasteader I

As we entertain proposals for chartering Seasteader I long term, we are simultaneously exploring possibilities for using the ship immediately as a testbed for research into sustainable ocean living. Our plan includes outfitting the vessel with renewable energy equipment to reduce her consumption of fossil fuels, and to demonstrate the effectiveness of renewable energy conversion and storage technologies operating in an off-grid application. The expansive open air upper deck layout of Seasteader I is conducive to the installation of a large solar and wind array, providing up to 90 kilowatts of combined total rated capacity. 

One of the complications with renewable energy technology stems from the fact that energy production is rarely temporally aligned with consumption. This is solved on land by dumping unused power onto the grid, but seasteads will require an alternative means for efficiently storing energy during times of low demand and high supply. Our strategy is therefore to team up with both energy generation and storage firms who see value in our mission and would like to contribute equipment and/or funding to this line of research. All research can be conducted from the vessel’s present berth in Fort Pierce, Florida, and it is expected that system testing will continue once Seasteader I is placed in service.

Specifically, we are looking to acquire wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries, for which specifications can found in a white paper written by Director of Engineering, George Petrie. The paper also details the intended scope, approach and rationale for the research, and is being used as a jumping-off point for our conversation with various firms in the renewable energy industry. We also welcome leads from the community, which can be sent to info@seasteading.org.

O.Shane Balloun Joins Law & Policy Board of Advisors

The Seasteading Institute is very excited to announce the addition of O.Shane Balloun to our Law & Policy Board of Advisors. Balloun is a lawyer in Western Washington, practicing at his firm, Balloun Law Professional Corporation. His areas of practice include admiralty and maritime law, high-tech business law, property law, litigation, and other civil matters. He attended Cornell University as Dean’s Scholar and graduated with an A.B. in Mathematics. After college, he worked in Silicon Valley, enjoying a stint in the hard disk drive industry before beginning work at Google. There, Balloun befriended fellow Googler Patri Friedman, and became enthralled with the emerging concept of seasteading, embodied by Patri’s early writings. After Google, Balloun earned his J.D. with honor from the University of Wyoming. He also holds an LL.M. (Master of Laws) in Admiralty from Tulane University Law School, one of the premier Admiralty schools in the country, where he graduated with distinction.

Balloun was an early contributor to the Institute’s mission, authoring a critical piece of seasteading legal research titled, The True Obstacle to the Autonomy of Seasteads: American Law Enforcement Jurisdiction over Homesteads on the High Seas. This paper was recently revised for publication in the University of San Francisco Maritime Law Journal (see summary below). Balloun has also published legal articles on how the Tenth Amendment supports various states’ firearms freedom acts. He is licensed to practice in California and Washington; further, he is admitted to practice in all federal courts in California, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The True Obstacle to the Autonomy of Seasteads Revised and Published in University of San Francisco Maritime Law Journal

Perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of the subject in its original form, Balloun’s 2010 paper, The True Obstacle to Seasteads: American Law Enforcement Jurisdiction over Homesteads on the High Seas, has now been substantially updated for publication in the University of San Francisco Maritime Law Journal. The revised version includes a new section on legal precedents for autonomous offshore activity under both U.S. admiralty and international maritime law, and an expanded analysis of the main threats of interference with regard to various sea zones, seastead configurations (i.e., ship or fixed platform), and other legal considerations.

The paper begins with a background on the early history of micronations and seasteading-esque activities. It recounts several dramatic episodes involving smugglers, risk-takers, idealists, corrupt diplomats, entrepreneurs, and helicopter assault teams, from which seasteaders can learn a great deal about how (and how not) to obtain autonomy on the ocean. We later learn, for example, that the United States has “plenary powers,” or total control, over its territorial waters, and has exercised substantial jurisdiction when a given maritime activity is considered a potential threat, broadly defined, to its interests. Even in extraterritorial jurisdictions, beyond the 200 nautical mile-wide Exclusive Economic Zone, it appears that U.S. legislation, court decisions, and diplomatic sway allow the government to interfere with vessels when there is any suspicion regarding their conduct.

Although these obstacles suggest that legal interference may be as great a challenge to newfound autonomy as the economic and physical engineering constraints, Balloun concludes with valuable advice and gives hope to the seasteading movement. Seasteading ventures employing an incremental, non-confrontational strategy can still remain autonomous from powerful coastal states. Such a strategy might include building a close relationship to the nation under whose flag the seastead is registered, avoiding unlawful activity like sales of contraband, and nurturing positive public relations with citizens on land. No obstacle is insurmountable, Balloun shows, as long as seasteads are willing to proceed pragmatically and fully informed.

The True Obstacle to the Autonomy of Seasteads is full of knowledge and insight, but our legal research agenda is far from finished. Another recent paper, authored by Robert Mongole, used Balloun’s research and guidance to determine effective legal practice for handling specific threats of litigation coming from the United States, and we hope to recruit new legal minds to similar potential hurdles.

California Maritime Academy Welcomes The Seasteading Institute

The Seasteading Institute was recently invited to present our vision to students and faculty at the California Maritime Academy, one of seven degree-granting maritime programs in the United States. The Academy is located in Vallejo, California, conveniently close to our Oakland office, and we have been privileged to build relationships with both student volunteer researchers and faculty advisors over the past several months. On October 4, we delivered our presentation to over 100 cadets, encouraging them to join us in exploring the potential to transform the maritime industry with a mixture of vision, technology, and pragmatism. Cadets Ben Harmon and Ryan Larsen have previously volunteered, and both gave talks at this past summer’s Seasteading Conference, on security and aquaculture respectively. We are already embarking on new research projects with students who attended our talk, which we expect to yield finished papers in the months to come.

In our presentation, Executive Director Randy Hencken introduced the big picture of why we aim to enable seasteads in the first place. Comparing governance technology to maritime technology, Randy pointed out that very few students in the room would be satisfied working within the constraints of 18th century ships and submarine equipment — why should we settle for less in our governments? Next, Research & Communications Coordinator Charlie Deist explained how the Institute’s legal and business strategies aim to clarify the realm of opportunity as it actually is, not as we wish for it to be. Lastly, Director of Engineering George Petrie presented the Institute’s five-year development plan for meeting the basic material needs of a permanent ocean-based community.

After the talk, we spoke one-on-one with the most enthusiastic students and enjoyed a stimulating conversation over lunch with faculty members Dr. Donna Nincic, Chair of the Global Studies and Maritime Affairs department, and Stephen Kreta. Dr. Nincic had just returned from Italy, where she advised an inter-governmental committee working to mitigate piracy off the coasts of Africa. She explained how poor ocean resource management is worsening the piracy problem, and described the extra effort now required by ships to fend off attacks. We are lucky to have allies and advisors with such extensive experience in ocean-related matters, and hope that seasteading will soon contribute to more sustainable development of our oceans. Having the attention of maritime experts and future experts represents a major milestone on the road to seasteads; our warm reception at CMA and post-conference news coverage (see here, here and here) are strong indications of our progress to date.

Following up on our presentation, we made a second visit to campus for the career fair, to solidify awareness of the research and volunteer opportunities for students interested in unconventional maritime business and technology. Our booth stood out in the crowd of potential employers, who enticed students with candy and generous employee benefits. While the Institute does not offer our volunteers premium dental coverage, we believe our calling provides something far more valuable: a chance to change the oceans, and our world, for the better.

Research Opportunities

The Institute seeks to initiate new research partnerships with highly motivated undergraduates, graduate students and professionals in fields relating to seasteading, including but not limited to mechanical engineering, naval architecture, global politics, and business. In exchange for a commitment to provide a quality deliverable, the Institute provides access to our knowledgeable staff and network, as well as internships in our Oakland office. Grants may be available for exceptional proposals by highly qualified individuals.

Previous research interns and volunteers have had their work published on our website and publicized through our newsletter and social media. We believe we are offering an excellent opportunity for students to distinguish themselves from their peers and gain valuable knowledge and experience, all while investigating practical solutions that can help usher in the era of seasteads as quickly as possible.

An overview of our current research focuses can be found at the main research page. Candidates should submit their resume, along with a writing sample and abstract or topic of interest to volunteers@seasteading.org.

Featured Donor – Eric Crampton

Eric Crampton is a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He received his PhD in economics from George Mason University, and in addition to his teaching and research, he blogs at Offsetting Behavior. Crampton has been a generous donor to the Institute since 2010.

“Were I in George Lucas’s place, I’d be putting half that $4b into Seasteading.” Eric’s October 30th tweet - Eric Crampton (@EricCrampton)

“One of my professors in grad school liked to say “Just remember. We’re all part of the equilibrium.” By which he meant, “Even if the fight seems futile, just imagine how much worse it would be if we economists weren’t doing our best to stop bad policies.” He’d also console us that the best most of us could really hope for would be to delay a bad regulation by a couple of weeks, and if that were all we managed to do, we’d probably still earned our salary a few times over.

When that’s the expected value, it’s worth making a few high variance plays. And it’s hard to imagine anything that has more world-changing potential than seasteading.

I’m an academic economist who works in the area of public choice — the application of economic tools for analyzing politics. The sad fact is that most policies that economists would overwhelmingly agree to overturn are supported not only by entrenched interest groups but, more importantly, are also broadly supported by the voting public. Floating policy experiments demonstrating that alternative arrangements can work don’t just make life better for those lucky enough to live there — they also can provide an example that can help to change policy for the millions who won’t. It’s an experiment well worth supporting.”

Featured Ambassadors, George McHugh and Veronica Brieno Rankin

George McHugh became an ambassador this past Spring, after interacting with our team at the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington DC. Since then, he has been active in finding speaking and tabling opportunities all across the state of Texas. Most recently, George delivered a talk on seasteading to students at University of North Texas, emphasizing the need to think outside of the conventional political paradigm, and examine the possibilities for innovative governance in the only unclaimed territory left on earth. Although George is set to graduate from University of Texas at Austin next month, his work as an ambassador has already influenced a new generation of students, not only at his own school, but in the entire region; just a few days after his presentation to students at UNT, George tabled on behalf of the Institute at the Dallas Students For Liberty Regional Conference. George also tabled at the Texas Libertarian Party Convention in September, where he gathered signatures, distributed literature, and studied which strategies received the most enthusiastic response. George’s networking has not been limited to libertarian circles, though — he also gave us a presence at Austin’s legendary film, music and technology festival, South by Southwest.

Veronica Brieno Rankin only recently joined the ambassador team, but she is already proving herself to be an extremely knowledgeable and motivated participant. Her credentials include a Master of Laws degree from the prestigious Centre of Energy, Petroleum, & Mineral Law & Policy at the University of Dundee, UK, a B.S. in Earth Science from University of Wisconsin, and three years toward a Ph.D. in Geology at Michigan Technological University. Additionally, Veronica is a former Commissioned Officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Corps, possesses extensive ship handling experience, and is founder and President of GeoSeq® International, LLC., a consulting firm in the energy sector. Veronica’s career and unique experience grant her frequent public speaking opportunities — the week of November 15, for example, she will be delivering a talk titled “Working on the Water” to the Rotary Club of Copperas Cove, in which she will introduce the concept of seasteading in the context of her other lines of work.

Veronica is also assisting Patri and Joe Quirk with the section of the upcoming seasteading book that deals with the oil and gas industry, an area in which she is a qualified expert. 

Ambassador Lasse Birk Olesen Presents at TEDx Copenhagen

Seasteading ambassador Lasse Birk Olesen has been one of the most effective messengers of our vision, and probably the most effective messenger in all of Europe. He has spoken to dozens of groups in his native country of Denmark, and reached countless others through online forums and his volunteer work for the Institute and Blueseed.

In September, Lasse had a chance to promote seasteading at TEDx Copenhagen alongside two of his other favorite technologies, the digital currency BitCoin and 3D printers. The YouTube video has racked an astounding 6,400 views and 208 likes. A transcript of the talk can be found here ( the site is in Danish, so you’ll need to enable your browser’s translator). Lasse points out that these three technologies–used independently or in conjunction–have the potential to reshape or even replace politics. In a nutshell, Lasse argues, while political technology (i.e., government) has hardly progressed in centuries, technological progress in other fields might soon meet our needs far more efficiently than the current political system. 

A diverse, global population will benefit in different ways from technological advances, so Lasse simply used as examples the three emerging technologies nearest and dearest to him:

  • An online currency like BitCoin can turn into a widely-accepted store of value, with lower transaction costs than government-issued currency.
  • The seasteading movement can enable affordable, modular apartments that use energy more efficiently, process waste without garbage trucks, and can attach and reattach to the communities offering their inhabitants the most attractive governmental services at the lowest cost.
  • 3D printing can “democratize” production of goods and rid the world of industrial policy that selects winners and losers.

This offers just a taste of Lasse’s full message, which is worth watching in its entirety. If you are interested in becoming an ambassador, visit the information page or fill out the application. We’re always looking to add motivated new members to the team!

Offshore Mariculture Conference Validates Seasteading Aquaculture Agenda

Mariculture, the transplanting of fish farming (or aquaculture) to an open ocean environment, has been touted by environmentalists and investing gurus alike as the future of food production. Most marine aquaculture to date has taken place in the near coastal zones of Asia, in the form of longline macroalgae cultivation, but the industry is gradually evolving at the behest of innovators like Neil Sims, CEO of Kampachi Farms, LLC., and aquaculture advisor to the Institute. Sims is best known in the world of aquaculture for his Velella Mariculture Research Project, a commercial cage fish farming operation tested off the Big Island of Hawaii. The ambitious effort, along with his decades of experience in marine biology, earned him the role of President and Chair of the 2012 Offshore Mariculture Conference, held last month in Izmir, Turkey.

An article on FishUpdate.com, summarizing the main takeaways from the conference, bolsters the rationale behind The Seasteading Institute’s Project OASIS (ocean algae for seastead integrated solutions). OASIS aims to highlight the potential for a merger between extraterritorial establishments and large-scale mariculture, making Sims an ideal ally and advisor. 

Sims is quoted by the article saying, “Given that many nations – such as those in the Mediterranean – still only exert national authority as far as 12 miles offshore, then there is a looming question about what happens in the “Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.” We need to start to address this in anticipation of, and in order to encourage these developments.”

We expect to contribute to these developments by supporting and enabling seasteading ventures that will, by definition, forge new precedents relating to areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Highlights from The Seasteading Conference 2012

The Seasteading Conference 2012 condensed years of expertise from dozens of experts, as well as months of planning by the Institute, into a single weekend of collaboration on the most pressing concerns for early seasteading businesses.

We filmed the presentations for the benefit of those who were unable to attend, and are now highlighting a smaller selection of videos in each newsletter. 

First, we present Neil Sims’ talk on the Velella Project, an innovative, open-ocean cage fish farming project designed to raise sushi-grade Kampachi more sustainably than the existing approaches. A veteran of sustainable mariculture, Sims recently served as chairman for the annual Offshore Mariculture Conference, which took place in Izmir, Turkey from October 17-21. FishUpdate.com reports good news from the conference for the seasteading movement, quoting Sims saying, “There is growing interest from the private sector in exploring the potential for aquaculture in waters that are increasingly deeper, and further offshore.” [Offshore mariculture industry looks to high seas opportunities, October 29, 2012]

Next we have Seasteading Engineering Board Advisor Guillaume Ardoise, presenting on offshore wind and wave energy designs. Both represent emerging technologies for harnessing the ocean’s immense power, and many proposed technologies are naturally compatible with the platforms envisioned for future ocean communities. The challenge for entrepreneurs in offshore energy remains storage and transportation to the grid, a topic ably addressed by Ardoise, but still requiring additional research.

One of the most inspiring talks was delivered by Patri’s co-author on the seasteading book, Joe Quirk. Quirk’s talent for making high-level ideas more accessible to a mainstream audience shines through as he goes on the offensive, with a preview of the book’s numerous descriptions of how ocean cities will change the world.

More video content from the conference is available on our Vimeo page; we encourage you to share your favorite presentations as widely as possible.

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