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The Billionaire King of Techtopia (Details Magazine August 11, 2011)

 

See our official position on this article here.

 

When Peter Thiel ventures outside for a run, typically in the early-early morning, when the fog drifts low and slow into the San Francisco Bay, he’s often drawn to what the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti called “the end of land and land of beginning.” That means the San Francisco waterfront—especially the one-and-a-half-mile stretch of pathway hugging the marshy shoreline from Crissy Field to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Aesthetically, the appeal is obvious—a postcard view of the bridge and the bay, the lapping tidal rhythm, that sort of thing—but for Thiel, a 43-year-old investor and entrepreneur whose knack for anticipating the next big thing has yielded him a $1.5 billion fortune and an iconic, even delphic status in Silicon Valley, there’s a symbolic angle as well. This waterline is precisely where the Western frontier ended, where unlimited opportunity finally hit its limit. It’s also where, if Thiel is betting correctly, the next—and most audacious—frontier begins.

 

Thiel spends a lot of time thinking about frontiers. “Way more than is healthy,” he admits. Not just financial frontiers, though that’s his day job: He cofounded PayPal, the online money-transfer service, and, most famously, was the angel investor whose half-million-dollar loan catapulted Facebook out of Harvard’s dormitories and into the lives of its 750 million users. (In The Social Network, Thiel was portrayed as the crisp venture capitalist whose investment, and dark questioning, widen the rift between Facebook’s cofounders.) He manages a hedge fund, Clarium Capital, and is a founding partner in a venture-capital firm called the Founders Fund, both of them housed in an airy brick building on the campuslike grounds of the Presidio, not far from Thiel’s jogging path. Yet his frontier obsession extends much further than spreadsheets, further than even technology. Political frontiers, social frontiers, scientific frontiers: All these and more crowd Thiel’s head as he navigates the shoreline.

 

“We’re at this pretty important point in society,” he says during a brisk walk toward the Golden Gate Bridge, “where we can either find a way to rediscover a frontier, or we’re going to be forced to change in a way that’s really tough.” Thiel is a medium-size man with a compact and blocky frame, close-trimmed reddish-brown hair, and eyes the limpid-blue color of Windex; he has a small, nasal voice and tends to exert himself as he speaks, frequently circling back to amend or reconfigure or soften what he’s saying. Discussing the concept of frontiers, however, animates him to an almost uninterruptible degree; concepts, more than anything else, seem to do that.

 

“One of the things that’s endlessly dazzling and mesmerizing is this question about the future—what the world is going to be like in 20 years, and what can or should we do to make it better than the default track that it’s on,” he says, gesturing with his hands while maintaining a fixed stare on the pathway. “But it’s a question you can never quite master. I played a lot of chess when I was growing up, and it’s similar to some elements of chess, where you can see some moves but you can’t see to the end of the game. Even a computer the size of the universe couldn’t actually analyze it. There’s, like, 10 to the 117th power possible games and something like 10 to the 80th atoms in the observable universe, so it’s off by something like 37 orders of magnitude. And chess is something much simpler than reality—it’s 32 pieces on an eight-by-eight board. Figuring out the complete future of a chess game is a problem more complicated than anything that can be solved in our universe, so figuring out this planet or just our society in the next 10 or 15 years is just not a solvable problem.”

 

Despite the innovations of the past quarter century, some of which have made him very, very wealthy, Thiel is unimpressed by how far we’ve come—technologically, politically, socially, financially, the works. The last successful American car company, he likes to note, was Jeep, founded in 1941. “And our cars aren’t moving any faster,” he says. The space-age future, as giddily envisioned in the fifties and sixties, has yet to arrive. Perhaps on the micro level—as in microprocessors—but not in the macro realm of big, audacious, and outlandish ideas where Thiel prefers to operate. He gets less satisfaction out of conventional investments in “cloud music” (Spotify) and Hollywood films (Thank You for Smoking) than he does in pursuing big ideas, which is why Thiel—along with an all-star cast of venture capitalists, including former PayPal cohorts Ken Howery and Luke Nosek, and Sean Parker, the Napster cofounder and onetime Facebook president—established the Founders Fund. Among its quixotic but potentially highly profitable investments are SpaceX, a space-transport company, and Halcyon Molecular, which aspires to use DNA sequencing to extend human life. Privately, however, Thiel is the primary backer for an idea that takes big, audacious, and outlandish to a whole other level. Two hundred miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, past that hazy-blue horizon where the Pacific meets the sky, is where Thiel foresees his boldest venture of all. Forget start-up companies. The next frontier is start-up countries.

 


Thiel (center) with his Founder’s Fund partners Ken Howery (left) and Sean Parker.
 

• • •

 

“Big ideas start as weird ideas.” That’s Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer, the grandson of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, and, as of 2008, when Thiel seeded him with the same initial investment sum he’d given Mark Zuckerberg four years earlier, the world’s most prominent micro-nation entrepreneur. Friedman, a short, kinetic 35-year-old with a wife and two children, maintains an energetic online presence that ranges from blogging about libertarian theory to tweeted dispatches such as “Explored BDSM in SF w/big group of friends tonight.” Four years ago, a Clarium Capital employee came across a piece Friedman had written about an idea he called “seasteading.” Friedman was soon pitching to Thiel, a staunch libertarian himself, the big, weird idea.

 

It goes like this: Friedman wants to establish new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters—free from the regulation, laws, and moral suasion of any landlocked country. They’d be small city-states at first, although the aim is to have tens of millions of seasteading residents by 2050. Architectural plans for a prototype involve a movable, diesel-powered, 12,000-ton structure with room for 270 residents, with the idea that dozens—perhaps even hundreds—of these could be linked together. Friedman hopes to launch a flotilla of offices off the San Francisco coast next year; full-time settlement, he predicts, will follow in about seven years; and full diplomatic recognition by the United Nations, well, that’ll take some lawyers and time.

 

“The ultimate goal,” Friedman says, “is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government.” This translates into the founding of ideologically oriented micro-states on the high seas, a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.

 

It’s a vivid, wild-eyed dream—think Burning Man as reimagined by Ayn Rand’s John Galt and steered out to sea by Captain Nemo—but Friedman and Thiel, aware of the long and tragicomic history of failed libertarian utopias, believe that entrepreneurial zeal sets this scheme apart. One potential model is something Friedman calls Appletopia: A corporation, such as Apple, “starts a country as a business. The more desirable the country, the more valuable the real estate,” Friedman says. When I ask if this wouldn’t amount to a shareholder dictatorship, he doesn’t flinch. “The way most dictatorships work now, they’re enforced on people who aren’t allowed to leave.” Appletopia, or any seasteading colony, would entail a more benevolent variety of dictatorship, similar to your cell-phone contract: You don’t like it, you leave. Citizenship as free agency, you might say. Or as Ken Howery, one of Thiel’s partners at the Founders Fund, puts it, “It’s almost like there’s a cartel of governments, and this is a way to force governments to compete in a free-market way.”

 

Some experts have scoffed at the legal and logistical practicalities of seasteading. Margaret Crawford, an expert on urban planning and a professor of architecture at Berkeley, calls it “a silly idea without any urban-planning implications whatsoever.” Other observers have mocked it outright, such as Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, who deemed it perhaps “the most elaborate effort ever devised by a group of computer nerds to get invited to an orgy.” Despite the naysayers, Thiel appears firmly committed to the idea; he has so far funneled $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute.

 

“When you start a company, true freedom is at the beginning of things,” he says and slides the thought over to the topic of nations. “The United States Constitution had things you could do at the beginning that you couldn’t do later. So the question is, can you go back to the beginning of things? How do you start over?”

 

• • •

 

For Thiel, ambition like this—outsize, contrarian, vaguely seditious—is nothing new. He was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but his father’s career as a chemical engineer made for an itinerant childhood: He attended seven different elementary schools on two continents before the family settled in Northern California. He was a chess prodigy—at his peak he was ranked No. 7 in the U.S. Chess Federation’s Under-13 bracket—and then a math prodigy at San Mateo High School. His intensity, even then, was remarkable. “He drove a 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit,” recalls Norman Book, a high-school friend. “You’d always see him pulling out of the school lot, leaning way forward in the car. That’s because it was a four-cylinder, and he just couldn’t ever get it to go fast enough. Leaning forward like that, it was almost like he was willing it to go faster.” (Years later, Thiel scratched this particular itch with purchases of a Ferrari Spyder and a $500,000 McLaren supercar.)

 

At Stanford, where he majored in philosophy, Thiel chafed at the identity politics that was in vogue on campus at the time—at the strictures of political correctness. “I think there’s something unhealthy about anything that pushes to that much conformity,” he says. He cofounded the Stanford Review, a zealously libertarian newspaper whose staff Thiel would later use as a talent pool for PayPal hiring. The Review was deliberately, even recklessly incendiary (Thiel’s fondness for this approach is evident in his past funding of the guerrilla activist James O’Keefe, of ACORN sting-video fame); provocation was a primary goal. Sometimes it went too far: During Thiel’s final year of law school, in what was characterized as a free-speech exercise, one of the Review‘s editors, Keith Rabois, shouted, “Faggot! Hope you die of aids!” outside the residence of a dorm supervisor, resulting in a firestorm that prompted Rabois to leave Stanford. Thiel, who was outed as gay in 2007, devoted several pages to the incident in The Diversity Myth, a 1995 book he coauthored, writing that “Keith did not deserve months of public condemnation and ostracism.” Thiel later brought Rabois to PayPal as an executive vice president.

 

The PayPal of today—a convenient means of paying for the antique cocktail shaker you scored on eBay—bears only scant resemblance to the company’s early, proto-Bitcoin vision. “Peter’s goal was very subversive and disruptive,” says Book, whom Thiel tapped to be the company’s financial-systems manager and who is now executive vice president of operations at the conservative news aggregator WorldNetDaily. “He wanted to introduce a currency that wasn’t tied to a nation-state.” Early fund-raising presentations trumpeted the company’s mission as “enabling monetary sovereignty,” according to Howery. Company T-shirts proclaimed THE NEW WORLD CURRENCY. Thiel believed “that people should be able to store their money in any currency they wanted, without fear of governments devaluing it,” Howery says. Here again was the techno-cool libertarian ideal: a way of emancipating money from government’s monopolistic clutches.

 

A few unforeseen things happened along the way, of course. Chief among them were 9/11 and the fears about terrorist funding that followed in its wake. “When we were thinking about this in 1999, we were still living in a different reality,” Thiel says. “There are definitely ways in which it was a very successful company, but there are other ways in which that question—Could someone change the system to give people more freedom in how they spend their money?—shifted radically.”

 

As a libertarian raid on the currency system, PayPal flopped. As a company, however, it thrived. After one of the rare successful post-dot-com-bubble IPOs, in 2002, eBay bought PayPal for $1.65 billion. Thiel pocketed $60 million on his initial $240,000 investment. “After that sale,” Howery recalls, “a number of us were burned out. I went and traveled around the world for a year. But Peter took, like, a week off, then went back to work for a hedge fund.”

 

That fund became Clarium Capital, which has proved to be the single blotch (aside from a doomed Nascar magazine in 2004) on Thiel’s résumé. After an early surge that brought Clarium’s assets to as high as $6 billion, in 2008, the hedge fund has floundered ever since, losing 23 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in 2009; at one point, assets were down 90 percent from their peak, forcing Thiel to shutter the fund’s New York City operations and consolidate back in San Francisco. “We’ve got some things wrong,” he admitted to BusinessWeek earlier this year. “But over time, I think we’ve gotten more right than we’ve gotten wrong. . . . It’s not the right thing to focus on a six-month horizon. The future happens over a very long period of time.” That may be so, but as Forbes noted earlier this year, “It’s as if he were so fixated on his vision of the future that he couldn’t let go, even in the face of market realities.”

 

Thiel’s reputation for contrarianism is well founded. Forever the chess player, he revels in trying to outthink the competition, in devising the unexpected move—the seemingly absurd but devastating maneuver that no one sees coming. “Most people think that if something’s written, if it’s shared by the majority of people, then you’ll look like a black sheep for challenging it,” says his friend Gary Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster. “Peter doesn’t have any problem with that.” A devoted J.R.R. Tolkien fan from an early age, Thiel is equally enamored with Kirill Eskov’s The Last Ringbearer, a retelling of The Lord of the Rings in which Sauron is a beleaguered victim and the elves are bellicosely bent on world domination. “Gandalf’s the crazy person who wants to start a war,” Thiel explains, “and Mordor is this technological civilization based on reason and science. Outside of Mordor, it’s all sort of mystical and environmental and nothing works. Anyway, it’s really clever.” He’s willing to cite Howard Hughes as a role model, with certain caveats (“It’s not worth emulating him . . . all the way to the last years in Las Vegas”): “There was this incredibly powerful visionary aspect, a sort of risk-taking, a new-frontier aspect to Hughes that it would be good for us to look up to without having misgivings about how it all ended.”

 

Thiel may never succumb to the Aviator’s fate, but like Hughes, he’s rigorously guarded about his personal life. After Owen Thomas, as the editor of Gawker Media’s Silicon Valley satellite, Valleywag, outed him in 2007 with a post titled “Peter Thiel Is Totally Gay, People,” Thiel bided his time then struck back, calling Valleywag the “Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda,” an analogy that Thomas says he still doesn’t understand. A friend of Thiel’s, however, says Thiel remains “conflicted about” the juxtaposition of his homosexuality and his Christian religious beliefs. If that’s true, Thiel appears to have made some peace with himself since being outed. He’s a donor to GOProud, a gay Republican organization, and last fall he hosted its “Homocon 2010″ at his apartment overlooking Union Square in New York City, where guests were ushered into the elevator by beautiful young men wearing FREEDOM IS FABULOUS T-shirts and treated to an uproarious speech by Ann Coulter.

 

When I ask Thiel what, beyond work, gives him pleasure, he cringes slightly and says, “You know, it ends up being, um . . . it ends up being a lot of, uh . . . a lot of time, uh . . . it’s mostly, uh, pretty basic, simple social things. Hanging out with friends, having good dinner conversation . . . sort of doing outdoor-hike-type stuff. It’s not . . . it tends not to be . . . I don’t really have any crazy hobbies. It’s nothing that, um . . . it’s nothing that, uh . . . nothing that insane or exciting.” This may be true, but gossip items about Thiel’s partying suggest a healthy dose of excitement. In June, the New York Daily News reported that firefighters were called to his apartment to rescue a group of partiers from a stuck elevator. The “full-on rager,” according to the paper, featured a “not-so-hot shirtless bartender,” and a source was quoted bemoaning the disappearance of the servers in “assless chaps” that had once enlivened Thiel’s parties. One of the guests at the party, who prefers to remain anonymous, confirmed the majority of the account, disputing only the detail about assless chaps. “He used to have servers wearing nothing but aprons,” the attendee corrected, adding, “Peter works hard, but he likes to play hard, too.” (Thiel declined to comment on the event.)

 

All this plays into a widespread perception that Thiel is a hive of contradictions. When I ask him about that perception, he says, “I guess I’m comfortable not fitting into any precise category, and I’m not sure the existing categories all perfectly make sense.”

 

• • •

 

If the seasteading movement goes forward as planned, Thiel won’t be one of its early citizens. For one thing, he’s not overly fond of boats, although maybe, as Friedman says, “he just needs to be on a large enough structure.” Thiel characterizes his interest as “theoretical.” But whether Thiel himself heads offshore or not, there’s a whole lot of passion underlying that theoretical interest. Thiel put forth his views on the subject in a 2009 essay for the Cato Institute, in which he flatly declared, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” He went on: “The great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms,” with the critical question being “how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country.”

 

Until a libertarian colony can be established in outer space—Thiel is bullish on that idea, too, though he thinks the technology needs at least a half-century to develop—seasteading will have to suffice. “[It's] not just possible, or desirable,” he said in an address at the 2009 Seasteading Institute Conference, “but actually necessary.”

 

“Peter is a pretty holistic person, in his beliefs and philosophy, and you can even see that today in some of the crazy things he’s doing,” says Book, who finds the seasteading concept “appealing,” while cautioning, “It’s all well and good until someone drops a bomb on you.” Thomas, the former Valleywag editor, doesn’t believe Thiel should be defined by seasteading. “He puts his money into a lot of odd things,” he says. “I doubt he thinks it’s the future, but rather a future. Are a lot of these ideas wacky by conventional standards? Oh, yeah. But he’s saying the world is better if we try this wacky stuff.”

 

“The things that I think I’m right about,” Thiel once told Wired, “other people are in some sense not even wrong about, because they’re not thinking about them.” And that’s an advantage that Thiel intends to exploit. “There are quite a lot of people who think it’s not possible,” he told a crowd of true believers at the Seasteading Institute Conference in 2009. “That’s a good thing. We don’t need to really worry about those people very much, because since they don’t think it’s possible they won’t take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it’s too late.”

 

Original article.

 

Innovator Patri Friedman will speak of his concept of floating colonies on the ocean at ideacity in Toronto. (The Star, June 13, 2011)

 

Back in the 1970s, the talk was that one day, human beings, in an effort to escape impending doom from pollution and overpopulation on Earth, would colonize other planets.

 

Today, young innovators such as Patri Friedman are setting their sights on “inner space,” our planet’s oceans, seeking to create new communities on the waves, free from existing governments and societal constraints.

 

In 2008, Friedman, a former Google software engineer, founded The Seasteading Institute with seed funding from PayPal founder Peter Thiel. It envisions the ocean as the new frontier for colonization, through the building of “intentional communities.”

 

Patri, the 34-year-old grandson of Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, believes that these new city states would have few or no zoning laws or building codes, low taxes, no tariffs, few legal or market restrictions and no coerced welfare system.

 

Friedman, who is married and has two small children, will speak at this week’s annual ideacity conference in Toronto.

 

The Star reached him last week at his home in California’s Silicon Valley. This is an edited version of that conversation.

 

You live in an “intentional community.” What exactly does that mean?

 

It’s when a group of people decide to live together voluntarily, and it can be anything from a total hippie commune where people share income and build their own buildings to more what I am into which is building communities with a large common house and common kitchen and then a bunch of individual houses around it or buying and retrofitting apartment complexes, which is what I did with my current community.

 

So, it’s for people who feel that modern life is too distant from their friends. They prefer that college dorm feel where people that you like are around all the time and you’re sharing meals and hanging out together.

 

We have eight two-bedroom apartments in Mountain View, 20 people. It’s great.

 

And what do you mean by “start-up sector” for government?

 

In most industries, the way we get innovation is that a small, dedicated, enthusiastic team starts from scratch and builds something new, and new users start coming in and scale it up and work out the kinks. Sometimes it doesn’t work but, when it does work, because you start from scratch, and really change the rules, it works much better.

 

I think we need this for governments. We occasionally get “start-up” governments, like when the USSR broke up or during the American Revolution, when a group of people intentionally chose to create a new political system from scratch. That’s where innovation comes from, trying new things. You have to try these things on a small scale because large systems inherently have inertia and are set in their ways.

 

So we want to let small groups of people start new governments and intentional communities on the ocean just like any start-up in any industry, to try new things.

 

For some reason, the idea is reminiscent of that Ken Costner movie Waterworld, where people live on oil tankers or atolls built out of garbage because the ice caps have melted and the sea levels have risen so high.

 

We’re expecting fewer explosions and less killing than that.

 

In terms of what the communities look like, I imagine starting out with ships, but we’re really looking for less nomadism and more inventing new engineering technologies.

 

We expect to start in the next few years on ships and then, in five or 10 years, move more on to things like oil platforms that can be expanded out modularly, adding a building at a time or a sea block at a time. Then, eventually, in 15-plus years, they’ll be like real cities with hundreds of thousands and millions of people.

 

Where did this idea come from?

 

I was really just dissatisfied with how government worked. It isn’t in line with my values in terms of freedom and efficiency. I looked around the world and decided that there weren’t really any countries that seemed well run to me.

 

So I started reading online about micro cities and floating cities and it just seemed to me that, even though their history is a history of tragic failure, often comic tragic failure, there was something to the idea, something really meaningful.

 

I think two of the changes that I brought to it were, one, putting business first. Really being realistic that people wouldn’t move out there unless there were jobs for them. We need to find those businesses and test them on a small scale on ships. We can’t just say we’re going to build a floating city and lots of people are going to come here because we have no taxes. That’s not going to work.

 

And the second thing is, even though I’m driven by dissatisfaction with society, it’s not about building my utopia. I want to create the engineering technology, the legal breakthroughs and the business models so that lots of start-ups can happen and lots of innovation, and I’m sure we can do that.

 

So where does the money come from?

 

At the beginning, the communities will be very business-driven. It’s going to be like a floating hospital, and the people who will live there is the medical staff. I think that’s the most practical way to start. It can bring in people from existing countries and provide cash flow and then we can scale up with this narrow business.

 

What about the practicalities? Feeding people? Sewage?

 

How do you feed Hong Kong? How do you manage the sewage for Manhattan? There’s no difference. Just look at a cruise ship. Cruise ships handle all of those problems and turn a profit.

 

One of the new trends in economic research has been just showing what the value of cities is, and packing people in closely so that they can collaborate, plus it’s more efficient as far as the amount of infrastructure, whether its sewage lines or the amount of electricity generation.

 

People in cities produce more and they use resources more efficiently. They’re key drivers of economic growth.

 

Population over the next decade is continuing to shift into cities. People also want to move away from broken governments. They’re displaced by climate change. These are the types of things that are going to drive 21st-century diasporas, and we hope to provide a great haven for some of the people to come to.

 

But won’t the oceans be dead in a couple of decades?

 

With seasteading there are two lines you can take. One is more people living there, which means more pressure on the ecosystems. But, if people actually start living on the ocean, and it’s not just like this backyard and highway and waste dump for the world, they are going to value cleaning it up a whole lot more than people do on land.

 

It all seems like it’s building up to a crisis point.

 

I definitely feel a sense of urgency. I think it’s incredibly urgent to get that started today, before 20th-century governments start falling apart under 21st-century conditions.

 

It’s up to every community to decide how to make it work. Our goal is let a thousand nations bloom.

 

Original article.

 

Seasteading: (Floating Cities) On The Hunt For A Location (turnstyle, June 6, 2011)

 

Patri Friedman has a vision. Since all land is claimed by existing countries, Friedman, who is the son of economist Milton Friedman, is looking to the sea for room to experiment. He founded the Seasteading Institute – a project that is working to develop floating cities that will, “allow the next generation of pioneers to peacefully test new ideas for government,” according to the website. The Seasteading project was recently funded by the Peter Thiel Foundation, co-founder of PayPal.

 

The Seasteading team doesn’t think of this as a completely new idea. Oil rigs, gas rigs, and cruise ships are examples of floating communities or entities that have existed for a long time. But Friedman’s cities would simply have a different purpose: to try out new government structures and socio-economic policies in a peaceful way – as opposed to a violent government coup, according to the website. Basically, these floating cities would be in international waters, and therefore under no country’s jurisdiction. (See their Faq sheetfor answers to questions about pirates and legality.)

 

We reached out to the Seasteading Institute, but they were unavailable to comment, so we contacted Professor and GIS Specialist Jerry Davis, at San Francisco State University to ask about the feasibility and location choice of the seasteads. “It’s easy to imagine that we could use the oceans to expand upon the human footprint, but the oceans have been abused for so long,” said Davis.

 

GIS Specialists usually work on modeling and site suitability for either habitats or development sites – and usually water sites are habitats. “I’ve never seen site suitability for a development in the water – it would probably include some habitat modeling,” said Davis.

 

There are two things that a GIS Specialist would assess for a seasteading development: the impact of the development on its surroundings and the viability for success in a certain location. Davis said they would  make separate models to analyze different aspects of the project, such as environmental models, economic models, and social models. The specialist would insert data into each model, and run each model separately to make their assessment.

 

In terms of impact, Davis said it would be important to look at threatened species and sensitive habitats in the specific sea location, as well as take into consideration the human impact of the sea location – for example whether a large fishery also used that spot.

 

“It’s better to be farther away from land [in terms of impact] because the food sources are coastal. In deep ocean water, the species diversity is less. In terms of viability, however, there is big water movement and it would be harder to get supplies, which would probably result in a greater cost,” said Davis. “There may not be a balance that works,” he said.

 

Deeper water would also be better for avoiding natural disasters. “Earthquakes won’t be a major concern. Tsunamis break on shallow water. They travel across the ocean with almost no effect, but when they approach land they start building. Hurricanes are a concern in parts of the waters though,” said Davis.

 

However, Davis said that making models still might not give you a perfect location for seasteading. “Models are simplifications of reality. This is the best technology to do this – but that still doesn’t mean you’ll have a great answer. You have to challenge the results of your model,” he said.

 

Original article.

 

An ‘Apple or Google country’ out at sea? (CNET, June 3, 2011)

 

Ex-Google employee Patri Friedman–grandson of Milton–wants to create “Burning Man meets Silicon Valley meets the water,” 12 miles off the coast of San Francisco. He imagines “an Apple or Google country.”

 

by 

Given that the world is ending with a rapidity that even the prophets of doom didn’t anticipate, it’s healthy to think how we might prefer to spend our last remaining years.

 

A former Google engineer would like to extend an invitation: come and live on a series of barges and water platforms and create your own government and your own way of life.

 

You might think that Patri Friedman–grandson of the very free economist Milton and son of the very libertarian law professor Paul–is possessed of unrealistic notions.

 

However, his proposal will be, for many, severely tempting. With fascism, communism, and democracy all having been discredited to within a whisker of laughter, many people are secretly searching for a new way out.

 

Yet when they turn to the left and see Dennis Kucinich and then turn to the right and see Ron Paul, they tend to reach for their chosen narcotics, in liquid or pill form.

 

So Friedman’s idea–which he calls “seasteading”–unquestionably has its attractions.

 

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he imagines this new, new world floating 12 miles off the coast of San Francisco.

 

 

Friedman’s new floating world should certainly mean new business for this company.

(Credit: CC Ben Husmann/Flickr )

 

He imagines it housing everything the modern human might need, save for a major league baseball team. He imagines a society run by the rigidly free-wheeling principles of the free market, in which folks can create their own governing structures and ways of existence which might, one imagines, include such concepts as polygamy, polyandry, and polytheism.

 

But why must this interesting world be created out to sea? Some people simply aren’t very good swimmers.

 

“We can’t experiment here because all the land is claimed–the only place left is the ocean,” Friedman told the Chronicle. Some might think that there is plenty of room for this sort of thing, in, say, Montana. However, Friedman is thinking in a scale beyond the most mountainous states.

 

For he believes that by 2040 there might be tens of millions of people living the floating life off the coast, from San Francisco all the way down to San Diego.

 

Friedman has secured significant funding from the likes of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. And perhaps one of the more interesting concepts behind his vision is the notion that these offshore governing bodies (or companies) will actually compete for citizens, just as Facebook and Google compete for engineers.

 

“I envision tens of millions of people in an Apple or a Google country,” he told the Chronicle.

 

This thought he followed up with another interesting picture: “If people are allowed to opt in or out, you can have a successful dictatorship.”

 

Might this be an astute commentary on the management styles of Steve Jobs and Larry Page? Would their strong-minded methods of government really be any worse than those that are currently on offer in the outside world?

 

Friedman says that construction of floating offices will commence next year. One can only imagine how many of the world’s citizens, especially the stressed engineers of San Francisco, will depart land to join a new, new world out in the freely tossing seas.

 

Original article.

 

Patri Friedman makes waves with ‘seasteading’ plan (SF Gate, June 1, 2011)

 

 

Milton Friedman‘s grandson Patri has a vision that might have made the economist proud: to build a floating libertarian nation 12 miles off the coast of California.

 

Billed as “Burning Man meets Silicon Valley meets the water,” the planned nation flotilla would be constructed on a variety of barges and water platforms within sight of San Francisco. It would include everything from homes, schools and hospitals to bikes for transportation and aqua farms for food.

 

Despite the widespread skepticism that the project is bound to invite, Friedman already has secured more than $2 million in venture capital for the development, which strives to create a free-market society in which members are free to form their own governing structures.

 

“We can’t experiment here because all the land is claimed – the only place left is the ocean,” says Friedman, 35, a former Google engineer now working for the “seasteading” movement full-time. Construction of floating offices will, according to Friedman, begin off the city in 2012. The project, which aims to have tens of millions of residents by the time it’s completed in 2040, may ultimately be floated down the Pacific toward San Diego, but for the next decade, the focus will be here.

 

‘Ridiculous’ premises

 

Those in academic circles have balked. “The whole thing is so far from any kind of conventional urban planning,” says UC Berkeley Professor of Architecture Margaret Crawford. “The physical premises are just ridiculous.”

 

But that hasn’t stopped Friedman and his think tank staff of 10 at the Seasteading Institute in Sunnyvale from going full steam ahead. Backed almost entirely by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, the team plans to seastead, colonize the sea beyond the reach of existing nations.

 

Friedman’s mission is to open a political vacuum into which people can experiment with startup governments that are “consumer-oriented, constantly competing for citizens,” he says.

 

“I envision tens of millions of people in an Apple or a Google country,” where the high-tech giants would govern and residents would have no vote. “If people are allowed to opt in or out, you can have a successful dictatorship,” the goateed Friedman says, wiggling his toes in pink Vibram slippers.

Wants his own rules

 

San Francisco needs seasteading, “because I can’t come up with my own whole set of rules and implement it,” Friedman says, shaking his head.

 

When asked what his team is working on right now, Friedman leaps up and writes “SEASTEADING” on the whiteboard, circling it and drawing four lines down, “RESEARCH, LAW, BUSINESS, MOVEMENT,” underlining each before collapsing back into his chair and checking his phone.

 

As part of an effort to get the word out about the ambitious project, the third annual floating seasteading festival will be held in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta June 10-12. Known as Not-Ephemerisle (punning on ephemeral), the event is expected to draw 300 people who will practice seasteading on houseboats and floating platforms.

 

“The first year, none of us knew how to tie a knot,” says Matt Bell, a tech entrepreneur who is organizing the festival out of Mission District coffee shops.

Seasteading is necessary because in San Francisco, “the government isn’t as efficient as it could be. Stuff just doesn’t get done in a way that makes sense,” says Bell. “Like Muni is so slow.”

 

Bell and others are using Kickstartr, an online pledge service, to finance their festival art installations, which will include such floating attractions as AquaDome and Giant Floating Tilting Labyrinth Board Game.

 

“Seasteading is a stepping-stone to space colonization,” says festival attendee Ratha Grimes.

 

It’s in the genes

 

Although never close to his paternal grandfather, the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, the young Friedman believes he was destined to lead the seasteading movement.

 

“My grandfather’s influence is genetic,” says Friedman, who was raised by his mother in Philadelphia. “And there is an influence. We’re both short, energetic libertarians.”

 

Friedman grew up “dorky but happy,” graduated in computer science from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont (Los Angeles County) and moved to Silicon Valley. He leads a studied life, keeping a detailed diet and exercise blog. He and his wife, Shannon, live with their two children, 8-month-old Izzy and 5-year-old Tovar, in Tortuga, a 20-person Mountain View commune that Friedman founded.

 

Working as an engineer at Google in 2008, Friedman met Silicon Valley philosopher and software engineer Wayne Gramlich, who introduced him to seasteading.

 

“I was enthralled,” recalls Friedman. “I knew I’d dedicate my life to it.” Together, they wrote an online book, “Seasteading: Homesteading the High Seas,” and Friedman quit Google to build the movement full-time.

 

“Two hundred years ago, we could have gone out West,” says Jon Cain, president of the PayPal founder’s Thiel Foundation. “Now, we have to go further. The ocean is the next frontier.”

 

In San Francisco, “taxes are so high, and there’s no room for competition, and government uses the threat of violence to impose rules,” he adds.

Life on the water

 

Although none of the Seasteading Institute or Thiel Foundation staff yet live on the water, many Bay Area residents do. They look on the movement with a quizzical eye.

 

On a creaky houseboat off Sausalito, Lewis Shireman, a stout man who’s been on the water 15 years, tours Pier 8, pointing out where the Dixieland banjo player lives, the Zimbabwean watercolor artist, the air force colonel.

 

“We’re an organic community. … Life on the water brings us together. And it’s not always easy.” He points to the shopping carts along the dock that are used to ferry cargo from gate to boat.

 

“I wish those kids luck,” Shireman smiles, bushy white mustache shaking.

 

Original article.

 

PayPal Founder and Facebook Backer Peter Thiel on The Next Big Thing, and Why He Thinks College Isn’t Worth It (ABC News, May 27, 2011)

 

“The future is limitless,” said Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal co-founder, hedge fund manager and venture capitalist. If you were Thiel, you’d probably think so too.

 

The 43-year-old Thiel has become Silicon Valley’s version of the man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz” by creating or funding some of the most successful enterprises to come out of the technology world.

 

“I think technology is the key to a better future,” he said.

 

After attending Stanford Law School and becoming a derivatives trader, Thiel co-founded PayPal when he was 31 years old. Now he’s known as the Don of the PayPal mafia — a group of braniac executives who ran the company and have since gone on to give birth to digital pillars like YouTube and Yelp.

 

Billionaire to Pay Kids to Skip College Watch Video

“That was the very basic idea — take dollars and email and try to combine them,” he said of PayPal.

 

That combination turned into a billion-dollar empire. EBay bought PayPal in 2002 for $1.5 billion, putting around $55 million in Thiel’s pocket, which he used to invest in promising media start-ups, most famouslyFacebook. His $500,000 investment in the social-networking giant is now worth about $2 billion.

 

Being Facebook’s first Silicon Valley investor earned Thiel the full Hollywood treatment — complete with a portrayal in the Academy-award winning film about the company, “The Social Network.” Thiel said he spent time studying all of the social networking businesses for a few years before sitting down with Mark Zuckerberg and his team.

 

“I basically told them I would invest after meeting with them for an hour or so,” Thiel said.

 

Going on gut instinct is what has made the Thiel formula for entrepreneurship such a success, but it also doesn’t hurt to be a genius. Thiel was a math phenomenon as a child and became a chess champion at age 18 — in the top 2 percent of rated players in the world.

 

His competitiveness has carried over into what he calls breakthrough philanthropy, although some have described it as bankrolling eccentric ideas Thiel thinks can save the world.

 

“Technology is fundamentally about going from zero to 1,” he said. “If you do something new, it will always look a little bit strange.”

 

Thiel has donated millions of dollars to promote research into extending human life expectancy by reversing the aging process.

 

“I enjoy my life,” he said. “I certainly would like to live longer.”

 

Thiel also funds The Seasteading Institute, which is devoted to creating self-governing communities — essentially floating cities that will be used to test new ideas for government — in the middle of the ocean. To Thiel, the concept is harnessing a largely untapped resource.

 

“Seventy percent of the planet is covered with water, and there’s so much we can be doing with oceans, and it was one of the frontiers that people have more or less abandoned,” Thiel said.

 

“It’s pretty far in the future, but closer than, say, building cities on the moon.”

 

The latest venture Thiel has invested in turns the notion of higher education on its head. The “Twenty under Twenty” fellowship provides $100,000 scholarships to college students who drop out of school to start their own businesses.

 

“Learning is good, credentialing and debt is very bad,” Thiel said. “College gives people learning and also takes away future opportunities by loading the next generation down with debt.”

 

“We ended up picking 24 people to try to get them to work on very specific projects that would push the frontiers of science and tech in areas ranging from biomedicine to computers to robotics,” he said.

 

Peter Thiel Says Higher Education Will Be the Next Bubble to Burst

 

While some may scoff at his idea — after all, Thiel does have a law degree from Stanford — he said that pushing forward with your dreams at the right time can make all the difference.

 

“Facebook was started in 2004. That was the right time to start that company,” he said. “If all the people had finished their college education and waited till 2006, it would have been too late.”

 

Thiel’s theory also happens to come at a poignant time. U.S. News and World Report said that people aged 20 to 24 entering the work force this year face an unemployment rate of 14.9 percent — significantly higher than the overall unemployment rate of 9 percent. New York Magazine also said the worthlessness of a college degree was “one of the year’s most fashionable ideas.”

 

After correctly predicting the dot-com crash of 1999 and the housing market bubble in mid-2006, Thiel said he believes that higher education will be the next bubble to burst. According to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 65 percent of recent college graduates are burdened by student loans. The New York Times reported that total student loan debt is expected to surpass the $1 trillion mark by the end of the year.

 

“The price of education on a college level has gone up by a factor of more than 10 since 1980,” Thiel said. “Adjusting for inflation, it’s gone up by about 300 percent – more than housing and tech stocks did in the ’90s, or housing in the 2000s.”

 

Thiel’s constant questioning of society’s norms has made him the poster boy for Silicon Valley libertarianism — the belief among many entrepreneurs that government hinders innovation. But he is far from the typical conservative stereotype. Openly gay, Thiel endorsed Texas Congressman Ron Paul for president in 2008.

 

“I probably am a bit of an outsider in many ways,” Thiel said. “That has good things and bad things about it. It does have the tremendous benefit of forcing you to think about what’s going on fundamentally with institutions, with our society and then look for ways to make them better.”

 

Original article.

 

Seasteading: Striking at the Root of Bad Government (The Freeman, March, 2011)

 

Libertarians have done a wonderful job of pointing out the inefficiency and cruelty of government and identifying some of the causes. We know that current policies are bad; we know that such policies are the inevitable outcome of unrestrained democracy; and we even have some ideas about what would work better. The most fundamental problem with government and the most promising form of activism have been largely ignored, though. If we want liberty in our lifetimes, we need to think more carefully about why we have bad government and how best to improve things.

 

To think about this question, we need to avoid being either too romantic or too cynical about governance. While readers of this publication are at no risk of being romantic about government, there is a chance of excessive cynicism. Government currently works very poorly, but this doesn’t need to be so. Competition would force providers of governance to offer high-quality rules and public services at a reasonable price, unleashing institutional innovation and making the world a much better place.

 

So far, most libertarians have been hacking at branches, while a few come tantalizingly close to striking at the root. We’re going to try to convince you that the root at which we should be striking is a tangled mess of barriers to entry and costs of switching in the governance market. The ax we should be using is the technology to settle the ocean.

 

Rules Matter

 

Rules governing interaction and resolving disputes are an essential part of free and prosperous human life. It’s difficult to stress strongly enough the importance of good rules. There are enormous differences in living standards around the world, and affluence is largely determined by the geographical lottery of birth. The average American earns about $47,000 a year, while the average Zimbabwean gets by on a little more than $300. This doesn’t mean that Americans simply have more stuff, but also more health, security, and peace.

 

The difference between the United States and Zimbabwe is that the former has relatively good institutions that allow trade and specialization, while the latter does not. An even starker demonstration of the power of rules comes from the Korean peninsula. Before World War II, North and South Koreans shared a common culture, history, and set of rules. With the arbitrary division of the country based on the strategic maneuvering by the United States and the Soviet Union, this all changed. The South became more free; the North less. The result of this natural experiment is those in the South are now almost 15 times richer than those in the North.

 

Of course, even relatively rich countries have their problems, and libertarian policy activists have spent countless hours and pages describing areas for improvement. Patri’s grandfather Milton Friedman, for example, painstakingly laid out the problems caused by many government programs and argued that giving people greater freedom would lead to dramatic improvements. While such reforms would certainly be desirable, simply insisting that we need particular reforms ignores the incentives of the political system.

 

This neglect is rather odd: Libertarians are well aware of systemic incentives and unintended consequences at the policy level, but most ignore similar problems in the higher-level political system. They will chide statists for assuming they can bring about a particular social or economic outcome through top-down planning, and then go on to specify how they’ll change the rules from the top down to allow bottom-up interaction.

 

Policy activists are forgetting that the same problems that prevent statist policies from working as advertised also block desirable reforms. The political system is itself a spontaneous order in which the interaction of many individuals operating under various constraints and incentives determines the policy decisions that will eventually be reached. This is where Public Choice theory is helpful: It allows us to analyze the incentives of political actors and suggests a more fundamental level of intervention.

 

Meta-Rules Matter

 

Public Choice begins with a simple, indisputable, but somehow widely rejected idea: Politicians, voters, and bureaucrats are not angels. Political actors do not selflessly strive to pursue the common good but respond to incentives. James M. Buchanan describes Public Choice, a field he jointly founded, as “politics without romance.”

 

The theory makes a distinction between two levels of politics. At the first is the to-and-fro of everyday politics in which rules are created, amended, and repealed. This is the level at which policy activists concentrate their efforts. The behavior at this level, though, is determined by the incentives created at the constitutional level. Public Choice theorists argue that if we want to improve policy, we need to do so indirectly by changing the constitutional meta-rules (rules about rulemaking) through which ordinary rules are established.

 

This has led many to advocate constitutional limits on the power of government. While this approach is better than lobbying for particular policy changes, since the results are likely to be more robust, Public Choice-influenced constitutionalists have not entirely rid their analysis and approach to activism of romance.

 

The familiar problems of unintended consequences also arise at the constitutional level. Even if we could design the perfect constitution, we’d need to find a way of implementing and enforcing it. Given that this would need to happen through existing political channels, we’re unlikely to end up with anything good. Constitutional politics is still politics, and those drafting the new constitution have the same foibles as anyone else.

 

The problem of crafting better meta-rules is the same as that of crafting better rules: We know what the problems are and might even have some good ideas about how things can be improved. What we don’t have is a mechanism for improving things. The interests and passions of people do not disappear when they start drafting constitutions, and political behavior, whether at the policy or constitutional level, emerges from the interaction of various agents. We need to think about the incentives that structure all political behavior, including that of the constitutional level.

 

The Governance Industry Matters

 

An extremely useful way to think about the incentives that structure the political game is to consider the market for governance. Rules have economic value, and people would be willing to pay for them. We can think of the bundle of rules and public goods provided by government as a product, governments as producers, citizens as consumers, and taxes as prices.

 

This seems counterintuitive, especially to libertarians—who realize that markets provide choice whereas governments as we know them do not. There are, however, a number of benefits to this view. It allows us to analyze the industry structure for government and learn why governance quality is currently so low. The current market for governance is dominated by a series of large geographic monopolies not subject to competition. In a competitive market those organizational forms that are not conducive to producing high levels of customer satisfaction are weeded out by natural selection. Without competition, this selection mechanism is absent and we end up with what we have today: bad firms producing bad products.

 

This is why we have bad constitutional structures.

 

A number of scholars have already recognized this. The idea of market anarchism is to have governance services such as rulemaking, adjudication, and protection provided on the open market. This would force providers to compete and the incompetent would go out of business. Patri’s father, David Friedman, provided what is, in our unbiased opinion, the best description of how such a polycentric system would work in his book The Machinery of Freedom. Market anarchism is not simply a system of good rules or even a system for producing good rules. It is a system for producing good rule-making organizations.

 

Similarly, though less radically, some have argued that we need to geographically decentralize political power. With smaller units of governance among which citizens could move based on quality and their idiosyncratic preferences, we’d see governors constrained by the threat of exit and the quality of governance would improve. This was an important argument underlying the federalism of the U.S. Constitution: There would be competition among the several states, and Americans would enjoy better governance.

 

While market anarchists and decentralists are correct that we need more competition if we are to improve government, they have generally failed to address the reasons we have such an uncompetitive market for governance and therefore provide no route for getting from here to there.

 

The Technological Environment Matters

 

When we think of governance as an industry, the problem with policy and constitutional activism becomes clear: Policy advocates are demanding better products without providing a mechanism for products to improve, while constitutionalists are demanding better firms without providing a mechanism for firms to improve. The problem with the arguments of anarcho-capitalists and decentralists is less obvious but simple enough: They demand a better industry structure but have provided no mechanism for the industry structure to improve.

 

Think about the operating-system (OS) industry. This is one of the least competitive industries around (though it’s still orders of magnitude more competitive than the governance industry). We all know it’s uncompetitive, but simply insisting that we need to increase competition is not useful. It is uncompetitive for a reason. Creating an operating system is an expensive undertaking, and network effects and switching costs mean that consumers are reluctant to change.

 

If someone genuinely wanted to make the OS industry more competitive, she wouldn’t go about it by simply insisting that we need more competitors. Rather, she would attempt to change the underlying technological factors that cause the OS industry to have high barriers to entry and switching costs. We can see this happening with the open-source software movement, which does not simply create a new competitor to Microsoft, but rather opens a range of possibilities for improvement by making it easier for hackers to build custom OSes. Over time this has produced new versions of Linux that are more user-friendly and compatible with Windows, lowering the cost of switching.

 

This is the sort of technological activism libertarians need to engage in if they really want to change things. Some are doing this already. Crypto-anarchists aim to help people escape State control by developing more secure communication technologies; agorists aim to develop non-State institutions that would allow people similarly to avoid dealing with the State; and Julian Assange’s Wiki-Leaks project uses technology to make government more transparent. While we applaud these efforts, we don’t think they are going to get us to a radically freer world. The State is a powerful and resilient institution, and it will fight back against these internal threats to its existence. Fortunately, there is another way that has the potential to fundamentally change things.

 

Seasteading

 

Developing the technology to create permanent, autonomous communities on the ocean seems like a strange way to solve the problem of bad governance, but we’re convinced it’s the best chance we have for liberty in our lifetimes. This is why Patri established The Seasteading Institute with the mission of developing the technological, political, and economic knowledge we need to revolutionize the governance industry.

 

If the ultimate problem with that industry is high barriers to entry and switching costs, we need to find a way to dismantle these obstructions to competition. In the past, frontiers have provided the means for disenfranchised groups to start their own country. Unfortunately, we’ve run out of frontier on land. Every square inch of land on the planet is claimed by some existing State, and none is going to give up its claim.

 

The ocean is a vast frontier unclaimed by States. While they claim some jurisdiction over resources in large areas of ocean, there is much space for political experimentation within these zones and plenty of space outside any State’s practical reach. Starting your own country on the ocean will be difficult and expensive, but at least it’s possible.

 

The ocean is not yet ready for settlement by most people. It is harsh and unforgiving, and long-term life on the sea is currently limited to only a few pioneers in the fishing, offshore oil, and cruise industries, as well as a handful of dedicated live-aboard sailors.

 

Technology, though, has the potential to make the ocean a feasible alternative for more people. Early pioneers will learn lessons that will make life on the ocean easier, thus prompting previously unwilling pioneers to make the move. Over time the costs in comfort, safety, and access to civilization will fall and the ocean will be just another place to live. This is the path we see on any frontier. Living in the harsh environment of North America would not have seemed like an attractive proposition to most Europeans a few centuries ago. Eventually, the wilderness was tamed, and North Americans now enjoy higher standards of life than many in the old world.

 

As it happens, the ocean has another important benefit. Water makes it easy to shift large objects around cheaply. This is what allowed the global shipping industry to prosper, and it could also help make government more competitive. We normally think of buildings as being tied to land, and this has serious implications for competition. Government can do a lot of harm before it becomes worthwhile for someone to move away. The fluidity of the ocean, in contrast, allows people to vote with their house by sailing to a neighboring jurisdiction. If a seasteading government announces an unpopular policy, it could find that it rules over nothing but empty waves. This would allow bad governments to die without bloodshed and force governors to think about what people really want.

 

While the challenges and uncertainties in settling the ocean are large, there are only a few core problems and none are insurmountable. To make seasteading a reality we need to take a pragmatic, incremental, and business-focused approach. Rather than creating a multibillion-dollar vessel straight away without any clear way to finance it, we encourage seasteading entrepreneurs to think carefully about the business case for particular industries for which seasteading has a comparative advantage. Many industries are overregulated, and a seastead off the coast of a major U.S. city offering medical treatments not yet approved by the FDA, for example, would be a very lucrative proposition.

 

We know it is possible to live on the ocean; we know there are ways to make money there, and our mission is to drive down the costs of seasteading to transform the ocean from potential frontier into real frontier and eventually into just another option with some serious advantages. This will lead to experimentation and innovation in governance and force existing States to improve or wither away for a lack of residents. The challenges are large but the potential payoffs are much, much larger. By transforming the political problem of bad governance into a hard but achievable technological problem, which humans have a knack for solving, we make success possible.

 

 

Original article.

 

Life After Facebook (Forbes, February 14, 2011. Circulation 900,000.)

 

Peter Thiel wants to save the world. Or, at the very least, to “take our civilization to the next level,” as he frequently puts it. Almost every problem–the shortcomings of our political and educational systems, the lingering financial disaster, market bubbles, energy crises, the failed promises of the developing world, resource-based wars–stems from what he calls “stalled technological innovation.” What a better place this would be, he often muses, if we could press the reset button and go back to the late 1950s and ’60s and realize the predictions of science fiction that failed to materialize: ubiquitous space travel and colonization, robots à la the Jetsons, underwater cities, desalinization, reforestation of deserts and much more. Because we’re all running harder and harder just to stay in place, the only salvation is big scientific breakthroughs.

 

It would be easy to write off Thiel as a “wackaloon,” as one political blogger has called him. Indeed, Thiel is putting serious money behind companies and groups bent on extending life, colonizing on ocean platforms, commercializing space, promoting so-called friendly artificial intelligence and leapfrogging DNA sequencing, among other causes. Freedom, he has said, is incompatible with democracy. In one of his most provocative acts, he has offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to college kids if they drop out of school and start a business or pursue a breakthrough. “People think of the future as something other people do,” Thiel says backstage at a December philanthropic fundraiser in San Francisco. “But there’s something weirder about a society where people don’t think about the future.”

 

Harder to write off are Thiel’s solid accomplishments. He cofounded, ran and sold PayPal to eBay. Thiel and his PayPal cohorts have since launched or funded many of the most innovative startups of the last decade. Among them: YouTube, LinkedIn, Slide (widgets to share images), Yelp (user reviews), the Founders Fund (a venture capital firm with a string of successes), Palantir Technologies (software to ferret out terrorists and financial scamsters), SpaceX (rockets), Tesla Motors (electric cars) and Kiva (microloans).

 

Thiel made the first sizable investment in Facebook. That $500,000 check is now a 3% share of the social network, a stake reduced by selloffs and dilution that is still worth $1.5 billion. Its cofounder Mark Zuckerberg still considers Thiel a valued consigliere. “Whenever I am not psyched about the way things are going and there don’t seem to be a lot of good choices, I can get some advice by talking to him,” says Zuckerberg. “He’s most helpful . . . when he calls you because he sees something.”

 

Investors in Thiel’s Clarium Capital Management may not feel so charitable. Assets in the hedge fund, once as high as $6 billion in mid-2008, have been chopped down to $460 million (a quarter of that is Thiel’s own money). Clarium has had three consecutive losing years–down 23% in 2010, 25% in 2009 and 4.5% in 2008–by betting wrong, variously, on rising oil prices and a sinking dollar. Oddly enough, Thiel’s forecasts were right; his timing was punishingly off. It’s as if he were so fixated on his vision of the future that he couldn’t let go, even in the face of market realities. “It was a crazy ride up and ride down,” says Thiel. Investors who have stuck with Clarium since mid-2008 have lost 65% of their money.

 

Are his big successes mere luck? “PayPal wasn’t a fluke, Facebook wasn’t a fluke, Founders Fund wasn’t a fluke,” says Netscape founder and investor Marc Andreessen, who sits on Facebook’s board with Thiel. “Peter aggressively seeks opportunities to invert the conventional wisdom.”

 

There’s nothing conventional about Thiel’s wisdom–or anything else. He is a complex package of contradictions: entrepreneur, venture capitalist, libertarian, lawyer, gay, Christian, highly educated, contemptuous of formal education. Asked to solve the paradox of Peter Thiel, he struggles. “Let me see what I, let me see if I can come up with a clever answer on the spot to that sort of question, I, I, I . . .” He picks at the Diet Coke can his assistant brings to the dark wood table in Clarium’s conference room, with a view of San Francisco’s park-like Presidio. “You know, I don’t think, I don’t think that there are, um,” he pauses. “Uh, okay, let me elide it with abstracting it one level, so, um, to the extent that there are contradictions I am much more aware of them than people whose”–short pause–“views fit into a very standard matrix and where they have a lot of other people agree with them, and where there may be a lot of contradictions that run through everybody in society but that are hidden for that reason.”

 

Except in his case, they’re not so hidden. Thiel, in a striped dress shirt unbuttoned two holes from the top and dark slacks, puts down the Coke. “I don’t think they’re logical contradictions, but all the questions around these things are ones where to the extent you have an unusual combinations of beliefs or views or whatever, you’re forced to think about them more than if you don’t.”

 

About all you can say, with any assurance, is that Thiel has never quite fit in with the world around him. He was born in 1967 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His father, a chemical engineer, kept the family moving; Peter went in and out of seven schools from Ohio to Namibia before the family settled in Foster City, Calif., 20 miles south of San Francisco. Like lots of boys, he devoured J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series, absorbing its lessons about the allure of evil and the limits of power. But Thiel’s brain seemed to work faster than most of his peers’. “He knew the name of every country in the world by the time he was five,” says Ken Howery, a partner of Thiel’s at the venture capital firm Founders Fund and a close friend. A chess player, Thiel was ranked seventh in the country as an adolescent. In college the kit that held his pieces had a “born to win” sticker on it.

 

Obviously, Thiel loves matching wits with friends and enemies, and is fanatical about winning. He is just as obsessive about playing by the rules–his rules. He sometimes raced in his 1978 VW Rabbit (“my Jimmy Carter car”) to chess matches, where he would show up five minutes before having to forfeit the game just to psych out his opponents, recalls high school friend Norman Book, now an executive VP at the conservative website WorldNetDaily. Later on Thiel would write his own playbook when it came to investing–or hiring people. After deciding to bring on Keith Rabois (a law firm chum) to handle lobbying and dealmaking for PayPal, Thiel gave him an ultimatum. “You’ve got to be in my office on Monday. If you can’t start Monday, forget it.” Rabois had to sell his house and move from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco in four days. “That’s classic Peter: If it can’t happen now, it doesn’t count,” says Rabois, now chief operating officer at mobile payments startup Square.

 

But Thiel bristles under other people’s rules. His buddy Book points to Monopoly games in high school. Thiel, as usual, was winning. “So, I sold all my properties to my brother for a dollar,” Book recalls. “Peter didn’t like that, but he couldn’t find anything in the rules” prohibiting the move. Nor did Thiel like the way Valleywag, an arm of the media and gossip site Gawker.com, played when it wrote the post “Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.” Thiel later called Valleywag the “Silicon Valley equivalent of al Qaeda.”

 

Some of Thiel’s contentious thinking was forged at Stanford University, where he majored in philosophy and minored in political incorrectness. In 1987 he and Book, disgusted at what they called Stanford’s “culturally liberal ethos,” launched the Stanford Review, a libertarian paper that was, mildly put, unpopular. One student told Thiel he loved the Review–for wiping his butt.

 

After getting his law degree from Stanford in 1992, Thiel took a job with the white-shoe firm Sullivan & Cromwell. He quit after seven months, six days. He lasted slightly longer as a derivatives trader at Credit Suisse First Boston. Thiel came home in 1996. “I think California was and remains a much better place to do something entrepreneurial than New York,” he says.

 

He moved to Menlo Park, started Thiel Capital with $1 million from family and friends, and hired fellow Stanford alum Ken Howery. They took the cheapest space they could find in Silicon Valley’s financial epicenter, Sand Hill Road: a windowless storage closet. “The developer hung a picture of an outdoor scene for us,” Thiel deadpans–an affect that comes naturally to him.

 

Thiel reconnected with his political and academic roots, in particular the intellectual circle around Stanford professor René Girard. His chief explanation of human motivation centered on a literary theory that all desire is “mimetic,” or imitative, sparked by the desires of other people. Conflict arises not when individuals are different but when they’re similar, when they want the same thing. The theory particularly resonated with the brushfire creation of startups in the dot-com boom, “the bubble that was going on a few blocks outside of campus,” Thiel recalls.

 

He wanted to ignite his own fire and didn’t have long to wait. After a talk on political freedom and economic globalization he gave at Stanford in the fall 1998, Thiel was approached by Max Levchin, a young Ukrainian émigré and computer scientist who’d sold his company, NetMeridien Software, which developed marketing tools.

 

They started Confinity, an e-payments company with Thiel as CEO, in December 1998. Its first application was called PayPal, which let PalmPilot users beam money to one another; that service broadened out, eventually allowing you to send money to anyone with an e-mail address. After eBay users embraced the service, customers piled in. But for Thiel, PayPal was a libertarian’s dream: It had the potential to become an independent monetary system that could weaken government control over economies and exchange rates. Like everything else he has created or backed, it was a service with a cause.

 

But lesser struggles trumped higher aspirations. By early March 2000 the PayPal service had 150,000-plus users but was burning through cash because it offered a $10 bounty to any customer who signed up a new customer. Thiel merged it with X.com–a competitor to PayPal that similarly targeted online auctions but also wanted to branch out into other financial services–and demoted himself to executive VP of finance. Just before the dot-com bubble popped, Thiel hustled to close $100 million in private offerings from venture capitalists and investment bankers. There was tension inside: Thiel clashed with X.com’s CEO, Bill Harris, the former chief of Intuit, according to The PayPal Wars, by Eric Jackson, an ex-employee. While customers complained about PayPal (funky log-ons, trouble accessing accounts and so on), Harris focused on business deals. Thiel quit in May. The board ousted Harris days later, replacing him with X.com’s founder, Elon Musk. Thiel became chairman.

 

X.com’s troubles cascaded. Crooks were stealing millions of dollars from PayPal using stolen credit card numbers. Fixing those problems, as well as introducing new features, had to wait while Musk switched PayPal’s operating system over from Unix to Microsoft. Thiel’s loyalists, led by Levchin and then-executive VP (and former Stanford Review editor) David O. Sacks, staged a second coup, according to Jackson’s book. They encouraged their staff members to threaten to quit unless Musk was replaced. He was, in September 2000–by Thiel. (There seems to be little bad blood between them: Thiel invested in SpaceX and, along with Musk, backed the movie Thank You for Smoking.)

 

The tight band around Thiel set about weeding out fraud, converting accounts into profits and expanding to 80 countries. In the first large offering after Sept. 11, PayPal went public in February 2002, with a $1.2 billion market capitalization. At the company party Thiel took on multiple employees at once in a game of speed chess, winning all but one contest. After losing that one game, he admits, he “may have knocked over a few pieces” in frustration. Eight months later eBay bought the company for $1.5 billion. Thiel’s take home: $55 million.

 

It took a year and a half to find his next megahit, but Thiel made valuable discoveries along the path to Facebook. Within weeks of the 2002 PayPal sale Thiel founded Clarium Capital, part hedge fund, part think tank. It was his way of staking claim to the future as he envisioned it: an ominous era of peak oil, Japanese-style deflation and an emerging markets bubble. With the backing of the likes of institutional investors, pension funds, funds of hedge funds and a few qualified individuals, Thiel placed bets he intended to ride a long time, going long on oil and energy stocks, predicting a rise in 30-year Treasurys if the U.S. economy sank and wagering the dollar would strengthen as investors fled investments in emerging markets backed by borrowed dollars. He later rode oil up to $147 a barrel but also rode it all the way down to $34; prescient calls on a rising dollar and a jump in Treasurys couldn’t stave off losses.

 

Clarium charged its investors a flat 25% of profits (and nothing if it lost money), instead of the usual 20% and 2% management fees–and treated them in quarterly letters to pure Thielisms. “Ours is an age in which classic wisdom has failed,” reads one. “Those investors who limit themselves to what seems normal and reasonable in light of human history are unprepared for the age of miracle and wonder in which they now find themselves. The twentieth century was great and terrible, and the twenty-first century promises to be far greater and more terrible.”

 

Thiel, meantime, kept an eye out for promising startups. One little-loved sector, seen by some as the next dangerous dot-com fad, was social networking. But Thiel put $100,000 of his own into LinkedIn, a business-focused social network. In the spring of 2004 Thiel got a call from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, an old Stanford friend and PayPal alum. Would he take a meeting with Facebook’s Sean Parker and a kid named Mark Zuckerberg? He and two Harvard dropout friends had just moved to a rented house in Palo Alto and needed cash. Hoffman didn’t want to invest in Facebook, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. The meeting in August 2004 was at Thiel’s offices at 555 California Street, the same setting for the confab in The Social Network.

 

Zuckerberg has hazy memories of that first meeting. As usual, Parker did much of the talking. “Sean and Peter had worked out most of it,” says Zuckerberg. What sold him on Thiel? That he wasn’t a conventional venture capitalist. “I really just wanted to work with other people who had built great things,” says Zuckerberg. “I had a lot of respect for PayPal. I associated him with more as being a founder and entrepreneur than being an investor.” Thiel’s recollection of Zuckerberg: “Somewhat introverted, very smart and very driven. And a very strong engineer, which would be critical if Facebook would solve the scalability problems that caused Friendster to founder.” According to David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect, Thiel loaned Facebook $500,000, convertible to 10.2% of the equity if the site reached 1.5 million users by December 2004. It didn’t, but Thiel let it convert anyway. (In May 2009, according to The Facebook Effect, when Russian tech holding company Digital Sky Technologies participated in a round of fundraising with Facebook, Thiel sold roughly half his stake, which has also been diminished by dilution.)

 

The money was great, but Thiel’s counsel was a godsend. “He has continued to push this theory that focusing on user growth and expansion is the most important thing the company can do,” says Zuckerberg. “That’s been a really defining thing at Facebook.”

 

Later that year Thiel set up a new venture firm, called the Founders Fund, with former PayPal employees Ken Howery and Luke Nosek. (They added Sean Parker as a managing partner in 2006.) The fund focused on early-stage social media and Web startups with investments between $500,000 and $5 million. They backed companies such as Levchin’s Slide (social media applications), IronPort (e-mail security appliances), Powerset (search engine) and Mint (personal finance site). They have been hits: IronPort was sold to Cisco in 2007 for $830 million and Powerset to Microsoft for $100 million in 2008; Slide was bought by Google last year for a reported $228 million.

 

Guiding principles of the Founders Fund–invest early, aggressively and in people you respect–are standard practice today among the angels and early-stage venture firms in Silicon Valley. Parker and Thiel also came up with a special class of shares, called Series FF, to help cash-strapped entrepreneurs. Founders can sell Series FF stock at the last price paid by new investors for preferred stock, so they don’t have to wait for the frozen capital markets to thaw. This, too, has been copied. “If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, they have been flattering the Founders Fund,” says Venky Ganesan, a managing director at $1 billion (assets) venture firm Globespan Capital.

 

Few are deliberately imitating Clarium Capital, which is bleeding executive talent as well as assets. Thiel says the hedge fund now has no equity exposure. It is “slightly short” the dollar, fixed income and commodities, and long on oil. “We’re basically in a holding pattern,” says Thiel. “The fundamentals have to be fixed, but this radically decoupled market may last for a while.”

 

Which leaves him with plenty of time to solve the future–most of it, judging by where he puts his money, beyond social media. Why? A clue lies in an essay Thiel wrote for the libertarian Cato Institute in April 2009. “Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom.” Those new frontiers, he says, are cyberspace, outer space and seasteading (creating settlements in oceans). The Internet, where Thiel has invested much of his imagination and made most of money, is limited, he says, because “these new worlds are virtual and . . . any escape may be more imaginary than real.”

 

Far better to create new, like-minded communities by trying to escape the laws of gravity, nationalism, even biology. Through his Founders Fund, Thiel has invested more than $30 million in Elon Musk’s SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.), a nine-year-old transportation company. “The SpaceX vision was to start by trying to build a basic, functionally cheap rocket,” says Thiel. “Once you shift the economics from $20,000 for a pound of payload to $1,000 for a pound of payload there are all kinds of things you can do”–giving a kick, perhaps, to space tourism, Mars exploration, maybe even lunar colonization. In December SpaceX became the first private outfit to send up and recover a spacecraft.

 

Less costly are dreams recently on display at a fundraiser hosted by Thiel’s philanthropic organization for what it called Breakthrough Philanthropy, at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, a few blocks from Clarium’s offices. Many in Thiel’s influential circle were there–Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz; onetime PayPal cohorts and Stanford Review alums Ken Howery, Keith Rabois and David Sacks–with their big checkbooks. There were warm sliders, cold sushi, plenty of wine and pitches from the leaders of eight philanthropies.

 

 

Among them was Patri Friedman, an ex-Google engineer and grandson of late economist Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winner, who was hawking sea colonies on behalf of his Seasteading Institute. (Thiel has contributed $900,000 to it so far.) “What we need are new countries,” said Friedman, 34 and bearded. “Seasteading is the entrepreneurial way to fix government, by competing with governments rather than complaining.” His group has explored the idea of building a floating structure off the coast of San Diego for 270 residents, at a cost of $200 million. Unresolved: the small matter of how to form an independent or semi-autonomous republic.

 

Another hat in hand belonged to Michael Kope, an intellectual property lawyer who is also chief executive of the SENS (Strategies for Engineering Negligible) Foundation. Its elusive goal is the same as Ponce de Leon’s 500-plus years ago: discovering the secret of regeneration. “A man by the name of Frank Fenner died two weeks ago,” Kope says in his warmup, adding mournfully, “He was only 95 years old.”

 

Immortality, you might say, is Thiel’s ultimate long-term bet. “Lengthening people’s time horizon is a good thing,” he says. “If you could cure aging, that would change all sorts of things that are now constrained.” His involvement in the movement grew out of an introduction to Methuselah Foundation cofounder Aubrey De Grey, a computer scientist who posited a theory that you could extend life by reducing the damage to mitochondrial DNA (essentially, the cells’ power plants), among other possibilities. Intrigued, Thiel later ponied up $500,000–and promised to match half of all donations, up to $3 million. Since then, Methuselah has spun off SENS, which focuses on developing life-extension technologies and has a modest lab in Mountain View, where researchers try to reverse the damage that causes macular degeneration and atherosclerosis. In April Thiel signed on to pick up $1.2 million of SENS’ $2 million annual budget. No breakthroughs yet.

 

But Thiel doesn’t sound discouraged. “Do we try to pursue ideas that are weird and have optimism about the future?” he asks the audience at the Fine Arts Theatre. “Or do we give up on all new things and sort of compromise [and live in] the much more pessimistic zone we’re in?” The crowd is apparently with him; the evening raises nearly $700,000 for all the causes. “It’s good to have somebody who is out there and really taking the extreme position on these things because it encourages a different kind of public debate,” says Moskovitz.

 

To goose the supply of brainpower that will lead us to the promised land of limitless opportunity, the Thiel Foundation is actively recruiting. Its “20 Under 20″ program, launched in September, encourages would-be entrepreneurs to apply for one of a score of $100,000 fellowships. Two requirements: Aside from being 19 or younger, you have to drop out of school.

 

For a consummately educated guy, Thiel is derisive about American colleges and universities. In his view they’ve become too politically correct (he and David Sacks argued as much in their 1997 book, The Diversity Myth), hobbling the hard sciences as well as the humanities. Schools have created a classic bubble, says Thiel: Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student jumped 61% between 1993 and 2007, while the number of administrators per 100 students rose 39%, reports the Goldwater Institute. Student debt levels fill Thiel with disgust. “It is pretty much the only form of indentured servitude in the U.S.,” he says.

 

Yale math major Thomas McCabe, 19, is applying for a Thiel grant. McCabe hopes to commercialize low-cost 3-D printers that now make a range of plastic goods on demand. “We are living among the ruins of a fallen civilization,” he says, sounding a lot like Thiel must have 24 years ago. “Take all of the basic infrastructure, our roads and bridges and so on that we built in the 1950s and ’60s. If we tried to build them now we couldn’t do it.” But with a grubstake from Thiel we might get a little closer.

 

Original article.

 

Charity Reinvented: Disruptive approach to philanthropy (The Economic Times of India, January 7, 2011. Circulation 620,000.)

 

Atri Friedman of The Seasteading Institute, technocrat and grandson of the Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, is seeking to create waves. He hopes to catalyse a ‘startup country’ on the high seas, an open space for new forms of government and governance.

 

Seasteading’s mission is to ‘further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems.’ He dreams of innovations — in banking systems or medical regulations — emanating out of the startup country, being adopted by governments across the world.

 

The idea is utopian but Patri is beginning to attract some serious money. Foremost amongst his supporters is Peter Thiel, billionaire co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, now valued at $50 billion. Thiel donated $900,000 to Seasteading for crafting the preliminary architectural framework of the floating ‘country.’

 

Fact is, The Thiel Foundation, established by Thiel, is fascinated by innovative minds pushing the frontiers of science and technology. Thiel is now a philanthropist-evangelist for futuristic, often ‘weird’ innovations.

 

Thiel, in December 2010, invited some of the wealthiest in the US and presented to them some of the world’s brightest minds and innovative nonprofit initiatives. The meet was titled: ‘Breakthrough Philanthropy: Giant leaps for Humankind.’

 

Issues from artificial intelligence, biotech, medicine, and new markets were debated. Patri, on the occasion, pitched his ‘country’ as perhaps the world’s first trillion dollar business. “Traditional philanthropy tends to deliver well-established solutions to more people, but the world also needs philanthropy that looks to the future, creating radical innovations,” says Thiel.

 

He is absolutely certain that for the very rich, whose business fortunes were built on ‘disruptive change in the for-profit sector,’ a similar disruptive approach to philanthropy would have an ‘immense appeal.’

 

The search for disruptive approaches is evident in the manner in which wealthy individuals and philanthropic foundations in the US are slowly beginning to retool their giving strategies. Philanthropic giving in the US constitutes almost 2.2% of the GDP with the total reaching $303 billion in 2009, but much of this is still steeped in the old-fashioned ways of giving: top-down, centralised and reactive.

 

Katherine Fulton of the Monitor Institute, lead author of the recent ‘What Next for Philanthropy’ says: “The methods developed for addressing simpler, tame problems in a slower-moving time are inadequate today and likely archaic for the tomorrow we will confront.”

 

The traditional, time –tested way of supporting non-profits, good work and good ideas — simple grant making — is therefore under considerable stress. It doesn’t seem to be attractive or relevant anymore although it is agreed that it will endure for some time to come.

 

Sheela Patel of the Mumbai- based Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), insists that, in recent years, the architecture of philanthropy, globally, had actually taken a turn for the worse with an obsession on logical frames, inputs, and outputs.

 

Donors and foundations have been found to be risk averse. “We now have to pretend that in a period of two years, we can implement perfect strategies and produce complete solutions,” laments Patel. “Equitable solutions take trial, error and time.”

 

Patel, along with Jockin Arputham of the Dharavi slums, has been working across several developing countries lately, especially on low-cost housing. A couple of years ago, Patel told an elite gathering of academics and philanthropists at the Harvard University that it was about time for a deep structural change in giving mechanisms. “Foundations were increasingly treating organisations like ours, not as innovators, but as contractors, who are hired to deliver their visions,” she says. “We feel that our space — the development and evolution of community driven strategies — is completely closing down.”

 

Change, however, is happening. There is a clear shift towards harnessing a significant portion of the billions of philanthropic dollars towards some of society’s challenges, in education, healthcare, agriculture, food security, climate change, or renewable energy, in a more concerted, focused and shared manner. Collaborations, alliance, networks and pooling of resources, monetary and others, is slowly coming centre stage.

 

The trend, in a way, has been catalysed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (B&MGF) and its ilk. Take the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), for example. Bill Gates committed over $1.2 billion over a 10-year period to the Alliance, which embraces a range of partners; donor and recipient governments, pharma companies, civil society organisations, the UN system and the World Bank. The result has been remarkable. GAVI, in a decade, spent $5 billion, prevented 5.4 million premature deaths and immunised 257 million children. GAVI, for 2010 to 2015, is seeking another $4.3 billion. This is an achievement that no government, foundation, civil society organisation or multilateral agency could have achieved by working in silos.

 

ClimateWorks, launched in 2008 by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, David & Lucille Packard Foundation and McKnight Foundation is in the same vein and supports public policy processes in climate change.

 

Closer home, we are seeing the impact of the B&MGF supported Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), which is endeavouring to bring new treatments for tropical diseases including kala azaar. The DNDi is a collaborative, not-for-profit, global drug R&D organisation of which the Indian Council of Medical Research is founder partner. “Today, peer-supported, data-informed, passion-activated, and technology-enabled networks represent a new structural form in philanthropy,” says Lucy Bernholz, president of the US-based Blueprint Research & Design, a philanthropy strategy consulting firm. “Institutions that support them will need to be as flexible, scalable and portable as the networks they serve.”

 

This particular approach now appears to be far more workable than initiatives like DotOrg, Google’s platform for giving which was supposed to change the game in philanthropy with $1 billion in seed money. Larry Page and Sergey Brin sought to change the world using corporate resources and by harnessing the bristling engineering talent available in-house. It’s apparently floundering.

 

The begin of a churn in global philanthropy, is seeing the emergence of many such experiments, and is also spawning a plethora of quaint implementing mechanisms, investment ideologies and hybrid organisations.

 

We are, for instance, witnessing the rise of impacting investing and the creation of organisations like B-Corporations and low-profit limited liability companies in the US, Community Interest Companies (CICs) in the UK and, of course, the unique bouquet of social business’ catalysed by Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Then we have the burgeoning crop of social enterprises across the world, marrying profits to social causes. The impact investing sector seeks to generate financial return and social/environmental value. The genre is seeded, nurtured and expanded by one of America’s oldest foundations, the Rockefeller Foundation.

 

Over the past couple of years, the Foundation has been creating and fostering an entire ecosystem including the Global Impact Investing Network and the Impact Reporting and Investment Standards, a common framework for reporting the performance of impact investing.

 

The first set of impact investors include the Acumen Fund, the B&MGF, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Omidyar Network and Deutsche Bank. The Acumen Fund is quite active in India. Investees include d.light Design, WaterHealth International, Husk Power Systems and Lifespring. Lucy Bernholz predicts impact investing will surpass philanthropy in the present decade. The potential opportunity for impact investing is pegged at $500 billion to $1 trillion. “For an institution like ours, engaged in philanthropy for almost 100 years, the promise of impact investing is that it offers a framework for us to partner with investors who share our focus in solving social problems,” says Antony Bugg-Levine, MD of the Rockefeller Foundation. “Philanthropy can subsidise the development of business models that impact investors take to scale; it can provide the risk capital to prove a business concept; and it can provide subordinated investments that can entice more commercial investors to come into the market.”

 

Expectedly, impact investing initiatives have proliferated, with a surfeit of interplay between mainstream investors and social investors, not only in India or Brazil, but also in Africa. The TransFarm Africa Transformation Fund, promoted by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, is an investment vehicle that targets a return of 10% and engages with African commercial farmers in improving processing and distribution. Pilots are being undertaken in Tanzania and Mozambique with equity investments ranging from $500,000 to $5 million.

 

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus also hopes funds from philanthropic foundations of the US and other wealthy individuals will flow into social businesses he has been chaperoning. A clutch of MNCs — Danone, Veolia, BASF, Intel, Adidas, GE and Pfizer are engaging with him in creating such enterprises which Yunus likes to describe as ‘non-loss, non- dividend company,’ dedicated entirely to achieving social goals.

 

Grameen Danone, for instance, produce and sell low-priced yoghurt to address malnutrition in Bangladesh. The money in Grameen Danone came from Danone Communities, a fund launched by the Paris-headquartered Groupe Danone, with contributions from shareholders and employees. When the fund was created, investors were told they could expect to get back their money, but without any interest or dividend.

 

Yunus doesn’t approve of social enterprises that claim to combine profits and social impact for, he believes, eventually profit maximising tendencies trump the social elements. Ironically, this prognostication is being played out in the form of the current crisis in Indian microfinance.

 

Meanwhile, in the UK, CICs are gaining traction. The CICs are a new type of limited company, designed for the benefit of the community rather than the owners of the company. Liberation Foods CIC, which accounts for 60% of the nuts business in the fair trade segment of UK, reached a turnover of £4 million this year, and also announced its maiden dividend. “We struggled to keep our heads above water during the recent global financial crisis,” concedes Tomy Mathew, who is on the board of Liberation, representing over 3200 Kerala cashew farmers.

 

While Tomy is happy with the emergence of a social entrepreneurs as a force for good, he is skeptical about the manner in which the new breed of philanthropists, the ‘giving pledge’ fostered by Gates and Warren Buffet, and big-ticket giving, is being celebrated. Tomy wonders whether many of these tycoons could have done much more good to society if they had conducted their business operations in a less rapacious manner than giving away their wealth in the manner they are doing now. “After all, Bill Gates made his billions by exploiting his monopolistic position in business,” he says.

 

Flashes of disquiet can be spied even amongst those associated with mega philanthropy over the years. Michael Edwards, a former director of the Ford Foundation, is of the opinion: “The hype that surrounds philanthrocapitalism runs far ahead of its ability to deliver real results.” Edwards, in a no-holds-barred piece in OpenDemocracy, a discussion forum, expresses his unease with conflicts and trade-offs between market mechanisms and social transformation and fears that “in the rush to privatise and commercialise social action and activity, there is a danger that these firewalls will be forgotten; lasting damage can be done to society…”

 

“When the production of public goods like health and education becomes the province of private interests, fundamental questions of accountability apply,” he says. Edward’s anxiety finds echo, subtle through, even amongst those who partner wealthy businessmen and their foundations. “Bill Gates cannot be the only one saving the world. He can contribute to saving the world,” says Bernard Pecoul, executive director, DNDi.

 

The positive aspect is that checks and balances are in play. The B&MGF has committed over $ 40 million to the DNDi for research on treatments in sleeping sickness and kala azaar. Consequently, the B&MGF sought a position on the board of DNDi, which traces its roots to 1999, when Medecins Sans Frontieres committed its Nobel Peace prize money to an alternative model of drug development. “We have a good relationship with B&MGF but refused the board position.We want to keep our independence,” explains Pecoul.

 

Original article.

 

The trend, in a way, has been catalysed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (B&MGF) and its ilk. Take the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), for example. Bill Gates committed over $1.2 billion over a 10-year period to the Alliance, which embraces a range of partners; donor and recipient governments, pharma companies, civil society organisations, the UN system and the World Bank. The result has been remarkable. GAVI, in a decade, spent $5 billion, prevented 5.4 million premature deaths and immunised 257 million children. GAVI, for 2010 to 2015, is seeking another $4.3 billion. This is an achievement that no government, foundation, civil society organisation or multilateral agency could have achieved by working in silos.

ClimateWorks, launched in 2008 by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, David & Lucille Packard Foundation and McKnight Foundation is in the same vein and supports public policy processes in climate change.
Closer home, we are seeing the impact of the B&MGF supported Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), which is endeavouring to bring new treatments for tropical diseases including kala azaar. The DNDi is a collaborative, not-for-profit, global drug R&D organisation of which the Indian Council of Medical Research is founder partner. “Today, peer-supported, data-informed, passion-activated, and technology-enabled networks represent a new structural form in philanthropy,” says Lucy Bernholz, president of the US-based Blueprint Research & Design, a philanthropy strategy consulting firm. “Institutions that support them will need to be as flexible, scalable and portable as the networks they serve.”
This particular approach now appears to be far more workable than initiatives like DotOrg, Google’s platform for giving which was supposed to change the game in philanthropy with $1 billion in seed money. Larry Page and Sergey Brin sought to change the world using corporate resources and by harnessing the bristling engineering talent available in-house. It’s apparently floundering.
The begin of a churn in global philanthropy, is seeing the emergence of many such experiments, and is also spawning a plethora of quaint implementing mechanisms, investment ideologies and hybrid organisations.
We are, for instance, witnessing the rise of impacting investing and the creation of organisations like B-Corporations and low-profit limited liability companies in the US, Community Interest Companies (CICs) in the UK and, of course, the unique bouquet of social business’ catalysed by Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Then we have the burgeoning crop of social enterprises across the world, marrying profits to social causes. The impact investing sector seeks to generate financial return and social/environmental value. The genre is seeded, nurtured and expanded by one of America’s oldest foundations, the Rockefeller Foundation.
Over the past couple of years, the Foundation has been creating and fostering an entire ecosystem including the Global Impact Investing Network and the Impact Reporting and Investment Standards, a common framework for reporting the performance of impact investing.
The first set of impact investors include the Acumen Fund, the B&MGF, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Omidyar Network and Deutsche Bank. The Acumen Fund is quite active in India. Investees include d.light Design, WaterHealth International, Husk Power Systems and Lifespring. Lucy Bernholz predicts impact investing will surpass philanthropy in the present decade. The potential opportunity for impact investing is pegged at $500 billion to $1 trillion. “For an institution like ours, engaged in philanthropy for almost 100 years, the promise of impact investing is that it offers a framework for us to partner with investors who share our focus in solving social problems,” says Antony Bugg-Levine, MD of the Rockefeller Foundation. “Philanthropy can subsidise the development of business models that impact investors take to scale; it can provide the risk capital to prove a business concept; and it can provide subordinated investments that can entice more commercial investors to come into the market.”
Expectedly, impact investing initiatives have proliferated, with a surfeit of interplay between mainstream investors and social investors, not only in India or Brazil, but also in Africa. The TransFarm Africa Transformation Fund, promoted by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, is an investment vehicle that targets a return of 10% and engages with African commercial farmers in improving processing and distribution. Pilots are being undertaken in Tanzania and Mozambique with equity investments ranging from $500,000 to $5 million.

Names You Need To Know In 2011: Patri Friedman (Forbes online, November 2010. Forbes Magazine January 2011, Circulation 900,000.)

 

Patri Friedman is aware that his idea sounds crazy. The former Google engineer and grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wants to build “start-up countries”: autonomous dwellings in the middle of the ocean, starting with a brand newindependent city-state off the California coast. He’s also the first to admit that past attempts to launch floating communities didn’t fare so well.

 

“The Freedom Ship, the Republic of MinervaOceania – they all comically failed,” he said. “This is very different. I was at Google before this. My second in command was at PayPal. We’re competent business people.”

 

Friedman’s Seasteading Institute also has a backer with serious start-up clout:Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, who has given $900,000 to the initiative so far via his foundation. Thiel and fellow young tech billionaireDustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, are slated to attend the next Seasteading Institute fundraising event in December, according to Friedman.

 

Attracting big names to his venture isn’t Friedman’s only plan for the year ahead. He’s refining the design of these proposed floating communities, and has hired a naval architect to oversee engineering. So far, the group has identified an area off San Diego where the waves are relatively low at a cost of $300 per square foot, or $120 million for a 200-person structure. The organization’s engineering team, aided by volunteer oceanography students, will now identify other locations for potential development. The aim is to allow any number of groups to relocate, not just Friedman and his colleagues.

 

“It’s not our utopia, it’s about enabling lots of people to try,” he said.

 

Friedman assures detractors that while he identifies as politically libertarian, his plan is not an elaborate tax evasion scheme.

 

“We’re not planning to do anything crazy so the U.S. will attack us,” he said. “Sometimes people on the left assume this is about rich people escaping taxation, which doesn’t fit with U.S. tax law at all.”

 

Friedman says his politics contrast with the old-style libertarianism of, say, the Koch brothers, who’ve donated millions over the years to undermine the left.

“Instead of complaining about the government, compete with it,” Friedman said.

 

He admits to “a couple of failed start-ups” in his 20s, and knows how much fundraising work lies ahead, but Friedman is confident that 2011 is the year he’ll be able to change some minds, starting with those who feel politically marginalized.

 

“I want people to be able to move to places that work from places that don’t,” he said.

 

And while his grandfather serves as an inspiration, his methods are markedly different.

 

“Parts of it – the passion for freedom, and for understanding systems and incentives, that’s my grandfather,” he said. “The difference is, my grandfather was very academic. He wanted to win the war of ideas. But the government doesn’t seem to have gotten that much better. It’s not about collecting ideas, it’s about creating start-ups.”

 

Original article.

 

Looking to the Future with Smarts, Money (Washington Post Sunday, December 26, 2010, Circulation 798,000)

 

SAN FRANCISCO – In the movie “The Social Network,” the character of Peter Thiel is played as a slick Master of the Universe, a tech industry king and kingmaker with the savvy to see that a $500,000 investment in Facebook could mint millions later.

 

Reality is a little more rumpled.

 

On a recent December night, Thiel walked, slightly stooped, across a San Francisco stage to make a pitch to an invitation-only audience of Silicon Valley luminaries – investors and innovators who had scored sometimes huge fortunes through a mix of skill, vision and risk-taking.

 

The billionaire PayPal co-founder didn’t tell them about the next big startup. He wanted them to buy into a bigger idea: the future.

 

A future when computers will communicate directly with the human brain. Seafaring pioneers will found new floating nations in the middle of the ocean. Science will conquer aging, and death will become a curable disease.

 

If anything can transform these wild dreams into plausible realities, he believes it is the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley – the minds and money that have conjured the technological marvels that have already altered everyday life.

 

“Do we try to pursue ideas that are weird and have optimism about the future, or do we give up on all new things and compromise?” he asked.

 

A breakthrough

Sitting before him in the audience were, among others, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and technology publishing guru Tim O’Reilly.

 

As venture capital in Silicon Valley chases the next big mobile app or group discount service, Thiel was asking for them to fund technological breakthroughs that some believe in fervently and others see as sheer fantasy.

 

He even has a name for it: Breakthrough philanthropy.

 

Instead of just giving to help the less fortunate here and now, Thiel said, his fellow moguls should put their money toward seemingly far-fetched ventures that he believes could improve the lives of everyone for good.

 

Gathered on the stage were eight groups that Thiel thinks are on the right path.

 

One was the Singularity Institute, whose members believe in the near-inevitability of the arrival within the next century of computers smarter than the humans who created them.

 

The institute works to ensure that self-programming machines will create a world that looks more like “Star Trek,” less like “The Terminator.”

 

Another was the SENS Foundation, a group of biomedical researchers seeking a path to radical life extension based on the controversial aging theories of computer scientist-turned-gerontologist Aubrey de Grey.

 

And the Seasteading Institute, led by Patri Friedman, the grandson of famed economist Milton Friedman. It looks to establish distant ocean colonies to serve as laboratories for experimenting with new forms of government or “startup countries.”

 

“As innovators, you are the best at finding and nurturing the right big ideas that can change the world,” Friedman told the audience.

 

The history of Silicon Valley is filled with such ideas. The smartphone, the Web, the search engine, the personal computer itself – those all seemed far-fetched until they became commonplace.

 

To raise money from the wealthy, flattery is a time-honored strategy. Witness the names emblazoned across hospital wings and university buildings. But building important buildings has never seemed to especially interest Silicon Valley’s elite.

 

They have “the right kind of cultural DNA to at the very least pay attention,” said Greg Biggers, a longtime software executive who recently founded a startup, Genomera, that lets members conduct health studies using their own genetic data.

 

Biggers said Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would probably be receptive to Thiel’s unconventional message because they succeeded by not conforming to others’ expectations of what was possible.

 

“This is a roomful of people who bucked the system,” he said as he mingled, glass of wine in hand.

 

‘A core idea’

Charles Rubin, a Duquesne University political science professor and blogger who has written critically about some of the movements endorsed by Thiel, said these visions of the future align closely with the Silicon Valley outlook.

 

All share the view that “scientific knowledge and technical capacity will continue to increase at an accelerating rate,” Rubin said. “This is a core idea that practically defines what Silicon Valley is all about: ceaseless innovation.”

 

Thiel himself seems to thrive on flouting convention, sometimes in ways that have led to harsh criticism.

 

In September, he announced a program designed to discover the next Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, by paying $100,000 each to 20 young people under 20 years old to skip college for two years to learn about entrepreneurship.

 

Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online magazine Slate, excoriated Thiel for the program and what he sees as its underlying impetus.

 

“Thiel’s philosophy demands attention not because it is original or interesting in any way – it’s puerile libertarianism, infused with futurist fantasy – but because it epitomizes an ugly side of Silicon Valley’s politics,” Weisberg wrote.

 

Thiel is not a traditional conservative – he has donated to Republican candidates but also to California’s marijuana-legalization ballot measure. But he does seem to believe in a trickle-down theory of technology.

 

Unlike the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured billions into providing basic health care for some of the world’s most impoverished people, Thiel said he wants to prioritize major scientific advances he thinks will spread to benefit humanity as a whole.

 

His faith appears grounded in a pervasive Silicon Valley belief that motivates gifted individuals to achieve on a grand scale, no matter the apparent hurdles – death included.

 

But even Thiel admitted he has no idea how long that last obstacle will take to overcome.

 

“I would like to say that I would still be doing this even if I thought there was no chance I would benefit from this in any way,” he said in an interview. “I think we have to work on these things even if they take centuries.”

 

Original article.

 

Unhappy with the government? Follow the lead of ‘Sealand’ (Ottawa Metro, June 29, 2010)

 

Prince Michael’s fiefdom isn’t exactly grandiose: it’s two towers sticking out of the water, housing some 20 citizens. But Sealand has its own currency, stamps and passports.

 

“No country has officially recognized Sealand”, explains Prince Michael. “But remember that a country can exist without formal recognition by other countries. For many years the United States didn’t recognize China.” Prince Michael succeeded his father, Prince Roy, as monarch of Sealand in 1999.

 

Prince Roy founded the tiny principality four decades ago. The British government had banned Roy Rates, then a pirate radio operator, from broadcasting from an abandoned military base off the English coast. Angered, Bates declared independence on September 2, 1967. Since then, Sealand has been Great Britain’s unwanted neighbor.

 

“Sealand, officially known as Roughs Tower, cannot constitute a separate independent state since it has none of the characteristics of a state, such as a territory or the ability to conduct international relations,” a spokesperson for the British Foreign Ministry tells Metro.

 

While micronations are a legal oddity, they’re also the newest trend in international politics. In the Baltic, the Baltic Seasteading group aims to form several modern Sealands. “On land we can’t live the way we want, so we want to form our own countries”, explains Baltic Seasteading coordinator Lasse Birk Olesen.

 

“Ideally, we’d like to be totally independent, but for the time being we’ll stay closer to the shore and have some relations with the government.” The Baltic country-builders initially plan to settle in international waters between Helsinki and Tallinn.

 

The Seasteading Institute in San Francisco has even grander plans. “We’ll build many independent ocean settlements around the world”, explains Executive Director Patri Friedman. “Each settlement will have different cultures and rules. People who have an idea of how society should work can display it in our ocean communities.”

 

TSI’s first community will launch in five years. “Some day we want them to be countries, but legal recognition is 50 years away”, explains Friedman. Futurist Thomas Frey predicts a boom of new micronations, primarily in the Middle East, where countries can sell new island-countries to wealthy buyers. The Google Republic may be the first such country, according to Frey.

 

People regularly apply for asylum in Sealand. The country has more than 20,000 fans on Facebook, too. “And in the past, people forged our passports, so after 9/11 we had to stop issuing passports”, says Prince Michael.

 

“We just don’t have the resources to chase forgerers around the world. Running a country is expensive.” To raise funds, Sealand sells titles. For £29.99, anyone can become a Lord, Lady, Baron or Baroness of the Principality of Sealand.

 

Original article.

 

Seasteading: the great escape (Prospect, March 26, 2010)

 

The year is 2020 and I have just turned 72. Not far off the California coast, I and several other wobbly-looking people are on a boat, chugging towards a bizarre floating structure. From a distance, it looks like a luxury hotel, or something from a James Bond movie—but it’s an orthopaedic hospital. Beside fond memories of 1968, one thing most people of my generation now share is aching bones and, in the US at least, inadequate health insurance. Hence my decision, and that of my onboard companions, to visit the first purpose-built floating hospital. Its offshore location, and the tax and labour cost advantages that brings, means it can radically undercut its onshore US competitors.

 

It sounds far-fetched, but a small number of influential people are talking up a future in which the high seas will be increasingly commandeered for unconventional purposes. “Seasteading,” as it is called, seems to have been coined as a term by Ken Neumeyer, whose 1981 book Sailing the Farm pioneered the concept. Besides hospitals, there could be casinos, hotels, prisons, aquaculture businesses or simply new homes for communities who want to live in isolation. And new technologies could make seasteading a reality within a decade.

 

Why bother? For some enthusiasts the answer is pragmatic: certain types of business can be conducted more efficiently at sea. But others, such as Patri Friedman, view the idea in a political light. He is director of the Seasteading Institute, founded in Palo Alto in 2008. A personable former Google engineer, he was once named one of “the sexiest geeks alive” and is a grandson of the economist Milton Friedman.

 

Unsurprisingly, given his heritage, Patri Friedman is inspired by libertarian ideas—particularly those of the philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand—and views the sea largely as a last refuge from taxes and regulations. So do others on the institute’s board, including Michael Strong, head of the non-profit organisation Freedom Lights Our World. Friedman believes seasteaders will establish independent nations—“micronations”—in international waters beyond the reach of governments. These could be peopled by economic migrants from developing countries, or ethnic minorities fleeing legal oppression in their homeland. A micronation could be a potential haven for religious sects such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a small pro-polygamy offshoot of the Mormon church. Or, perhaps, for gay people from the Muslim world fleeing sharia law.

 

These ideas have been batted around US libertarian circles for years. But one man has recently lifted seasteading from the realm of fantasy. The high-tech tycoon Peter Thiel provided the initial $0.5m capital for the institute and is its chief bankroller. Born in Germany but raised in the US, Thiel is a serious chess player whose intellectualism would not be out of place in an Oxford senior common room. In 1998, he backed Confinity, an e-commerce company which later became the PayPal payment system. Thiel was a billionaire before he reached 40 and is still only 42. He was on the moderate right in his college days at Stanford, but is now “way libertarian.”

 

Thiel’s interest in seasteading is entrepreneurial as well as political. Seas make up 71 per cent of the world’s surface, but are home to a tiny fraction of its people: some on oil rigs, most engaged in shipping or fishing. Those at sea enjoy tax breaks (provided they stay offshore for long enough and, in the case of Americans, renounce their citizenship) and can cherry-pick the regime they live under. The ocean lacks home comforts but has an unique selling point: enough lebensraum for even the most cantankerous people to stay out of each other’s way.

 

***

 

But first a number of obstacles must be overcome. Even the most optimistic visionaries think it could take half a century before made-to-measure micronations are common. The biggest problem is that the world’s most habitable watery real estate is already spoken for. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas grants each country with a coastline an exclusive economic zone extending 200 nautical miles from its shore.

 

This puts seasteaders in a tricky position: caught between territorial rights near to land and dangerously rough seas further out. Yet there is a loophole—the same one that spawned the “flag-of-convenience” shipping industry, in which most of the world’s oil tankers and cargo ships are registered in obscure countries like Liberia. In much the same way, sea-steaders might build structures legally classified as ships and registered in places like Panama. So long as the “ships” keep moving, however slowly, and stay at least 12 miles from land, they would be free from most forms of terrestrial oversight.

 

Even if the rules can be bent there are other potential problems. To start with, the record of “intentional communities” is not promising. From George Rapp’s “harmony society” in early 19th-century Indiana to Henry Ford’s Brazilian city of Fordlandia in the 1920s, it seems that such oddball groups flourish for a time, then fade. Most have utopian ideals which attract dreamers and freeloaders rather than the hard-workers that a new society needs for lasting success.

 

Another problem is the engineering challenge of building sustainable sea-based structures. Wayne Gramlich, a software engineer who co-founded the Seasteading Institute with Friedman, is confident that this will soon be mastered. As far back as 1998 he published a paper giving the first practical account of how seasteading might work. He sees a parallel between the history of computing and seasteading. Forty years ago, computers were mainly the prerogative of a few deep-pocketed corporations. Yet as technology developed and costs dropped, personal computing began its spectacular rise.

 

Gramlich is the first to admit that the speed of development in seasteading will probably be a lot slower. “We are constrained by basic physics—our structures have to have a certain strength and mass, and concrete and steel cost money,” he says. “But over time we can do things less expensively. We will get some cost savings because the things we design don’t have to be as mobile as ships.” Already technological breakthroughs are making life on the ocean easier. Cheap satellites and the internet also mean it now costs little to keep in touch even at sea. This is of more than psychological significance: seastead-based managers and telecommuting workers will need to do business with those on shore.

 

A prototype of sorts already exists in the form of The World, a £175m luxury cruise ship which is a fully functioning working base for its wealthy residents. It is divided into condominiums; many of the owners are in early middle age and still active in business (typically financial services). There is also a less inspiring precedent for seasteading: prison ships. In existence since the 18th century, they are still used as a last resort when onshore prisons reach breaking point.

 

The closest precursor of seasteading, however, is the pirate radio industry that began in European waters in the 1950s. Pirate stations were based on ships flying flags of convenience, anchored just outside national waters. In 1958, the first pirate station Radio Mercur was launched to serve the Danish market. Others followed, including Britain’s Radio Caroline in 1964. For a time, pirate radio was a licence to print money. But then governments struck back, with new laws that made it illegal for companies to supply pirates or advertise with them. Within a decade, most pirate stations were history—but not before forcing major changes on the radio industry.

 

Meanwhile the oil industry provides a model for how to build cost-effective offshore operations. The first seasteads (see the image above) will likely amount to oil platforms with homes plonked on them. These draw on a tradition of engineering that goes back to Maunsell forts: defensive sea structures improvised by the British during the second world war. Designed by the engineer Guy Maunsell, they were huge concrete towers secured to equally huge concrete barges. The barges were steered into position and sunk, so that only the towers protruded above the waterline. The forts, which incorporated gun towers, were operated by the navy. (The Principality of Sealand, founded in 1967, began as a pirate radio station broadcasting from an abandoned Maunsell fort in the North sea. It has its own stamps, currency and constitution.)

 

Maunsell’s concept was adapted to build the first offshore oil rigs, and more recently to create “semi-submersible” rigs. Because these rigs float on huge air-filled chambers rather than rest on the seabed, they can work in much deeper water. By filling the chambers with water, engineers can vary the level of the main platform, useful in contending with stormy weather. The latest semi-submersibles can be anchored in depths of up to 5,700 feet: nearly ten times deeper than the deepest point of the English Channel. They open up large areas of the ocean to the oil industry—and to seasteading.

 

***

 

Where could seasteads be built? Climate may be a decisive factor. A huge sector of shallow water east of Newfoundland and near the Canadian coast, for instance, may never be suitable because of its bleak weather. The seas off the southeastern US are a better bet. Extending for several hundred miles east and west of Florida, they are relatively shallow and are largely in international waters. Also a possibility is an area to the west of Spain, where conditions are equally favourable.

 

Those aren’t the only options. Friedman points to the sea’s “garbage zones”: stagnant areas at the centre of the gyres of the great ocean currents. Because surface currents converge from all directions, flotsam is herded into these areas and then permanently trapped. Seasteads placed in these zones wouldn’t have to expend energy maintaining their position.

 

Given the right location, micronations could rely on renewables such as solar and wind for most of their power, minimising their dependence on onshore energy. Recent progress in materials also bodes well. Since antiquity, seafarers have faced the problem of saltwater corrosion. Carbon-fibre cables—now so strong that they are preferred to steel ropes in supporting suspension bridges—may be the answer. Alexia Aubault, a naval architect and adviser to the Seasteading Institute, believes that similar cables could be used to lash buildings to semi-submersible supports. This would minimise the need for steel and other heavy materials above the waterline. Similarly, “cathodic” protection, a technique pioneered by the 19th-century British inventor Humphry Davy, has become a widely used technology for slowing the corrosion of steel. Finally, advances in welding mean that engineers can now build stronger steel structures.

 

Harnessing breakthroughs like these, the Japanese shipbuilding industry has been experimenting with huge steel pontoons, which are tied together to create very large floating platforms (VLFPs). One much-discussed proposed application is a floating airport runway in Tokyo Bay. Alexey Andrianov, a Russian-born engineer, thinks VLFPs could be used as oil storage facilities. The latest supertankers have become so large that they can no longer reach depots in major ports. If they could discharge their cargo into floating facilities close to their destinations, smaller vessels could complete the trip.

 

Andrianov believes that VLFPs could create spillover space around a seastead. Most of the time, residents could have the run of these areas, which could be used for recreational facilities such as tennis courts or football fields (without which cabin fever would be a hazard). While this space would be subject to buffeting in severe storms, improved satellites have made weather forecasts more reliable and seasteaders would get some warning. On the rare occasions when a terrible storm struck, they could retreat to a small, more-or-less indestructible oil-rig type structure (in much the way that medieval British villagers repaired to the local castle and upped the drawbridge when the Vikings were on the prowl).

 

But mid-ocean VLFPs face a hazard impossible to guard against: “rogue” waves as high as 110 feet, arising when smaller waves travelling in different directions intersect. Waves on this scale emerge only once or twice in a lifetime, but wreck anything in their path. Friedman thinks people will have to run the risk. “In California, we have had to live with earthquakes,” he says. “Like rogue waves, they cannot be predicted and if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time it’s just tough.”

 

What about cost? Alexia Aubault estimates that a typical seasteading structure might cost $100m for 400,000 sq ft of space. This works out to a price of over $250 per sq ft: more expensive than all but the most exorbitant housing markets. (Although asking prices for run-of-the-mill apartments in Manhattan, even in these times, still run to more than $600 per sq ft.) A typical seasteading structure might last only 20 years before it would have to be refurbished in a dry dock. Then it might be good for another 20 years—although there would be hefty ongoing maintenance bills.

 

But let’s say you can build them. What then? The political and social problems may prove at least as formidable as the cost. One obvious problem is piracy. Friedman argued recently that: “You rarely hear of cruise ships getting attacked by pirates, only cargo ships. There’s a huge difference between attacking a container ship with ten or 20 crew and a sea colony with hundreds of people who would be defending their homes.” Piracy is mainly confined to a few hotspots such as the Gulf of Aden, which could be given a wide berth. Even so, Friedman concedes that people would have to keep their guard up. “There are cost-effective defences like ship-to-ship cruise missiles which we will want to investigate.” Pugilism aside, many other questions—not least how communities will be policed—remain unclear.

 

What might happen onboard? Near the top of the list of promising ventures are “sin” industries, of which the least unmentionable is gambling. Hotels could work too, though their novelty value will soon pale in comparison with Buckingham Palace or the pyramids. Gramlich sees a market for hayfever sufferers in summer, and for aquafarming. That industry is already well established in inshore waters but requires expensive systems to minimise the problem of “fish poop.” A fish farm operated in deep water on the open seas would suffer no such drawback: the fish would simply be kept in a netted zone open to the ebb and flow of the ocean, and effluent would be irrigated away at virtually no cost.

 

Most other proposed businesses, however, depend on using cheap developing-world labour to undercut US competitors. Perhaps the most plausible of these is medical tourism. Each year, an estimated 85,000 Americans are medical tourists, travelling to locations as diverse as South Africa and Thailand for everything from hip replacements to heart valves. A seastead hospital located close to the US coast would have the advantage of convenience. The only onshore competitor offering similar convenience is Mexico, but recent kidnappings are likely to deter medical tourists.

 

Jeff Winner, a former engineering director at Netscape who is raising capital for a venture called SurgiCruise, argues that convenience could prove a disproportionately powerful selling point. Offshore hospitals can also escape the burden of regulatory and institutional factors that have rendered US medicine something of an economic basketcase. As you know if you have tried to pour a yacht-board martini, there will be drawbacks to surgery on water. But Friedman argues that, in the main, this problem will prove more psychological than real. He points out that the US Navy has been doing ship-board surgery for years, and argues that many forms of cosmetic surgery are well suited to seastead-based hospitals.

 

And not all applications need be so market-driven. How about a seastead-based university? It could start as a boarding school but quickly add undergraduate courses in, say, engineering, aquafarming and oceanography. Later it could become a fully fledged global brand—the nucleus for a Stanford-like university town, complete with high-tech spin offs and sea-related enterprises. The venture could perhaps cater to a particular developing nation and be staffed by teachers from that country, or from nations sharing a similar culture. The unapologetic intention would be to create an elite network whose members, by virtue of a shared education, could effectively lead their home country towards a better future.

 

***

 

As for the US and other developed nations, the real significance of seasteading may be indirect. Even if seastead-based businesses achieve only modest success, they would still affect their onshore competitors. Friedman cites the example of healthcare. “If just 2 per cent of American healthcare went offshore, the competition would force major change on the remaining 98 per cent.”

 

But the real barrier to seasteading isn’t technology or business, but ideology. The political case for seasteading is almost entirely driven by libertarians. Whether or not it takes off is thus a most intriguing test case for their beliefs. If enough people agree that they want to be left alone and pay less tax, the movement has a fighting chance of taking root. But if too many people worry about the problems of isolation or governance, micronation living will surely remain a fantasy.

 

Peter Thiel believes that over-regulation is at the root of America’s long-term decline—and that seasteading is a way of breaking the mould. Patri Friedman sees it as a chance to road-test different political systems in a high-speed version of Darwinism—one in which libertarianism is assumed to win out. He explains: “Each seasteading community will both decide its own rules and enforce them. More importantly, each community will decide its own procedures for deciding its rules. The point is not just to create one political system or type of system, but to make a turnkey product for creating new countries… As long as people are freely choosing their society, then as far as I’m concerned the society can pick whatever rules it wants.” May the best micronation win.

 

Original article.

 

The Biggest Idea Ever Floated (Mountain View Voice, November 30, 2009)

 

Patri Friedman believes that some day humans might live on platforms in the middle of the sea. The Mountain View resident is so dedicated to the idea, in fact, that he received a half-million dollars from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to study it further.

 

So with Thiel’s gift as seed money, Friedman quit his job as an engineer at Google in 2008 to start The Seasteading Institute with co-founder Wayne Gramlich.

 

The 33-year-old is the grandson of famous libertarian economist Milton Friedman, whose philosophy he largely shares. But in a Silicon Valley twist, Friedman believes technology will play a significant part in solving social problems.

 

“You might not think this is the place to start a political revolution,” Friedman said of Silicon Valley. “But (sea steading) is a technological solution to the problems of politics. Rather than saying ‘Can we get people to go with this ideology?’ and trying to convince people, if we can invent this technology to build cities on the ocean, it will increase competition between governments” and fix many problems.

 

He envisions small communities, or countries on prefabricated platforms, where switching citizenship would involve simply floating from one platform to another.

 

Currently, he said, “you have to win a war or an election or a revolution” to start your own country, “which is just ridiculous.”

 

What began as a part-time interest for Friedman is now a full-time job. He employs three staffers and three interns, who spend their work days in a Palo Alto office generating ideas about how to sustain sovereign nations at sea.

 

Friedman lives in Mountain View with his wife Shannon and his son in a co-housing community near Dale Avenue, where he and a group of people bought two four-plexes to create a community they called “Tortuga.” But his ultimate goal is to live with like-minded people who have taken over a piece of the unclaimed ocean.

 

“Mostly I’m a libertarian, and we live in a very non-libertarian world,” he said. “It really bothers me to live in a country that operates with such a dramatically different moral system. I would like to live in a society that I actually think is moral and with people who agree with me on what moral is.”

 

To do that, though, he’ll need entrepreneurs, and “Entrepreneurs don’t want barriers,” Friedman said. In order to attract businesses into the middle of the sea, “you have to get the cost down enough” by eliminating unnecessary regulations.

 

To that end, The Seasteading Institute has commissioned design of a $110 million, 200-guest hotel and resort called “Club Stead” that would “out-Vegas Vegas” in the middle of the sea, he said. The patented design — its construction would cost an estimated $310 per square foot — is based on large floating dumbbells that hold the platform above the waves. Friedman hopes to build a prototype platform within the next two years in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.

 

Above board

 

Over the years people have come up with numerous ideas for businesses that would support a sea steading community. The list tends to include less-than-desirable businesses, often illegal in the U.S., such as online gambling or illicit data storage — an application useful for those trafficking child porn or similar contraband.

 

But Friedman has some less shady business ideas as well. Lately, his favorite idea is to allow low-cost “medical tourism” on the ocean — a place where regulations and malpractice lawsuits haven’t driven up the price of health care.

 

Friedman’s interest in medical tourism got a boost, he said, when he and his wife looked into the costs of in-vitro fertilization in other countries and found that it could be done in Panama for one-third of what it costs in the U.S.

 

Recently Friedman held the first-ever conference on sea steading in San Francisco. Among the attendees were wealthy tech executives like Joseph Lonsdale, executive vice president of Palantir Technologies, which rents office space to The Seasteading Institute for $500 a month. Lonsdale also sits on the institute’s board.

 

Friedman brushes off criticism from those who say sea steading is a crazy idea.

 

“It’s bound to happen,” he said. “Having done a huge amount of research on this, I think there are significant challenges, but it has a shot at working.”

 

Original article.

 

Laissez-faire at Sea (Globe and Mail, July 18, 2009. Circulation 300,000.)

 

Patri Friedman, a grandson of the classically liberal, Nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, deserves some admiration for pursuing a principle to its logical libertarian extreme. As the best way to become entirely free from the state, he is proposing floating homesteading – in effect, sophisticated rafts – on the high seas.

 

Mr. Friedman is the principal force in the Seasteading Institute, having left a good job at Google in the service of this cause. If his plans are fulfilled, however, it seems likely that the nation-state system will eventually cast its net over the future laissez-faire communities of the oceans.

 

In the July issue of Reason magazine, Brian Doherty, the author of such books as Radicals for Capitalism, has a friendly, though by no means humourless, article on Mr. Friedman and the seasteading movement. The idea goes back at least to the 1970s – when there was also hope that space exploration would lead to extraterrestrial libertarian utopias – but he and his colleagues are trying to work it out thoroughly: the engineering of floating platforms, legal implications, economic viability and much more. In contrast to their forerunners, they have correctly concluded that reefs will not do as the basis for truly free-market life; anything solid is subject to existing ownership claims connected to states.

 

Three centuries ago, some pirates, such as Daniel Defoe’s perhaps fictional Captain Mission, who operated around Madagascar, purported to form “floating republics.” But today’s would-be seasteaders do not aspire to live by robbery, kidnapping and extortion, which in any case would doubtless attract the interest of some of the world’s navies.

 

Somalia’s anarchy did attract some Western libertarian approval a decade ago, but it is only fair to acknowledge that that was before some Somalis applied their business acumen to piracy.

 

Even so, peace-loving anarcho-libertarian entities would not be left alone in the long run. The 200-mile economic zones that many nations have asserted may well get bigger, and the Law of the Sea Treaty is likely to extend its reach. The oceans are a power vacuum that will be occupied.

 

The international community is difficult, if not impossible, to define, but it could hardly remain indifferent to any confederacy of mobile artificial islands.

 

Original article.

 

20,000 Nations Above the Sea. Is floating the last, best hope for liberty? (Reason Magazine, July 2009)

 

Brian Doherty – Jun. 8, 2009 3:00 pm

 

Ideas evolve quickly along the Friedman family tree. The late Milton Friedman, an economist at the University of Chicago, was one of the 20th century’s most respected and influential advocates for classical liberalism. In scholarly books and popular articles he argued that if we want the greatest possible wealth and freedom, government should be restricted pretty much to cops and courts. It shouldn’t be in the business of manipulating or dictating our choices, whether they involve education, the economy, or joining the military.

 

Milton’s son David took this attitude a step farther in several books on political philosophy and economics. Given the manifest inefficiencies of government, David argued, the healthiest and most efficient social and economic system requires no state at all.

 

Now David’s son Patri has taken the family tradition one step beyond. Inspired by his dad’s classic 1973 book The Machinery of Freedom, Patri Friedman has concluded that society’s design flaw goes deeper than just government itself. Think of the state as a business—but one with enormously high barriers to entry and enormously high exit costs. As it would in the business world, this set-up breeds sclerosis, inefficiency, and the tendency to treat customers like dirt.

 

From Patri’s point of view, Milton’s path of steady, sober education about the advantages of liberty wasn’t changing the basic negatives very much. And although David might be right that government isn’t even necessary, the fact remains that governments, however inefficient, control virtually every chunk of planet Earth. Winning control of a piece of land almost necessarily involves bloodshed, with very little likelihood of success. High barriers to entry, indeed. So while the libertarian movement maintained its traditional orientation toward scholarship, journalism, and political activism, governments were busy perpetrating mass murder on a scale no other institution could manage, mucking up market transactions that could improve everyone’s lives, and ruining millions of lives over private but illegal choices, such as consuming disapproved drugs.

 

Patri Friedman was doing all right himself, living with his wife and child in a mini-commune of sort—the kind people today call an “intentional community”—in Mountain View, California, a bit south of San Francisco. He had a great and challenging job with a great company, Google. But his preoccupation, his passion, lay elsewhere. He thought he had figured out the real underlying problem bedeviling society, and it went deeper than just governments themselves. The real solution, he came to think, would involve the lure of the bounding main, the unbounded horizon, our vast and empty oceans.

 

Remember those high exit costs? Friedman wondered: What if you could just move—not just you, but everything you own, including your home, and, if your neighbors agreed with you, your whole community? What if you could move all of it where no government would bother you at all, and you could make a new, better society?

 

Friedman called his theory “dynamic geography.” He remembered a line from his dad’s book The Machinery of Freedom about how differently terrestrial government would behave if everyone lived in trailers and could easily flee state oppression. If land itself could get up and go, the incentive structure of government would change even more, moving it in a libertarian direction.

 

In the past, such thoughts led many libertarians to dream of space colonization. But you don’t need to leave the planet, Friedman reasoned; just make “land” that can float on the ocean.

 

And so Friedman is no longer with Google. He is president of something called the Seasteading Institute. He thinks he has a feasible plan to accomplish something neither his father nor his grandfather managed, for all their inspiration to him and hundreds of thousands of others: actually creating a libertarian society. Even if it’s a small, floating one. “I would be sad if it doesn’t happen in my lifetime,” Friedman says. “But even looking at optimistic scenarios, I can see it will take several decades before I can say I really changed the world.”

 

A Sunken History of Floating Nations

 

Wayne Gramlich is a voluble, white-bearded tech geek and science fiction fan—the kind of guy who thinks about how things work, and could work, a bit deeper than most people do. A former Sun Microsystems engineer, he became interested in creating free lands on the ocean after stumbling across the website of the Atlantis Project, a.k.a. Oceania, a failed scheme to do just that from the early 1990s. Gramlich took an idle notion about liberated ocean living and turned it into an experimental social and physical engineering project. He set his ideas afloat on the sea of the World Wide Web in the late 1990s under the name “Seasteading: Homesteading the High Seas.”

 

Gramlich’s solution to building new land on the ocean was cheap and inventive: achieve flotation by lashing together empty two-liter soda bottles; convert the bottle-raft into usable land by covering it with five-mil-thick (roughly fivethousandths of an inch) black plastic sheeting and dirt. (He later realized he had underestimated the power of waves in the open ocean, and he now dismisses his plastic bottle idea as “just a glorified form of suicide.” But in calm waters, it could work.)

 

Friedman stumbled upon Gramlich’s seasteading manuscript in the early 21st century. The two men began chatting online, realized they lived near each other, and forged a partnership that in April 2008 was formally chartered as the Seasteading Institute. The organization now has two part-time paid employees in addition to Friedman (who is salaried) and Gramlich (who is not, as he spends far less time on the project). It is dedicated to pursuing and proselytizing for ideas and techniques that could allow human beings to live on stateless floating “land” on the ocean. The institute is throwing conferences, patenting aquatic platform designs, sending Friedman to spread the word at far-flung gatherings of tech world bigwigs and libertarian visionaries, and receiving friendly coverage on CNN and in Wired.

 

To longtime libertarian hands, though, seasteading seems like an old idea, one weighed down by the corpses of many ill-fated plans. Most of these efforts are legend, barely documented by history. Their tales are recounted in moldering tiny-circulation newsletters seen only by enthusiasts (and in 1970s issues of reason). One of the most influential of the small magazines pushing libertarianism in the 1960s was Innovator, and in its latter days the journal’s editors had come to think along the same lines as Friedman, though with far less rigor.

 

Innovator’s leading theorist of taking to the seas for liberty was an anarchist writer named Kerry Thornley. Thornley’s essays on oceangoing freedom inspired the science fiction writers Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson to create an anarchist yellow submarine that was central to the plot of their influential 1975 novel Illuminatus! But when it came to real-world endeavors, Thornley wasn’t the ideal pioneer. Among other things, he was confident that he had been groomed to be a patsy of sorts in the John F. Kennedy assassination, given his previous acquaintance with, and supposed resemblance to, Lee Harvey Oswald. (Before that fateful day in Dallas, Thornley had already written a roman à clef about Oswald, whom he knew from the U.S. Marines.)

 

Other libertarians, largely in the 1970s, actually attempted to create free nations on the open ocean, sometimes using existing islands and reefs, sometimes using boats or artificial islands. The history of these attempts is equally comic and terrible. The one that most resembles the Seasteading Institute’s efforts was Operation Atlantis, in which Werner Stiefel, an upstate New York pharmaceutical manufacturer, convinced a small gang of eager young libertarians to help him build a ferro-cement boat called “Atlantis II” in 1969. This vessel was supposed to sail down to the Caribbean, where the crew might grab some land in disputed territories such as Anguilla or the Silver Shoals near Haiti, or just use the ship as a staging ground to build some artificial concrete land.

 

The schemers had their own silver coin, dubbed the “deca”; they got some press in Esquire; and they had their own homemade boat. But the ship sank in a hurricane, attention from the Haitian government forced the project into quiet mode (canceling the highly entertaining newsletter Atlantis News), and no new libertarian Atlantis ever arose in the Caribbean.

 

The king of the “take over existing land” plan was Mike Oliver, a Nevada-based real estate developer and coin dealer who had published a book called A New Constitution for a New Country in 1968. Oliver had a winning never-say-die approach to his dream. In 1972 he attempted to claim space for a Republic of Minerva on a series of reefs in the southwest Pacific, 260 miles from the tiny kingdom of Tonga. Perhaps create is a better verb than claim: Oliver had to pay dredging boats to build up usable land between a couple of sturdy reefs. Shortly afterward, the king of Tonga conquered the colony with one boat. The land Oliver paid to build eventually was reclaimed by the ocean.

 

For the rest of the 1970s, Oliver concentrated instead on islands that had the advantage of already existing but the disadvantage of already being governed. He made common cause with separatist groups on the Bahamian island of Abaco and the New Hebrides island of Espiritu Santo. Such conspiring failed to instigate any independent libertarian nations; it just resulted in the arrests of some rebellious natives.

 

I called Oliver to ask for an interview while researching my 2007 book Radicals for Capitalism. A weight of angry regret and failure seemed to block his throat as he testily informed me he had nothing to say about any past attempts to start a new libertarian nation.

 

So Why Expect Seasteading to Work?

 

Patri Friedman, who has been sailing around some of the very reefs on which earlier utopias capsized, is well aware of these past failures and says he has learned from them. The Seasteading Institute’s website is as thorough and thoughtful a guide as you’ll find to the foibles and follies of previous attempts to create new and/or floating nations. And there are some important points of departure that Friedman says will make the difference this time around.

 

First, seasteading does not require anyone to take over existing terrain. That was hopeless; the land’s all claimed by some government or another, even the parts barely above water. And an open rebellion against an existing regime is unlikely to succeed. Seasteaders therefore will make their own “land.”

 

Second, seasteading is modular. Unlike various floating nations that never got off the drawing board—the “Freedom Ship,” the “Aquarius Project,” and other pipe dreams—the institute’s plan doesn’t require an upfront multimillion-dollar buy-in. Seasteading can start small, and in fact Friedman is sure it will start small, with tiny family-sized platforms called “coaststeads” near the mainland serving both as proof of concept and a laboratory for working out the kinks before community-sized seasteads are ready to sprout in international waters. Friedman figures the cost of such starter sea homes won’t be too out of line with housing costs on land, especially if people are buying in a communal or time-share fashion. In fact, most recent cost estimates for a particular hotel/resort seasteading design came out to roughly $258 per square foot (without factoring in some assembly and deployment costs), which is quite a bit cheaper than the current price of many single family homes in the San Francisco Bay area.

 

Third, seasteading isn’t just based in libertarian theorizing and hopes. Friedman knows that seasteads will need to have some business hook, and he’s busy working those angles. There’s SurgiCruise, a nascent floating medical tourism company that is seeking venture funding. If Americans will fly to Mexico, India, or Thailand for cheaper medical care free of U.S. regulatory costs, the idea goes, why wouldn’t they sail 12 miles for it? Among the other first-tier business ideas being bruited about with varying levels of intensity are vacation resorts, sin industries, aquaculture, deep-sea marina services, and universal data libraries free of national copyright laws.

 

Fourth, because the open ocean plus “dynamic geography” allows for experimentation with governance in any form, seasteading shouldn’t appeal only to libertarians. Sure, any seastead that Friedman would want to live in would get as close to anarchism as can be managed. But he thinks a variety of ideologues should be willing to leap on board, from sustainability-oriented environmentalists to members of various intentional communities, religious or philosophical or whatever, that want to shape their own lives in peace without government interference. Such communities might not be individualist in their internal policies, but they fit within the libertarian framework of seasteading itself, which allows for a wide variety of freely chosen social structures.

 

In April 2008, Friedman’s vision received a tangible and encouraging business reward: a half-million-dollar stake from Peter Thiel, the libertarian co-founder of PayPal. Friedman’s high profile on the Internet, particularly on his always engaging and interesting LiveJournal blog, coupled with his personal history in the Silicon Valley, had won his project the attention of local programmers and money people. A job interview with Thiel’s venture capital management firm Clarium soon morphed into a meeting with Thiel himself.

 

Thiel supports many endeavors to create a future filled with wonderful science-fictional ideas, including the Methuselah Mouse Prize for life extension research and the Singularity Institute, which focuses on wild futuristic accomplishments of all sorts. He was a natural audience for Friedman’s vision, and he was sold. As Thiel’s colleague Joe Lonsdale tells me, “To Thiel and others involved in lots ofdifferent innovations in Silicon Valley, this seems like the coolest new thing you could create: a new government. That sounds really neat.”

 

Seasteading, Friedman insists, should be of interest to any philanthropist who wants to preserve and protect a wider and more secure human future. As he writes in his book-in-progress on seasteading, “The ability to experiment with a new system will produce both internal benefits to the pioneering seasteaders and external benefits to the world. Seasteaders will be able to choose a society which is in harmony with their values. And each society will serve as an experiment, to see how its system works in practice.”

 

A Seasteaders’ Convention

 

The First Annual Seasteading Conference, held in October 2008, draws about 50 people to an Embassy Suites meeting room in Burlingame, California. Most but not all of the attendees are male libertarian Americans in the computer industry. Friedman and Gramlich do a lot of the talking, selling the reasons why you should, and the ways that you could, seastead. Representatives of Marine Innovation and Technology, a reputable ocean engineering firm, give detailed discussions of designs for small, relatively affordable, modular and movable seasteads. (The firm later supplied the Seasteading Institute with a design for a floating seven-story hotel-casino resort, patent pending.)

 

The conference attracts solid, serious people with lucrative occupations and (in at least a few cases) cash to invest. Friedman says he is “pleasantly surprised by the low wacko factor.” He detects hardly any “people who were not competent, not practical, who have a crazy vision and don’t think about how to make [it] a reality.” This already puts the project ahead of most past new-country schemes.

 

I am struck by how few would-be seasteaders have actual nautical experience, as opposed to lots of clever ideas about flotation, breakwaters (to protect floating domiciles from waves, including the dreaded, superpowerful “rogue waves”), and transportation of seastead-sized objects. One attendee—Mikolaj Habryn, who works for Google—tells me he took a sailing course out of his interest in the topic, but for the most part these are not people with saltwater in their veins. They are computer types, social and physical engineers, and visionaries who for various reasons think experimenting with new social forms is an exciting challenge. Many of them tell me they are not likely to be early adapters living on small-scale experimental seasteads; instead they plan to wait until the business environment offshore has room for their careers, or until the comfort level for landlubbers rises a bit.

 

This lack of high-seas experience might be just fine. While ocean living creates unique challenges and costs—Friedman refers to these as the “ocean tax,” recognizing that seasteaders must eventually make the cost lower than the “government tax” you suffer on land—most prospective seasteaders think the obstacles can be largely overcome through money and thought. Human beings already know how to generate power on isolated locations off the grid. Wind, solar, and diesel strike Friedman as the most obviously feasible, and the ocean will probably provide a particularly suitable environment for wind power. Although seasteads probably will try to grow their own food, it can be shipped in if needed; the ocean is all about moving big things cheaply.

 

What about that most time-tested vessel for living on the sea: the boat? Modularly connecting the vehicles into larger communities seems tricky. Friedman’s ideal seasteading community can start small, grow marginally as the idea or the techniques improve enough to attract more people, and be able to both expand and contract as social experiments succeed or fizzle in the judgment of each individual seasteader. He fears boats don’t provide much room for self-sufficiency in food and power, let alone comfortable long-term living, given their space limitations. Finally, he’s leery of the “Just use boats!” line of thinking because ships are simply too old-fashioned to capture the visionary imagination in the way he thinks seasteading must if the movement is to thrive. Still, Friedman has been moved enough by the obvious immediate advantages in cost and proven legal status to think that living on retrofitted old ships might be a reasonable starting point for experimenting with his ideas.

 

Oil platforms, another existing model of ocean living and working, are cost-effective because they extract a valuable commodity. But seasteaders cannot, and don’t expect to, begin with resource extraction. That would certainly run afoul of both the Law of the Sea Treaty and any number of existing government and corporate interests that claim to have a say over how ocean-based resources should be used and allocated. For the same reason that taking over existing land is a bad idea for nascent seasteaders, anything that suggests a challenge to existing wealth and authority could hobble the movement while it’s still trying to find its sea legs.

 

Indeed, this aspirationally lawless bunch muses throughout the conference in Burlingame over the extent to which the world would view all seasteaders as a part of the same team, and thus whether seasteads would have to, gulp, police each other to prevent one bad apple from spoiling the bunch. They do not reach a conclusion.

 

Seasteaders do have a legal adviser: Jorge Schmidt, an attorney who has experience with the Law of the Sea Treaty. Schmidt is careful to tell me there are plenty of unknowns awaiting future floaters, although he approves of Friedman’s basic framework: get your seastead out of the 12-mile range that countries claim full sovereignty over, don’t mess with resources in the 200-mile exclusive economic zone that most nations also assert, and emulate existing ships in international waters by arranging with some nation to obtain a “flag of convenience” marking seasteads as under its protection. In open waters, only nations have rights. Individuals without a stable flag are considered pirates and outlaws.

 

The seasteading project benefits from the fact that many poorer countries are willing to sell their sovereignty to the highest bidder in a flag-of-convenience process that works to the buyer’s advantage. “I definitely think at the start those countries will want a cut [of whatever economic benefit a seastead produces], but keep in mind we’re in a good negotiating position,” Friedman says. “We can talk to every country in the world and only need one to give us the deal we want, and we can have them bid against each other for how low the cut can be.”

 

Schmidt speculates that full sovereignty might never happen for seasteads, but that it might not matter. “Maybe we’ll get 95 percent of what we want just paying Tuvalo,” he tells me. “If that’s the case, why go the extra step?” Reality is nine-tenths of the law: “What’s most important is to get things running, to have something concrete that works. Once we have that, the actual dynamics fuel themselves, rather than expectations and theory.”

 

Getting lost in these worlds of expectation and theory while talking to seasteading enthusiasts and reading their message boards is delightfully bracing, even if it’s difficult in sober moments to imagine their dreams materializing. Surely before it gets to the point of modular anarchy, some nation is going to say, “Screw existing international law; we’re not letting this happen.”

 

Friedman says something during our first interview in Palo Alto, something that sounds puckish at first but on second and third thought seems more and more true. Libertarians, he says, expend precious time and energy on truly and self-evidently impossible paths toward political change. “Like the Ron Paul movement,” he says. “Lots of libertarians’ effort and millions and millions directed in a way that’s hopeless! For real change [electoral politics is] totally hopeless. Think how much more likely to succeed [libertarians would be] if that amount of resources were put into something that could actually work.” By which he means seasteading. And you have to admit: When you compare it to the likelihood of creating a libertarian world through American politics, seasteading starts to look more and more sensible.

 

‘We Can’t Build Libertopia’

 

I have talked to a lot of people about the seasteading concept, normal human beings not particularly familiar with libertarianism or new-country schemes. Everyone offers at least some objections. Friedman and his team have heard them all, and they’ve got answers—or at least suggestive approximations that indicate the various critiques ought not to be deal killers.

 

Pirates, for example, are far more likely to attack wealthy ships than humble residential platforms. Seasteaders are very likely to have arms and can raise the cost of attacks higher than most pirates will be willing to pay. Storms? You can keep seasteads safe through breakwaters and a spar-and-buoy design in which most of the wave energy hits just a pillar or two while the city sits cozily on a top platform. And yes, tight communal living can be stressful, but residents of places such as Antarctica stations already find a way to muddle through.

 

Unlike most new-country dreamers, Friedman and his team are winningly scientific, as opposed to scientistic. They are scrupulous about avoiding claims that such-and-such technical solution must work. They are wary of oceandreamer concepts such as “seament” or “ocean thermal energy conversion,” which are based on the premise that both building materials and energy are easily gleanable from the open seas themselves.

 

And although he remains a happy anarchovisionary, Friedman knows that he and his confederates must take baby steps. He just wants to see marginal improvements in governance, and he is sure “dynamic geography” is the key. Thus, while the goal is to be totally free-floating, he is willing to let seasteads be encased in breakwaters if that’s the cheapest way to keep them safe from the ocean’s ravages.

 

“We can’t build libertopia,” he says. “Whatever we build will have to have security forces who will bust in your door if they think you’re designing nuclear weapons or funding terrorism.”

 

This concession is based not on principle but on the pragmatic concern that nukes and terrorism would make seasteads sitting ducks for nation-states. “It will be a bummer,” Friedman adds, “and not what I want ultimately, but with that constraint we can get a lot of freedom, a lot more than we have now.”

 

Friedman comes across as a consistently calm and reasonable man. So reasonable, in fact, that dealing with the rest of the world’s passions and irrationalities have come to bore and annoy him.

That’s why he embraced seasteading to begin with.

 

As Milton’s grandson says at the conference, the best thing about seasteading is that it doesn’t require any proselytizing to the masses. “Niche social and political movements [try to] argue with everyone they run across and convince the whole country,” he notes, but that’s “stressful and hopeless.” Why not just do it: build a version of the world you want to live in. Then you get to live in it, regardless of whether anyone else is convinced it’s proper or makes sense.

 

‘We Just Want to Create a Laboratory’

 

In his introductory talk at the seasteading conference, Friedman calmly tells a series of maddening stories: of men dying of cancer in prison because of stupid immigration restrictions, of tens of millions murdered by states in the 20th century, of people imprisoned and impoverished because of their choice of recreation. The context and political intent are clear: We have to figure out a way to escape governments.

 

As of this writing, seasteading is still mostly talk and dreams. Raising more money is in abeyance, as the Seasteading Institute doesn’t even have official nonprofit status yet. (The Internal Revenue Service is processing the paperwork.) The patent on the first hotel-casino design is still pending. The publicity generated by the article in Wired, seasteading’s first extensive major print media hit, more than doubled Friedman’s volunteer base within a few weeks.

 

The current economic crisis, everyone involved notes, makes the institute’s prospects both better and worse in the short term. It’s easier to sell the notion that the world desperately needs some new political and economic systems, but it’s harder to convince people to be charitable, especially toward experimental long shots.

 

The first real, physical thing the seasteaders plan is a fall 2009 event in the San Francisco Bay called Ephemerisle, a sort of aquatic Burning Man (the annual desert art festival in which Friedman is an enthusiastic participant). They plan to experiment with some flotation designs and begin to feel what a free life at sea might be like.

 

“You can read all the books you want that say freedom is a better system, but if people in their daily lives are surrounded by cops with guns, where government supplies emergency services, where every product has been regulated and tested by government, it’s hard to wrap your head around the crazy idea that all these things can be provided by a free market,” Friedman tells me. “So let’s do it. Let’s live it. It could be a disaster. People might die. But living it makes it so much more powerful than talking about it.” Through Burning Man, he adds, he’s “seen the power of experience to shape people’s perceptions about what’s possible.”

 

What will the experience of living on a seastead be like? What social structures will arise on a liberated ocean? Friedman recognizes that it is neither possible nor necessary for him to know. In his words, it’s “an enormous relief to realize that we can just throw up our hands and safely leave some of the questions philosophers have been discussing for millennia unresolved. We just want to create a laboratory for experimenting with social contracts, and a world in which people are free to create societies with groups of like-minded compatriots. The details of those societies are up to you.”

 

Original article.

 

A Fluid Definition of Self-Sufficiency (New York Times, June 4, 2009. Circulation 877,000.)

 

 

ONE afternoon last week, Mary Mattingly, a 30-year-old sculptor and photographer who has been living in a two-bedroom walk-up in Queens, gave a reporter a tour of her new home, a 30-by-100-foot barge moored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

 

“This is the living quarters,” Ms. Mattingly said, standing on deck and pointing to a half-built shed made of scrap wood. “And over here,” she continued, walking toward an area enclosed by an iron fence, “is where the greenhouse will be.”

 

A few days earlier, a 25-foot tower had been welded to the barge to anchor a windmill, and Ms. Mattingly was anticipating delivery of a chicken coop to house the egg-producing flock that soon will be in residence. Nearby, two men in hard hats were sawing lumber, while a film crew from Vancouver recorded the process for a possible documentary.

 

The presence of the film crew, along with Ms. Mattingly’s narration, gave the scene the appearance of a very weird episode of “This Old House.” In fact, it was the final, frantic construction phase of the Waterpod, an independent project Ms. Mattingly dreamed up three years ago to explore the possibility of creating a self-sufficient community on the water — a kind of aquatic version of the Biosphere 2 complex built in the Arizona desert in the 1980s — that might offer an alternative to living on land in the future, if “our resources on land grow scarcer and sea levels rise,” she said.

 

Next week, if construction is completed on schedule — something that seems in question, given how much work is left — she and three other artists will begin living on the barge for five months, docking at various locations in the five boroughs, where it will be open to the public, beginning with South Street Seaport.

 

The project, which has been financed with private donations and grants, is intended to be self-sustaining: food will be grown onboard, some of it in hydroponic gardens; drinking water derived from purified rainwater; electricity generated through a mix of solar, wind and bicycle power; and waste recycled into compost.

 

John McGarvey, an art consultant who is serving in an unpaid capacity as the project’s executive director, compared it to “farm life, minus the livestock — but inside the fishbowl of New York City.”

 

Mr. McGarvey, who will be living on the Waterpod intermittently, said he expected the experience to be taxing because of the residents’ constant exposure to the elements, the cramped quarters, the daily chores (something as simple as using a laptop may require furious pedaling on the bicycle that generates electricity) and the lack of privacy created by the constant influx of guest artists and curious onlookers.

 

For her part, Ms. Mattingly didn’t seem too concerned. “I can’t wait to get on board,” she said, noting that she had already boxed up her books and artwork, and although she still has her apartment in Queens for a few more days, is basically living out of three tote bags, which she calls her “mobile office.” (Then again, in an earlier project, the “Wearable Home,” Ms. Mattingly proposed the idea that an all-weather jumpsuit equipped with solar panels and a water purifier might be all the shelter a person needs.)

 

Alison Ward, a 37-year-old visual and performance artist who will be a member of the crew, said she had given up her Brooklyn apartment, shed her furniture and put the rest of her stuff in storage, and is couch surfing until she can move on board. “I’m thinking about this as a launching point for a different way of life,” she said. “I love the idea of nomadism.”

 

The other crew members, Derek Hunter, a visual artist from Vancouver, and his wife, Mira, a dancer, arrived in December and have been subletting an apartment in Manhattan. Mr. Hunter, who is the project’s head builder, said he was excited about living on the barge, but was more concerned about “getting a roof over our head.”

 

The Waterpod isn’t the only project exploring water-based living. Last year, Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer, co-founded the Seasteading Institute, based in Palo Alto, Calif., which is developing a floating home based on the design of an oil rig, with $500,000 in financing from Peter Thiel, a PayPal founder. Mr. Friedman, who said he sees the ocean as “a new frontier for pioneers to try things out,” plans to have a single-family prototype built next year, and has set a goal of housing 100,000 people in the next 25 years.

 

But if the Waterpod’s arduous odyssey is any indication, the era of marine communities springing up with Toll Brothers-like efficiency is years away. For starters, there was the matter of securing a barge; Ms. Mattingly and her team endured two false starts (one of them when their barge sank) before a marine yard in New Jersey rented them the current vessel for $3,600 a month.

 

Towing and docking the Waterpod has required eight insurance policies, at a cost of $18,000, and obtaining permits from the Coast Guard and a host of state and local agencies. Even the chickens came with a bureaucratic hitch: because the public would be visiting, Mr. McGarvey was told by the city that he needed a permit for animal exhibition.

 

Ms. Mattingly estimates the total cost at about $150,000, though much of it has been offset with free materials and services, from the boards used to build the living quarters (recycled from old rooftop water tanks and donated by American Pipe and Tank) to sustainable elements like the stationary bike that can be pedaled to generate electricity (built by an engineering class at Humboldt State University).

 

The other day, Ms. Mattingly was running last-minute errands driving a pickup with the word “Roofing” on the side — another donation, this one from her brother. First stop: Framo Electrical Supply in Astoria, Queens, where she scored a free boiler they plan to convert into a solar water heater.

 

Next she drove to a hardware store in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to pick up nuts and bolts, and then to the Lower East Side, where she and Ms. Ward cleared out the art studio they have shared for the last year. On the way back to the navy yard, they talked over concerns about life on the Waterpod, including the issue of food.

 

Ms. Mattingly has been growing tomatoes and onions on her windowsill (as have other crew members), but they won’t be ripe by next week, and she acknowledged the possibility that the onboard gardens and the eggs laid by the chickens won’t provide enough food to feed four people for five months.

 

“We worked out a deal with the Union Square Greenmarket, where we’re going to barter for food,” she said. She hadn’t yet figured out what to offer in exchange. But she didn’t seem particularly troubled by that, or by the fact that supplementing the food supply meant that their community wouldn’t actually be self-sustaining.

 

As for the lack of personal space, she and Ms. Ward seemed equally untroubled.

 

“I’m not worried at all,” Ms. Ward said. “I mean, the Waterpod has a guest room. I don’t think any New York apartment I’ve lived in has had a guest room.”

 

Original article.

 

Explorers in the Valley still charting new territory (Irish Times, September 19, 2008. Circulation 105,000.)

 

I’M STANDING in a large dining room in a large house, in one of the more affluent areas of San Francisco. Through the window, I can see yachts berthed nearby in one of the city’s marinas, overshadowed by Fort Mason, a military port facility now converted into theatres, colleges and museums.

 

In the foggy distance is the silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge and, beyond that, the open sea.

 

Original article.

 

Back to the Future with Peter Thiel (National Review Online, January 20, 2011)

 

Peter Thiel may be most famous for his role (portrayed by Wallace Langham in The Social Network) as the venture capitalist who gave “The Facebook” the angel investment it needed to really launch. Before that, Thiel was known in Silicon Valley circles as the “Don of the PayPal mafia,” (his official role at the e-commerce site was founder and CEO), and more generally for his centrality as an investor in tech startups. Now, Thiel serves as the president of Clarium Capital, a hedge fund that (though it has suffered recently) made extravagant gains by betting against the housing market in 2007.

 

Though he’s primarily a businessman, Thiel has dabbled in libertarian activism. Most recently, he caused a stir by establishing the Thiel Fellowship, which will select 20 college students under the age of 20 and pay them $100,000 each to drop out of college and embark on entrepreneurial careers. Thiel is also an intellectual of astonishing breadth and depth who finds time, while running a major hedge fund, to produce thought pieces that survey the Western Canon, the geopolitical landscape, and financial economics at a gallop (such as this one for the Hoover Digest).

 

NRO’s Matthew Shaffer spoke with the philosopher-CEO in a wide-ranging conversation about net neutrality, the higher-education bubble, the future of seasteading, income inequality, why the wealthy have gone blue, Leo Strauss, and more. Thiel wants to take us back to the future, to once again, like in the 1950s, imagine how innovation — technological and otherwise — can radically improve our lives.

 

MATTHEW SHAFFER: As a major investor in a number of online startups, what are your thoughts on the recent push for net neutrality?

 

PETER THIEL: There’s something very odd about it. It does seem like an attempt to use the political system to reapportion property rights. Along those lines, one should be extremely skeptical of it. We’ve been having this debate for 15 years. The arguments have not changed very much during that time. Net neutrality has not been necessary to date. I don’t see any reason why it’s suddenly become important, when the Internet has functioned quite well for the past 15 years without it.

 

SHAFFER: So far, it’s been a solution without a problem. But is there a future in which big Internet providers have a realistic incentive to abuse their property rights in broadband?

 

THIEL: The model where Internet companies have enormous power that they abuse in various ways depends on a view of the Internet as a fundamentally static thing where nothing changes much. That might become an issue at a point where it’s an extremely mature industry, but that’s not the way most people think of it now. Until it is a mature industry, we have no idea where real abuses would be. As a policy matter, from a government perspective, not only would you have to decide that it’s mature, you also would have to decide that you knew exactly how to reallocate these property rights.

 

Government attempts to regulate technology have been extraordinarily counterproductive in the past. The antitrust lawsuits against AT&T and IBM in the ’70s, Microsoft in the ’90s — it turned out that all these companies eventually saw tremendous competition within the technological space. Technology, to the extent that it is changing a lot, is an area that is extremely difficult to regulate, because it’s not like you have some incredibly entrenched interests that are somehow systematically distorting the field. (Even if there were interests distorting the field, I’m not sure you should regulate it.) That’s almost by definition impossible, because technology involves areas of tremendous change.

 

SHAFFER: Thanks to The Social Network, you may now be best known as a pivotal player in the creation of Facebook. Do you think someday the history books — or, I guess, history websites — will write you up as effecting a millennial transition to people living their lives online?

 

THIEL: People are still living primarily in the real world. Cyberspace’s status as an alternative to the real world has been somewhat overstated. There are libertarian perspectives from which cyberspace is appealing because it is relatively free of state regulation and intervention. But the basic problem, or basic fact, is that people are biological, physical entities that live in the real world. So the Internet really cannot be a substitute for reality.

 

One of the main factors behind Facebook’s success, relative to a number of earlier attempts, is that it was focused on real identities. It was looking at real people; it was not people pretending to be a cat or a dog on the Internet, or something like that — which might have been the way people would have envisioned it in the 1990s.

 

SHAFFER: Speaking of major changes in the way we live, you’re also interested in “seasteading.” Can you talk about your interest in and advocacy for it?

 

THIEL: Seasteading was thought up by acolytes of Milton Friedman. The idea is that we need to create competition between governments. If it’s very hard to reform existing ones, we need to create new sovereign states — in the oceans or elsewhere. There’s a technological question about how far away we are from these kinds of things. It’s probably not around the corner. But these technological projects are worth pursuing.

 

It’s one of the ways in which I see things in the U.S. as having declined from the 1950s, when people had a real sense of the future, and the future was an important subject for public discussion. We thought about being on the moon, or living underwater, and what we were going to do about farmlands and forests and so on. Different ideas about how technology would change in the future played an important role in our society. That sort of collapsed with everything else in the late ’60s and into the ’70s. I want to go back to the future and back to a time when people were thinking about how to use technology to make the world a dramatically better place — not like the present, where technology is largely seen as irrelevant and specifically as bad.

 

Now, the broader issue with seasteading is that a lot of people are quite sympathetic to the idea that we need more competition in government, though you can debate whether seasteading is the best way — or a possible way — to bring it about. If there weren’t some competition between governments, the overreach would be dramatically worse than what we’ve seen. A lot of state governments would like to dramatically increase taxes and increase regulations on businesses, rather than reform their bad ways. But they’re under extraordinary pressure because people may just choose to leave.

 

The U.S. government is under somewhat less pressure, because it is a lot more difficult to leave the U.S. But it’s under more constraints today, because the U.S. is now living in a much more competitive world than it was in the 1970s. It’s hard to simply devalue the dollar, or simply inflate, or tax in a confiscatory way. So competition among governments is an extremely valuable and very good thing. The seasteading netroots are best seen against that larger background.

 

SHAFFER: I understand you think we’re in a big higher-education bubble.

 

THIEL: Yes. Education is a bubble in a classic sense. To call something a bubble, it must be overpriced and there must be an intense belief in it. Housing was a classic bubble, as were tech stocks in the ’90s, because they were both very overvalued, but there was an incredibly widespread belief that almost could not be questioned — you had to own a house in 2005, and you had to be in an equity-market index fund in 1999.

 

Probably the only candidate left for a bubble — at least in the developed world (maybe emerging markets are a bubble) — is education. It’s basically extremely overpriced. People are not getting their money’s worth, objectively, when you do the math. And at the same time it is something that is incredibly intensively believed; there’s this sort of psycho-social component to people taking on these enormous debts when they go to college simply because that’s what everybody’s doing.

 

It is, to my mind, in some ways worse than the housing bubble. There are a few things that make it worse. One is that when people make a mistake in taking on an education loan, they’re legally much more difficult to get out of than housing loans. With housing, typically they’re non-recourse — you can just walk out of the house. With education, they’re recourse, and they typically survive bankruptcy. If you borrowed money and went to a college where the education didn’t create any value, that is potentially a really big mistake.

 

There have been a lot of critiques of the finance industry’s having possibly foisted subprime mortgages on unknowing buyers, and a lot of those kinds of arguments are even more powerful when used against college administrators who are probably in some ways engaged in equally misleading advertising. Like housing was, college is advertised as an investment for the future. But in most cases it’s really just consumption, where college is just a four-year party, in the same way that buying a large house with a really big swimming pool, etc., is probably not an investment decision but a consumption decision. It was something about combining the investment decision and the consumption decision that made the housing thing so tricky to get a handle on — and I think that’s also true of the college bubble.

 

One important difference between the housing bubble and the education bubble is that there was sort of a class aspect to the housing bubble: upper-middle-class people in the U.S. tend to be invested in equities, and middle-class people tend to be invested in housing, so there was a way in which the housing bubble was a way of making fun of the middle class for various sophisticated elites that ran all the way through the housing bubble. It was sort of like, “Look at those dumb people and beatniks in suburban America who are doing this crazy housing thing.” So even though it was a crazy bubble, there was at least a kind of counter-narrative; you had a bit of a dissenting narrative. Education is an upper-middle-class thing, and so something that is not questioned by elites at all, and that’s why the education market is more likely to be distorted.

 

You know, we’ve looked at the math on this, and I estimate that 70 to 80 percent of the colleges in the U.S. are not generating a positive return on investment. Even at the top universities, it may be positive in some sense — but the counterfactual question is, how well would their students have done had they not gone to college? Are they really just selecting for talented people who would have done well anyway? Or are you actually educating them? That’s the kind of question that isn’t analyzed very carefully. My suspicion is that they’re just good at identifying talented people rather than adding value. So there are a lot of things about it that are very strange.

 

The Great Recession of 2008 to the present is helping to bring the education bubble to a head. When parents have invested enormous amounts of money in their kids’ education, to find their kids coming back to live with them — well, that was not what they bargained for. So the crazy bubble in education is at a point where it is very close to unraveling.

 

In early 2009, there was a question of why the stimulus money was not going to infrastructure, and a very large amount was going to subsidizing college loans and encouraging people to go back to school. The argument was that we get a higher return on human capital than on infrastructure. While that’s certainly possible, and I agree that human capital is extremely important, I think we’re not actually measuring the return we’re getting on the human capital. It is, in fact, considered in some ways inappropriate to even ask the question of what the return is. We are given bromides to the effect of, “Well, you know college education is good, but it’s good precisely because it doesn’t teach you anything specific; you become a more well-rounded person, a better citizen, you learn how to learn.” There tends to be an evasion of specificity of what exactly it is that is learned. And so these human-capital intuitions may be very far off in a lot of colleges.

 

SHAFFER: But people are freely choosing all this education in a free market, despite those extravagant costs, presumably because it’s the only way to signal things like self-discipline and intelligence. So the market does seem to demand those signals. Are there any alternatives?

 

THIEL: Yes, college is a signaling mechanism. It is possible that the universities were too cheap in the ’70s and ’80s, and they are sort of these somewhat parasitic entities that could capture way more of the share of the gains from providing this signaling mechanism. And so they were providing this signaling service, and they now are capturing most or all of the value.

 

But one part of it that I do not think is market-driven is that the government sector is one in which your pay grade is very mechanically driven by your university or your degree. So I tend to think we shouldn’t say that it’s a market that’s demanding education when probably the most dogmatic part of the market involves government workers. Do teachers need to get an education degree to become teachers? Do you pay people more if they’ve had a master’s degree than if they haven’t? I tend to think that if you shifted the requirements for government workers to a pure merit thing, that would help resolve a lot of the market distortions. And it might also set a very good precedent for large corporations in the private sector that sometimes function like government bureaucracies

 

SHAFFER: So what do we do to, as it were, short the education market?

 

THIEL: Well, I don’t want to transfer this into equity advice [laughs]. But I would say that for people who are starting college or thinking of going to college or graduate school, the exercise that’s probably very valuable to go through is to think of what the teleology of education is, what the purpose of it is, where it is going. When I look back on my own education — I went to Stanford undergrad and law school, I went straight through, graduating from law school at 24 — I don’t have any big regrets about doing it. The costs have gone up way more, so it’s trickier now. But if I had to do something over, I would try to think about it a lot more than I did at the time. Paradoxically, education has become a way to avoid thinking about your future. Instead of thinking about your future, you go to school and defer thinking about your life.

 

There are a lot of different things that could be done on a policy level. We should have less government subsidy of college loans. We should be getting rid of government guarantees for student loans — that’s one of the main reasons these things get underwritten. What we have going on with Sallie Mae is very analogous to the Fannie Mae problem with housing. We should get rid of educational credentials as a legitimate hiring criterion for the government. That’s what I’d start with.

 

SHAFFER: Is the Thiel Fellowship mostly about promoting technological entrepreneurship, or is it about helping to pop the education bubble?

 

THIEL: The specific context of the Thiel Fellowship is somewhat anathetical to becoming an entrepreneur — taking risks, thinking about what you want to do, not having a tremendous amount of debt. It’s mostly about entrepreneurship and getting people to create something new. The place where we can help people the most in that respect are technology-venture companies. We certainly would be open to people doing entrepreneurial ventures that are not technology-related, or even not-for-profit things. The main goal is to identify very talented people who could do a lot better without college than with college. As a society, we should not be waiting for them to get a college degree and be burdened down with enormous debt to the point where they can no longer take any risk.

 

As a society, we do not take enough risk. And high debt is very inimical to risk-taking, which is an extremely important component of progress. Beyond the 20 people that are going to be chosen for the fellowship, we hope it will encourage a broader conversation about whether college makes sense or not. This is where the elite bias comes in. The elitist view in the U.S. is that even if people concede that college is not for education, the caveat will be that, well, surely it’s for all the smart people. What we want to suggest is that there are some very smart and very talented people who don’t need college.

 

SHAFFER: You once said that the tech bubble of the ’90s migrated into an entire financial-services bubble. What does that mean?

 

THIEL: There’ve been a whole series of these booms or bubbles in the last few decades, and I think it’s a very complicated question why there have been so many and why things have been so far off from equilibrium. There’s something about the U.S. in the last several decades where people had great expectations about the future that didn’t quite come true. Every form of credit involves a claim on the future: I’ll pay you a dollar on Tuesday for a hamburger today; I’ll buy this house, and I’ll pay off the mortgage over 30 years; and so you lend me money based off expectations on the future. A credit crisis happens when the future turns out not to be as good as expected.

 

The Left-versus-Right debate tends to be that the Left argues that the expectations were off because of ruthless lenders who sold a bill of goods to people and pushed all this debt on people, and that it was basically the problem of the creditors. The Right tends to argue that it was a problem with the borrowers, and people were sort of crazy in borrowing all this money. In the Left narrative, it starts with Reagan in the ’80s, when finance became more important. The Right narrative starts in the ’60s when people became more self-indulgent and began to live beyond their means.

 

My orthogonal take is that the whole thing happened because there was not enough technological innovation. It was not really the fault of the borrowers or the lenders; the problem was that everybody had tremendous expectations that the country was going to be a much wealthier place in 2010 than it was in 1995, and in fact there’s been a lot less progress. The future is fundamentally about technology in an advanced country — it’s about technological progress. So a credit crisis happens when the technological progress is not as good as people expected. That’s not the standard account of the last decades, but that’s the way I would outline it.

 

People were expecting house prices to go up 8 percent a year. That would be quite possible in a society where the GDP was growing tremendously and where there were tremendous gains in efficiency and technological innovation. But we’re not having that much innovation and, because of that, the housing bubble was unrealistic. It’s also possible that the housing bubble was very deeply linked to the tech bubble. The tech bubble was about extrapolating technological gains; it turned out that the gains didn’t materialize as quickly, or at all, and then people went back to housing and back to credit to get the 8 percent returns. But housing and credit still depend on an underlying society that is progressing, and that sort of progress was not actually happening. So, if the tech bubble was fake, then the housing bubble would almost certainly have to be fake. The real root of the problem is always technology.

 

Income or wealth inequality is a somewhat different problem. I think it’s probably not right to blame technology or finance of any of the industries that are doing well in the U.S. It’s better to think why a lot of people are not seeing as much progress as they’d like. And that loops in all sorts of things, from the failure of the education system to the lack of technological innovation, to the closing of the frontier.

 

One of the factors that equalized things in the 19th century was that people could move out to the frontier. Now, the geographic frontier has been closed — outerspace is too far away, cyberspace is not quite real, the oceans may still be not quite there. Then there’s the technological frontier; there are some things there, but it’s more limited. So if you wanted to reduce income inequality in a non-confiscatory way, or in a non-redistributionist way, it has to involve opening up a new frontier.

 

SHAFFER: You’ve always been interested in Leo Strauss. Isn’t he the consummate anti-modernist, an opponent of scientism and our fixation on economic growth, etc.? What do you like about him?

 

THIEL: Well, there’s no two-minute answer to this [laughs]. If I had to say where I thought there was an intersection between Straussianism and the generally libertarian framework, it’s that the central problem in Leo Strauss is the problem of political correctness, which is the whole idea of Persecution and the Art of Writing — the idea that societies are less tolerant than people think, that there are truths that cannot be told and people have to disguise what they say. The problem of political correctness is a much deeper and more pervasive problem than is generally believed in the optimistic liberal understanding of the world. Properly understood, the problem of political correctness is our greatest problem — the problem of how people can think in a way that is independent of the mob. That’s what I understand as central to the Strauss corpus.

 

SHAFFER: In 2004, liberals were distraught over the working class’s going Republican, and they asked, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” Then, in 2008, financiers and the wealthy generally went overwhelmingly for Obama. As somebody ensconced among both the financial and tech elite, can you tell me, what’s the matter with Greenwich?

 

THIEL: There’s a degree to which it is just a status and political-correctness issue. The debates are for the most part not about the policies or about the ideas, but what is cool, what is trendy. Take something like the climate-change debate. I think it’s an important question, and I think it’s actually quite hard to figure out what the science is. It might be something for us to worry about. But I think there’s actually no debate at all — there’s no attempt to understand the science. It’s mostly moral posturing of one form or another.

 

Beyond the posturing, it’s a form of cowardice that’s very much linked to political correctness, where it’s not fashionable or not cool to offer dissenting opinions. In that sense we have this problem. In a way, the Greenwich problem is the libertarian problem is the Straussian problem. They are linked in the same way.

 

My hope is that in some sense Obama represents the end of political correctness — in the Hegelian sense of both culmination and termination — that maybe people could sort of get it out of their system once and for all in 2008, and that at this point people are going to be somewhat more open to really thinking about our problems. That’s what I’m optimistic about.

 

Original article.

 

Seasteading, the future of politics? (The Economic Voice, January 1st, 2011)

 

A new way of innovating in politics has been put forward by the ‘Seasteading Institute’. Built on an extension of the homesteading philosophy, the institute sees this as a way of establishing new communities at sea experimenting with different forms of politics, with the best practices being adopted by countries across the world.

 

The mission of the institute is “To Further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems‘.

 

As the institute points out, to find something better you have to experiment with something new. In the UK we generally use Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or one of the dependencies to do this.

 

But what if political entrepreneurs had the outlet that business entrepreneurs have? No more toeing a mainstream political party line that you don’t really believe in just to get a seat at the table so you can push your own ideas.

 

Don’t change your country, set up a competing one!

 

It’s a great idea. But of course in reality you still need money and lots of it to achieve such a dream. Rich entrepreneurs only need apply. After all, no-one will lend money to someone on the premise that there is no well established law governing that loan. Who is really likely to put their money into a system that changes the banking system the loaned money was derived from?

 

Many countries also claim huge tracts of the ocean as their own (just look at the claims to the Arctic now they think there is an untold wealth of oil underneath the ice). Trying to find a suitable site may prove problematic for the larger type of settlement.

 

Some of the legalities may also be difficult to overcome. A state or independent country has space or territory with internationally recognised boundaries. What if two of these communities set up in close proximity for example and disputes occurred?

 

It would also need independent sovereign power and the ability to support, police and defend its own people. These are not small concerns.

 

Overall, a great and fresh idea, but the practicalities may prove to be an obstacle too far.

 

Original article.

 

Peter Thiel, Facebook, PayPal Tycoon, Embraces Sci-Fi Future (Huffington Post, December 25, 2010)

 

SAN FRANCISCO — In the movie The Social Network, the character of Peter Thiel is played as a slick Master of the Universe, a tech industry king and kingmaker with the savvy to see that a $500,000 investment in Facebook could mint millions later.

 

Reality is a little more rumpled.

 

On a recent December night, Thiel walked, slightly stooped, across a San Francisco stage to make a pitch to an invitation-only audience of Silicon Valley luminaries – investors and innovators who had scored sometimes huge fortunes through a mix of skill, vision and risk-taking.

 

The billionaire PayPal co-founder didn’t tell them about the next big startup. He wanted them to buy into a bigger idea: the future.

 

A future when computers will communicate directly with the human brain. Seafaring pioneers will found new floating nations in the middle of the ocean. Science will conquer aging, and death will become a curable disease.

 

If anything can transform these wild dreams into plausible realities, he believes it is the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley – the minds and money that have conjured the technological marvels that have already altered everyday life.

 

“Do we try to pursue ideas that are weird and have optimism about the future, or do we give up on all new things and compromise?”

 

Sitting before him in the audience, among others: Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and technology publishing guru Tim O’Reilly.

 

As venture capital in Silicon Valley chases the next big mobile app or group discount service, Thiel was asking for them to fund technological breakthroughs that some believe in fervently and others see as sheer fantasy.

 

He even has a name for it: Breakthrough philanthropy.

 

Instead of just giving to help the less fortunate here and now, Thiel encouraged his fellow moguls to put their money toward seemingly far-fetched ventures that he believes could improve the lives of everyone for good.

 

Gathered on the stage were eight groups that Thiel thinks are on the right path.

 

One was the Singularity Institute, whose members believe in the near-inevitability of the arrival within the next century of computers smarter than the humans who created them.

 

The institute works to ensure that self-programming machines will create a world that looks more like Star Trek, less like the Terminator.

 

Another was the SENS Foundation, a group of biomedical researchers seeking a path to radical life extension based on the controversial aging theories of computer scientist-turned-gerontologist Aubrey de Grey.

 

And the Seasteading Institute, led by Patri Friedman, the grandson of famed economist Milton Friedman. It looks to establish distant ocean colonies to serve as laboratories for experimenting with new forms of government or “startup countries.”

 

“As innovators, you are the best at finding and nurturing the right big ideas that can change the world,” Friedman told the audience.

 

The history of Silicon Valley is filled with such ideas. The smartphone, the Web, the search engine, the personal computer itself – these all seemed far-fetched until they became commonplace.

 

To raise money from the wealthy, it’s a time-honored strategy to flatter. Witness the names emblazoned across hospital wings and university buildings. But building important buildings has never seemed to especially interest Silicon Valley’s elite.

 

They have “the right kind of cultural DNA to at the very least pay attention,” said Greg Biggers, a longtime software executive who recently founded a startup, Genomera, that lets members conduct health studies using their own genetic data.

 

Biggers said Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would likely be receptive to Thiel’s unconventional message because they succeeded by not conforming to others’ expectations of what was possible.

 

“This is a roomful of people who bucked the system,” he said as he mingled, glass of wine in hand.

 

Charles Rubin, a Duquesne University political science professor and blogger who has written critically about some of the movements endorsed by Thiel, said these visions of the future align closely with the Silicon Valley outlook.

 

All share the view that “scientific knowledge and technical capacity will continue to increase at an accelerating rate,” Rubin said. “This is a core idea that practically defines what Silicon Valley is all about: ceaseless innovation.”

 

Thiel himself seems to thrive on flouting convention, sometimes in ways that have led to harsh criticism.

 

In September, he announced a program designed to discover the next Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, by paying $100,000 each to 20 young people under 20 years old to skip college for two years to learn about entrepreneurship.

 

Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online magazine Slate, excoriated Thiel for the program and what he sees as its underlying impetus.

 

“Thiel’s philosophy demands attention not because it is original or interesting in any way – it’s puerile libertarianism, infused with futurist fantasy – but because it epitomizes an ugly side of Silicon Valley’s politics,” Weisberg wrote.

 

Thiel is not a traditional conservative – he has donated to Republican candidates but also to California’s marijuana legalization ballot measure. But he does seem to believe in a trickle-down theory of technology.

 

Unlike the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured billions into providing basic health care for some of the world’s most impoverished people, Thiel said he wants to prioritize major scientific advances he thinks will spread to benefit humanity as a whole.

 

His faith appears grounded in a pervasive Silicon Valley belief that motivates gifted individuals to achieve on a grand scale, no matter the apparent hurdles – death included.

 

But even Thiel admitted he has no idea how long that last obstacle will take to overcome.

 

“I would like to say that I would still be doing this even if I thought there was no chance I would benefit from this in any way,” he said in an interview. “I think we have to work on these things even if they take centuries.”

 

Original article.

 

How to create a startup country (KurzweilAI.net, December 23, 2010)

 

At Peter Thiel’s invitation-only “Breakthrough Philanthropy” event in San Francisco on December 7, which brought together Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs with eight of the most visionary non-profits, Patri Friedman, grandson of legendary economist Milton Friedman, presented one of the most radical, imaginative concepts I’ve heard in some time. Here’s the text of his four-minute talk (video below — other Breakthrough Philanthropy speaker videos here).
— A. Angelica

Every year, our phones get smarter, our cars safer, and our medical treatments more advanced. We all benefit from startups and established companies competing through constant innovation. So why is it that in one of the most advanced countries in the world, we’re still using the legal technology … of 1787?  I mean, if you drove a car from 1787, it would be a horse!

 

Surely some of the advances of the last two centuries have enabled new , better forms of government. For example, America’s founders were brilliant, but they couldn’t design a political system using the Internet, because it didn’t exist then.

 


“A startup country could be the world’s first trillion dollar business.”

 


Now for humanity, this is a huge problem, but with our entrepreneur hats on, what a business opportunity! A startupcountry could be the world’s first trillion dollar business.

 

But right now, there’s no way for an entrepreneur with a great idea for a startup country to make it happen. Unlike thesoftware industry, where you can get started with just a laptop, to enter the government industry, you need a open space, a physical place that allows political experiments. But there is no such place — every piece of land in the world is claimed.

 

So there are no startup countries, there’s no channel for innovation of entrepreneurs … no wonder it’s a such a sad industry.

 

So why don’t we see more innovation in politics? Now, politics is a pretty emotionally charged subject. You’re not supposed to talk about that, or religion. So let’s take a new perspective. Let’s forget about left and right and instead, put on our entrepreneur hats. Let’s think of government as an industry, where countries are firms and citizens are customers.

 

This is not just any industry. This is the world’s biggest industry. The leading firm had 2009 revenues of 2.5 trilliondollars. Strangely, it’s also an industry legendary for poor performance. That leading firm lost 1.4 trillion. And that’s a top company. The worst companies kill many of their own customers. It’s a pretty sad industry!

 

The seasteading solution: let a thousand nations bloom

 

The Swimming City — artist’s concept (Image: András Gyorfi)

 

So that’s how we come to seasteading — homesteading the high seas. What we need is a new frontier, an open space for political experiments…and the next frontier is the ocean. With a little technical innovation to make this new frontier accessible, we can unleash enormous political innovation. Let a thousand nations bloom on the high seas, trying diverse political systems — essentially, a startup sector for government.

 


“Seasteading is the entrepreneurial way to fix government — by competing with it, instead of complaining about it.”

 


And of course, you don’t have to go out there to benefit. The best discoveries of these startups, like in any industry, will be copied by the market leaders — the countries of today.

 

So seasteading is the entrepreneurial way to fix government — by competing with it, instead of complaining about it. That’s why every day at The Seasteading Institute, we’re growing our community of pioneers and conducting researchinto engineering, business models, and international law. Here’s what we expect the progress to look like:

 

We think seasteading will begin in 3–10 years on ships, repurposed for businesses like medical tourism. In a decade, they’ll progress to innovative designs based on oil rigs, hosting a range of businesses and thousands of residents. And in several decades, they’ll evolve into true floating cities for millions of people, pioneering new ways to live together.

 

Sounds like science fiction, but as Christine [Peterson] said, after 25 years, science fiction can become fact. It’s an incredible vision, and it’s urgent that we get these experiments started as soon as possible. We can already see that existing political systems are straining to cope with the realities of the 21st century. We need to find the next generation of governance technologies.We need to find banking systems that can handle inevitable financial crises; medical regulations that protect people…without retarding innovation; democracies that ensure our representativestruly represent us.

 

Humanity needs seasteading…and seasteading needs you. We need experienced entrepreneurs who can join us in bringing the Silicon Valley spirit of innovation to where it’s most sorely needed.

 


More about Seasteading Institute

 

SESU (SElf-SUstained Seastead) — artist’s concept (Image: Marko Järvela)

 

The Seasteading Institute was founded in 2008 by Patri Friedman. The idea, he says, is to “enable seasteading communities — floating cities — that will allow the next generation of pioneers to peacefully test new ideas for government. The most successful can then inspire change in governments around the world.”

 

As of December 2010, the institute has raised more than $1,000,000, with funding led by Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and first investor in Facebook. The nonprofit institute’s mission is to “further the long-term growth of the seasteading movement.” Its current focus is on “enabling the success of the first seasteads by researching the critical engineeringlegal, and business problems, increasing public awareness, and building a core seasteading community.

 

The institute believes the tipping point for the seasteading movement will be “the existence of a growing market for seastead real estate, which creates an economic incentive for not just residents, but real estate developers to build more and more seasteads.”

 

“I think seasteading is not just possible, or desirable, but necessary,” said Thiel in his keynote address to the second Seasteading Conference in September 2009 in San Francisco. “Seasteading is one of the few technological frontiers that has the promise to create a new space for human freedom.”

 

Interested in getting involved? Check out Seasteading Institute jobs and internships (“We’re looking for brilliant young students who are passionate about seasteading, fun to work with, and have a stellar track record of independence and accomplishment, and who are excited at the idea of taking on a high degree of ownership and responsibility.  Our internships are custom-designed to meet each individual’s interests and skill set.”).  You can keep up with the latest seasteading news via numerous online channels or contribute through the Membership Program.

 

Original article.

 

Let a Thousand Nations Bloom, at Sea (Forbes.com, December 8, 2010)

 

Patri Friedman thinks mankind needs to take to the seas and start new countries.

 

“Let a thousand nations bloom on the high seas,” he says.

 

Wild.

 

But when Friedman, economist Milton Friedman’s grandson, gave his pitch for the Seasteading Institute at an event held by the Thiel Foundation in San Francisco Tuesday night, he had the audacity to make his idea seem reasonable, even necessary.

 

“We’re still using the legal systems of 1787,” he told a crowd of more than 300. “Why don’t we see more innovation in politics,” he asked.

 

Maybe the problem is too much shouting, and too little doing.

 

Think of governments as businesses, he argues. “This is the world’s biggest industry,” he says. The most successful franchise in loses more than a trillion dollars a year. “The worst companies kill many of their own customers,” he adds.

 

What a business opportunity. “What we need are new countries,” he says. “Seasteading is the entrepreneurial way to fix government, by competing with governments rather than complaining.”

 

The first step would involve boats providing services such as medical tourism. Then seasteaders could move on to platforms. Finally, in several decades, floating cities.

 

“A startup country could be the world’s first trillion dollar business,” Friedman says. “It’s that or space.”

 

Sure, it’s a wild idea. Looked at Friedman’s way, though, it’s not so unnatural.

 

Original article.

 

Libertarians Celebrate Freedom With ‘Burning Man on the Water’ (Wired.com Gadget Lab, August 9, 2010)

 

A small group of libertarians created their own, floating vision of the future in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta recently. It was, as organizers billed it, a little like Burning Man on the water — minus the giant, flaming effigy and with a fraction of the number of event-goers.

 

The festival was almost canceled due to insurance problems, but in true libertarian fashion, the would-be attendees created a do-it-yourself substitute in its stead.

 

The would-be event, called Ephemerisle, was sponsored by The Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to creating independent micro-nations in international waters.

 

“I heard about the cancellation and said, ‘In the spirit of self-organized nation-building, let’s get together anyways,'” said Matt Bell, who spearheaded the effort without any central leadership or organizational backing.

 

Supporters called their alternative, uninsured gathering “the not-Ephemerisle Floating Festival, or a Festival Formerly Known as Ephemerisle.”

 

Patri Friedman, executive director of The Seasteading Institute, attended the substitute event as a private citizen, not formally representing his organization.

“The high insurance cost is one of many examples of how the current political system in America makes it difficult to try new things,” said Friedman, who is the grandson of Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman. “That’s bad.”

 

He added, “On seasteads, we would have a wider variety of legal environments.”

 

Among the motley crew at the four-day festival were a bunch of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, a handful of international libertarian activists and two seafaring travelers who said they were homeless.

 

When participants weren’t trading visions of their utopian futures, they floated around and enjoyed art and music. Pirate accordionist Jason Webley and trapeze artist Miriam Telles regaled spectators. Interactive art bobbed beside the boats. And a heady gathering called “Memocracy Conference” gave festival-goers a chance to share radical ideas (or memes) about the future of biotech, telepresence, life extension, secessionism and robots.

 

According to Bell, the Festival Formerly Known as Ephemerisle gave participants the chance to practice forming their own societies.

 

“It’s like a toy version of seasteading that we get to play with,” said Bell.

 

For more background on the gathering, watch a short documentary about Ephemerisle from last year, and don’t miss this short animated history of previous attempts at libertarian countries on the high seas.

 

Above: Erin Rapacki discusses the future of artificial intelligence robots at the Memocracy Conference. Rapacki works for a startup company trying to commercialize telepresence robots — Avatar-like robots that use video and robotics technology to let people be present from afar.

 

Houseboats tied together for a floating festival

 

The floating festival occurs on a string of houseboats tied and anchored together in the middle of a waterway in the Sacramento Delta.

 

The refurbished boat

 

“Chicken” John Rinaldi and a merry crew of builders and artists refurbished this boat, which originally cruised the Sacramento Delta in 1945. The boat is an “artstead” (a take on seastead) named Relentlessthat Rinaldi said will live a long life beyond the floating festival — as a gallery, show and studio space for future performances.

 

Patri Friedman,  executive director of The Seasteading Institute

 

Patri Friedman, executive director of the Seasteading Institute, takes a question during his Memocracy Conference speech where he addressed questions about the future of Ephemerisle. Friedman is wearing a sling after dislocating his shoulder on the second day of the event. He wants to hold Ephemerisle on San Francisco Bay next year.

 

Looking up how to treat a dislocated shoulder

 

Max Marty, a Seasteading Institute employee, visits the site wikihow.com on his iPad to learn how to fix Friedman’s dislocated shoulder. Since the official event was canceled, there was no medical or security staff in case of emergency.

 

Christine Peterson, President of Personalized Life Extension 2010

 

Christine Peterson, President of Personalized Life Extension 2010, shows off one of many vitamin supplements that she takes daily. Peterson gave a talk at the Memocracy Conference about health-hacking your way toward immortality.

 

Lasse Birk, a Seasteading Institute volunteer from Denmark, flies a digital camera attached to a helium balloon

 

Lasse Birk, a Seasteading Institute volunteer from Denmark, flies a digital camera attached to a helium balloon. Birk captured aerial photography of the event from 100 yards in the sky, before ultimately losing the camera to the heavens.

 

Person inside a clear ball floating on the water

 

A festival attendee tries to maintain balance in a Zorb — a large hamster-ball-like water toy.

 

Matt Bell stands on a giant Koosh ball made of pool noodles.

 

Matt Bell stands on a giant Koosh ball made of pool noodles. The floating art is named Dandelion. According to Bell, “the Dandelions will be a metaphor for the spread of civilization and new ideas onto the ocean, a further diaspora of the human race.”

 

It is hard to maintain your balance on a floating Dandelion, however.

 

Lasse Birk and Erik Kofoed launch a potato from a spud gun.

 

Floating, autonomous nation-states in international waters will need to defend themselves. The Sacramento River delta is a much less-threatening environment, however.

 

Here, Lasse Birk and Erik Kofoed launch a potato from a spud gun.

 

Trapeze artist Mariam Telles

 

Accordionist Jason Webley performs aboard Relentless while trapeze artist Mariam Telles, shown here, spins, flips and contorts her body. Webley’s interactive, seafaring folk music warmed the audience on a chilly, windy Saturday night.

 

A floating platform docks near a pod of houseboats.

 

A floating platform docks near a pod of houseboats. The platform is recycled from an art project namedApocaisle from last year’s festival.

 

Original article.

 

Do Libertarians Belong at Sea? (Reason Foundation, August 4, 2010)

Reason has delved recently into various arguments for where libertarians’ political energies are best aimed, both in our August-September cover story (in which Brink Lindsey, Jonah Goldberg, and Matt Kibbe hash over the appropriateness of the modern right and Tea Party movement as a libertarian berth) and in my follow-up in which I suggested libertarians’ educational mission still has a long way to go before meaningful political alliances are worth thinking hard about.

 

Some libertarians, though, are concerned with neither standard politics nor educational missions. The larger libertarian movement has always had members who just want to create as free a life for themselves as they can in a statist world, whether through such expedients as black market countereconomicssurvivalist escapism, or, in the most recent and best publicized example of what is sometimes called “libertarian Zionism,” heading for the high seas in artificial floating countries. That’s the goal of the Seasteading Institute, which I profiled in Reason magazine back in July 2009.

 

The weekend before last, I attended what was essentially the second annualEphemerisle festival, the attempt by the Seasteading Institute and its supporters to gather on the water in an atmosphere of fellowship and fun, and begin working out the theory and practice of unregulated aquatic living. (I wrote about my experiences at the first Ephemerisle for Reason Online last October.)

 

This year, the Seasteading Institute backed out of an official role in organizing or selling tickets to the festival when they found the costs of insuring it prohibitively expensive. (They did it sans insurance the first time, but decided it wasn’t prudent to repeat that experiment. They are hoping to work out an affordable plan for next year’s planned festival.) But a meeting place and time had already been decided on, and plans to have a get-together that weekend were already made, so what was called by different people at different times the “Floating Festival,” (Un)Ephemerisle, and “Schmeschmemerisle” happened anyway, without any official imprimatur, out on the Sacramento River Delta.

 

This year, no communal floating platform space was provided, and without art grants from the organizers, very little in the way of originally created art was there. But the Seasteading folk helped finance the purchase of a barge to be recommissioned into a multipurpose living and showboat by Chicken John Rinaldi, the San Francisco showman and builder (and former mayoral candidate) who had designed and supervised the building of the communal platform for Ephemerisle last year.

 

Getting that boat sealed, refinished, and functional took a handful of people three weeks of work. I joined the crew at a berth in Bethel Island Friday afternoon for the final frantic 24 hours of painting and decorating, wiring, installing the Mercedes engine that hung off the stern of the boat to propel it, extending the hull back up a bit to replace the parts that had to be cut away to hang the engine (carpenter Marc Roper treaded water for hours doing the woodwork from the outside), and finally sailing it slowly to rendezvous with the rest of the Seasteaders, who had all rented houseboats from a nearby marina. (One intrepid fellow who flew in from England repurposed bits of a homemade floating platform from last year, making it the only non-bought floatation solution at this year’s event.)

 

Anton Berteaux, the main engineer on the project, described the propulsion: “It’s a five cylinder turbo diesel engine from an early 80s Mercedes 300td. We are using the automatic transmission that it came with, with a long structure sticking off the back to support the driveshaft with the propeller on the end of solid stainless shaft off the end of that. It sits on a ‘5th wheel’ trailer hitch, which is a miniature version of the hitch on a semi truck, which has a swiveling table that catches a pin that allows rotation.” Steering it tightly was the work of three men, one standing between the two long handles, and one on either end pushing or pulling. (For less severe maneuvering, one strong and tireless man would do.)

 

The trip was adventurous, and certainly helped explain why renting a ready-made solution like a houseboat was preferable to the DIY model; if Ephemerisle teaches you anything about seasteading, it teaches you that trying to create fresh solutions to the problem of moving and living on the water is really time-consuming and difficult. The ship, dubbed The Relentless, hit a pylon under a bridge about 10 minutes in, gashing a two-foot slice in its hull, luckily well above the waterline, and dashing helmsman Jimmy Cross to the deck. At one point during the seven hour trip out to the festival, the engine was inoperable, we were stuck in the reeds, taking on water, and on fire. (It was a small and easily managed fire, luckily.)

 

We eventually arrived to find the row of other anchored houseboats after midnight on Saturday, and performed our showboat function with a trapeze performance by Miriam Telles off a post carpentered to the deck at the very last possible minute, and a musical performance by Jason Webley. The warm darkness, suffused with a full moon; the water’s mysterious and constant shifting and lapping; haunting expressions of human skill and storytelling: It was glorious, it was fun, and it was not political.

 

The rest of the entertainment was wandering from houseboat to houseboat meeting and greeting; giving or listening to mini lectures on the “Memocracy” houseboat; taking trips out on the water in speedboats or homemade catamarans (on one of which I received a sailing lesson from a man I was later told was intrepid long-distance homemade sailor Tim Anderson), and conversing. Nearly every conversation I overheard or joined seemed connected to the worlds from which most Seasteaders seem to derive: computers, high-tech geekery, futurism, and of course libertarianism. I overheard speculations about how to more efficiently create interesting video games, robot fisherman, and the like. Matt Bell, who hosted the lecture series, identified the topic range as including “life extension, telepresence robotics, education, human rights, social networks, and seasteading.”

 

That a cancelled event managed to attract as many people as the official one the year before—around 120—is encouraging about the passion and attraction people have to the idea of Seasteading; but that’s still many long steps away from actual floating polities in the sea. Seasteading Director of Operations James Hogan says he thinks about two-thirds of the attendees this year were attending their first Seasteading-related event.

 

Like last year, frays in the social fabric arise when the libertarian minded are forced into a situation that requires some communal decisionmaking and behavior. This year’s hubbub arose when a late-arriving houseboat was initially set up in front of another boat rather than joining the line, temporarily angering the folk whose view was suddenly marred. (The offending boat eventually joined the rest in line.) Unlike the first Ephemerisle, in which the whole community was essentially tied to shore, this year the line of houseboats succeeded in anchoring themselves in deeper water, though they eventually had to cut loose three anchors when they couldn’t raise them successfully in time to return the houseboats before another day’s rental would kick in.

 

After the event, I asked Seasteading’s chief, Patri Friedman, to assess the state of Seasteading. He confessed that they had had a rough year so far; he’s burning himself out fundraising, and the cancellation of the official Ephemerisle weighs on him. But he’s excited that they are on the verge of hiring a director of engineering to work on the technical problems of maintaining a permanent structure on the ocean. They are now leaning more toward using existing ships as a base for what they are now calling “the Poseidon Project,” the first actual functioning international water seastead, rather than building one from a new platform design. Peter Thiel, the Paypal co-founder who has been Seasteading’s primary financier, has offered a matching grant of $250,000 this year, and they have already gathered 60 percent of that. What’s one thing Friedman has learned about what are not rich sources of Seastead donations? “Libertarian conferences, and students, are not good for fundraising. They are fun groups to talk to, they like me and I like them, but…” Friedman hopes to move Seasteading into the position to get more funding from varied foundations, both libertarian and ones dedicated to social entrepreneurship in general.

 

The Seasteading Institute has added a new director for commercial development, Max Marty, a fresh MBA from Miami who discovered Seasteading at a Singularityconference and then later at a meal found himself expressing his excitement about it to a stranger who turned out to be James Hogan. Marty was impressed, at his first water festival, at the joyous camaraderie and excitement it generated. He also realized that having the inner circle of Seasteaders brainstorm about business ideas appropriate for a Seastead isn’t good enough, so in a crowdsourcing fashion they’ve launched a contest with $5,000 in prizes to come up with viable business plans especially appropriate for one.

 

The floating ocean platform that is, alas, now most familiar to the world is the Deepwater Horizon; Marty thinks the BP disaster could end up as a boon to the larger idea of permanent seasteads, predicting that one dedicated to environmental science, sustainability, and research might be a good idea for extraction industries to fund themselves given their current P.R. troubles.

 

Despite the framing of the Seasteading project by the likes of Alternet as motivated entirely by a venal and cowardly desire to escape the real business of civilization (after destroying it with their capitalism, natch), Seasteading’s Hogan reminds me that the project has the potential to do more than provide a refuge for libertarian malcontents.

 

The very existence of seasteading, goes the theory that animates Friedman and his colleagues, will add a new competitive element to governance on Earth and make, ideally, the whole world a better place. “I don’t want to live on a Seastead,” Hogan says. “Maybe when there are several million people living on one, with all the amenities of a modern city. My inspiration and excitement about the project is to make the governance market more competitive and affect all societies most profoundly. This is a deep way to try to leverage social good on global scale, to get down to the incentives that give rise to governmental systems and introduce more profound competition.”

 

“We don’t want to just change a political system,” Hogan says. “We want to change the industry of governance itself that gives rise to political systems. Seasteading will lower barriers to entry [in governance] and reduce the cost of customer switching.” If it works, the effect will be as salubrious in terms of customer satisfaction as the ability to enter and switch is in any other industry. In escaping normal civilization, libertarians could find out that their true place is bringing to politics the key benefit of free markets: wider and freer competition and the quality that comes with it.

 

Original article.

 

“Seasteaders” Take First Step Toward Colonizing The Oceans (CBS News, October 11, 2009)

 

Chris Rasch is attempting to build a temporary island out of an unremarkable pile of plywood, rope, and empty barrels that once held 50 gallons of maraschino cherries each.

 

Construction of this manmade island on the Sacramento River delta in California is running something like 24 hours behind schedule, but by the end of the second day, Rasch and a few dozen like-minded souls have finished enough of the project to relax over a dinner of kabobs, chili and curry served aboard their mostly finished homestead.

 

Photos: Homesteading at Sea

 

The result may look a bit ramshackle, complete with a pirate flag flying from a mast that was a spare piece of lumber, but the roughly 125 people who gathered here earlier this month believe it represents the first step toward conquering humanity’s next frontier: the colonization of the world’s oceans.

 

“A lot of people interested in seasteading have never been on the water before,” says Rasch, a 37-year old programmer whose day job is a programmer for Marketocracy in San Mateo, Calif. “They don’t know what the problems are. They don’t know what it’s actually like. Having events that are in a safe environment where they get some experience — where if anything goes wrong they can easily recover — is a good thing.”

 

Call it a blueprint for sea-cession. Supporters of the Seasteading Institute, a Palo Alto, Calif.,-based non-profit group that organized the three-day floating event, predict there will be enough interest in “seasteads” — permanent dwellings on the high seas outside the territorial waters claimed by the world’s governments — to make them viable in a decade or so. (See previous coverage on CBSNews.com and a photo gallery.)

 

That makes the hand-built contraptions that dotted the Sacramento delta this month an intentional prototype of a permanent presence on the high seas, perhaps in the same way that Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight and the Apollo program eventually led to the creation of the International Space Station and tourist voyages like the one recently taken by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Lalibert?.

 

The laissez-faire vision of a kind of floating Hong Kong is what led the libertarian-leaning Peter Thiel to chip in $500,000 to launch the Seasteading Institute. “We may have reached the stage at which it is economically feasible, or where it soon will be feasible,” Thiel wrote in an essayfor the Cato Institute. “It is a realistic risk, and for this reason I eagerly support this initiative.” (Thiel, a co-founder of Paypal, appeared on Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans last year but, after losses at his Clarium Capital fund, dropped off the list for 2009. He also is an investor in Facebook.)

 

“I think seasteading, long term, will create a place where people can go to and be much more free than what we have now,” Rasch says. “The two freedoms that particularly drive me are the freedom to move — to immigrate — and the freedom to innovate, especially medical innovation. I think a lot of new scientific advances are stifled in the United States because getting a new drug or medical device approved can be in the range of half a billion dollars.”

 

As any undergraduate political science major can attest, wildly different political structures are entertaining discussion topics. But the practical challenges of engineering a seastead are formidable: Even hostile environments on land don’t need to weather the full brunt of typhoons and prepare for the possibility of sinking into the deep. And fresh water and arable soil aren’t readily available on the high seas.

 

two-day conference that the Seasteading Institute held in San Francisco before the expedition to the delta (which they dubbed “Ephemerisle”) wrestled with questions about business models, engineering, hydroponic gardening and whether the first ocean ‘stead should be a refurbished cargo ship, a modified cruise ship or a floating platform designed from the start for long-term human habitation.

 

Mikolaj Habryn, who works as an engineer at Google as a day job, suggested the cruise ship option, estimating that a 381-foot ship could sleep 500 passengers in 231 cabins and cost $8.5 million. A 470-foot vessel with 420 cabins would be closer to $11 million, he said.

 

Na’ama Moran, an Israeli entrepreneur who previously founded a mobile startup, was looking for investors to fund a medical tourism venture that would begin with a refitted cruise ship and offer cosmetic, orthopedic, dental and other procedures for much less than U.S. health care providers would charge. The idea, Moran said, is to pick up medical tourists from American cities and “couple medical treatment with a cruise vacation” outside any nation’s territorial waters.

 

Patri Friedman, the executive director of the Seasteading Institute and grandson of the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, was unabashedly optimistic: he envisions creating the world’s first independent ocean settlement by 2015, with at least 50 full-time residents and a living area the size of a football field. The first task, he said, was to figure out where on the world’s oceans would be the most suitable place. “Based on the specific location we’ll create the engineering design,” Friedman said, while simultaneously looking for funding as a for-profit venture.

 

Some location possibilities: the Mediterranean Sea, where a seastead could benefit from the proximity to wealthy European nations and relatively clement weather. Or a seastead could ply the waters of the Caribbean, which is near the United States market but experiences an annual hurricane season. (Wave height is a crucial concern because the energy of a wave increases exponentially as its height grows. Pacific Ocean waves regularly reach 30 feet, while in the more sheltered Baltic Sea they’re closer to six feet.)

 

History, of course, is littered with corpses of similar projects that failed. There was Marshall Savage’s Aquarius Project, which wanted to start by colonizing the ocean surface and then move to the stars.

 

A Las Vegas real estate tycoon behind the Republic of Minerva wanted to create a no-tax utopian society by reclaiming land on a Pacific atoll; alas, the colonists were given the boot by a few troops from the island-nation of Tonga. The free-marketeers behind Laissez-Faire Citywho wanted to create the next Hong Kong were never able to find a sympathetic government to lease them land.

 

Engineer Norman Nixon has been trying for years to find investors for a so-called Freedom Ship, which would be a colossal project three times longer than any existing ship with twenty-five stories above the waterline and a fully-functioning airport. Nixon acknowledged in a bizarre post last July that the project was on indefinite hold because his business partner “turned over our entire bank account to a man who promised him a ‘Peruvian Gold certificate’ worth a billion dollars.”

 

These are all cautionary tales for the current crop of seasteaders, who are sufficiently aware of their predecessors’ failings that they’ve drafted a critical history of the movement as part of alarger Internet-published book. Friedman believes that the solution is for a permanent colony to grow gradually, and expects that annual temporary festivals will evolve into a full-time presence on the water. In a year or two, he’d like to see the festival floating on the waters of the San Francisco Bay.

 

Which might explain the eclectic group of ‘steaders who gathered for the first Ephemerisle: the suburban crowd who rented houseboats and talked politics, and the artists who created a remote-controlled glowing squid and illuminated water lillies. Then there were the Burning Mantypes, including Burning Man board member and onetime Fairchild Semiconductor employee“Danger Ranger”, who labored for days constructing floating platforms that could be used as a communal social space.

 

“The consensus is that next year we’ll do it again in the delta,” says Rasch, who helped to build the floating platform. “Some people, like me, were attracted to the political aspects. Other people were attracted because they like building things on the water, or solving technical challenges. There’s virtue in the camaraderie you get when you build an art project or a platform. The platforms we’re building aren’t appropriate for the open ocean, but the friendships will survive.”

 

Original article.

 

Response To Climate Change: Seasteading (Mother Jones Blog, August 4, 2009)

 

It should come as no surprise that Patri Friedman, son of anarcho-capitalist professor David Friedman, and grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, is a guy who prides himself on having innovative and controversial ideas. The project he’s been devoted to for the past year and a half is called the Seasteading Institute, a research center with a mission “to further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous, ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems.”

 

Where did the youngest Friedman get this idea? “I wanted to find other countries that I could possibly settle in,” Friedman said. “After researching places that people have ex-patriated to like Costa Rica, I realized that no country is better than the USA. So I looked into the idea of forming new nations. The ocean is the best place to do this, because in the ocean you don’t have to fight with others as you would have to on land.” The Institute defines seasteading as creating “permanent dwellings on the ocean—homesteading the high seas.”

 

Friedman cites Marshall Savage’s The Millenial Project: How To Conquer The Galaxy In Eight Easy Steps and Wayne Gramlich, the man who coined the term “seasteading” in the early 80s, as inspirations for his work. Gramlich happened to live just two miles from Friedman: The two met and the rest is history, or should I say future.

 

Friedman’s ideal is to live in a society where the rules are his own morals. He says that this approach was selfish at first, but he then realized that he could create a movement that is larger than his own personal utopia. “Let lots of different groups try out their own ideas about utopia,” he said. “They could vote to have a communist government. Small numbers of people can try a better way to live. A colony could start with about 100 people. They’d have to be dedicated but you don’t have to find that many of them.”

 

But creating utopias wouldn’t be the only benefit of seasteading: Friedman believes that mobile, floating societies will be more resistant to climate change than land-based civilizations, particularly when fighting rising sea levels. “The threat of an ice age is much more disastrous than global warming,” he said. And should such an ice age come, Friedman thinks, it would be easier to move people toward the equator if they lived on seasteads instead of on land.

 

As for how these seasteads would be powered, there’s solar energy, wind energy, wave energy, algae and phytoplankton energy, oceanic thermal energy, and more. Fossil fuels would only serve as a backup energy source.

 

Though Friedman received an initial $500k investment from Paypal founder Peter Thiel in 2008, the financial meltdown has crushed his first dreams of creating a luxury hotel/colony off the coast of Southern California any time soon. When I asked him if he thinks he’ll see these ideas come to fruition in his lifetime, the 33-year-old Friedman said, “It won’t be for at least another decade, but I have many decades left.”

 

Original article.

 

The DIY Mini Nation (New York Times Ideas Blog, June 10, 2009)

 

There are those who “blue sky” ideas to re-imagine society and there are those who “blue sea” them — like the folks at the Seasteading Institute of Palo Alto, Calif.

 

Bankrolled by a PayPal co-founder and run by a grandson of the free-market economist Milton Friedman, the institute’s goal is self-sufficient, deep-sea platforms “where those who are dissatisfied with our current civilization can go and build a different (and hopefully) better one,” as its Web site says.

 

Such dreamers aren’t alone, or the first, as several articles note (links below). “For decades, an assortment of romantics and whack jobs have fantasized about fleeing the oppressive strictures of modern government and creating a laissez-faire society on the high seas,” Wired observed earlier this year. “Over the decades, they’ve tried everything from fortified sandbars to mammoth cruise ships. Nearly all have been disasters.”

 

True, but one difference today is improved knowhow, as The Futurist notes — be it in the design of floating utopias or built-up artificial islands (the latter a specialty of Dubai, above).

 

Let’s just hope they’ve prepared for rising sea levels, and the reaction of powerful governments onshore. Wait, wasn’t this a James Bond movie? [Times of London, Popular Science, Wired, The Futurist, Cato].

 

Original article.

 

Five Designers’ Visions for Cities at Sea (Fast Company, May 26, 2010)

 

 

The Seasteading Institute, a self-described “society of ocean pioneers” has announced the winners of its first-ever 3-D design competition–five visions for floating a housing development the size of a small town on an ocean platform.

 

The Institute, founded by Patri Friedman, a 32-year-old former software engineer at Google, wants to make offshore living workable. With funding from a top-tier VC, the Institute eventually hopes to produce open-source blueprints usable by anyone intent on creating their own country. They’ve already produced a design for a $50 million platform.

 

But the current concepts aren’t intended to be built–rather, it’s an exercise to promote the concept–to visualize what a life offshore might be like. Here’s the five winners, culled from 41 entries:

 

“Swimming City” designed by 27-year-old Hungarian graphic designer Andras Gyorf, took the grand prize of $1,000. It’s the most traditional of the schemes. Step away the floating platform, and the design could easily be a mixed-use redevelopment of factory lofts in Dallas:

 

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Minneapolis-based architecture grad student Emerson Stepp didn’t exactly present a new concept for society and government–which is, after all, the Seasteading Institute’s stated goal–but his design was good enough to win the Best Picture Award. Stepp’s “Oasis of the Sea” is a floating resort that would be the end point for a luxurious cruise:

 

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But it’s worth noting that a similar town already exists, and it even has the same name: TheOasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s newest, and largest cruise ship, houses 5,400 people and has seven themed neighborhoods–watch a video of it here.

 

Brazilian architecture student Anthony Ling was cited for creating “the best sense of human influence or presence.” It has constantly reconfigurable housing units, and stilts, which allow green space underneath:

 

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Judges called Marko Jarvela’s entry the “most visually appealing or enticing” of the lot. It would utilize passive building principles, but the weirdest part is its solar shields on both ends, which make the entire rig look like a sea-creature from a 1950’s sci-fi flick that just stumbled out of a murky lagoon:

 

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The people’s choice award–which garnered the most votes from the public–went to Team 3DA, a group of 3-D designers based in Las Vegas. Their proposal is, naturally, the only one that could have been transplanted from the Las Vegas Strip. Sure it has greenhouses and energy systems to allow “total independence” but it also has a garishly lit central plaza, which makes it perfectly suited to drunken conventioneers:

 

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Check out all the entries and runners up here. You can read more about the Seasteading Institute here.

 

Original article.

 

Future Sea Cities: Freedom’s Final Frontier in Pictures (National Geographic, May 2010)

 

Intentionally or not, it’s a fitting name–“Refusion”–for a winning example of a futuristic homesteading concept based on refusal: refusal to be constrained by established governments or social mores or even by the fundamental desire for solid ground underfoot.

 

People’s-choice award winner in a design competition for “seasteads”–oil rig-like, sovereign settlements in international waters–this proposed research facility by a group of Las Vegas-based 3-D artists includes “a number of environmental systems, such as greenhouses and renewable energy sources, which would enable absolute independence,” according to a Team 3DA statement. “The aesthetic that emerged from this realization became influenced by a mixture of organic and mechanical systems operating in a symbiotic relationship.”

 

Championed by California-based competition sponsor the Seasteading Institute, the high-seas homesteading movement is all about creating tiny frontier lands “where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can go to test out their ideas,” according to the institute’s Web site.

 

Though none of the winning designs–announced May 18, 2009–are intended to be built, they are “to inspire us with their vision of how seasteaders can make a home on the next frontier,” said Seasteading Institute Executive Director Patri Friedman in a statement.

 

–Ted Chamberlain

 

Original article.

 

Seastead, Ahoy! (PopSci.com, February 18, 2009)

 

Don’t like your government? Maybe it’s time to make one of your own
By Devanshu Patel

 

The Principality of Sealand Richard Lazenby

Economy got you down? Not sure if this whole “American capitalism” thing is working out for you? Looking for cheap housing? Well, you can always start from ideological scratch and build a new society on a free floating platform in the high seas.

 

Sounds nuts? Well it’s not to the Seasteading Institute, who is trying to make this utopian fantasy a reality. Backed by billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel (a PayPal co-founder) and run by Patri Friedman (grandson of Nobel prize winning Chicago economist Milton Friedman), the Institute’s goal, as stated on its Web site, is to “build a new frontier, a place where those who are dissatisfied with our current civilization can go and build a different (and hopefully) better one.” The eventual goal is to foster better government using free market principles. The Institute asserts that the challenge of experimenting with different governmental models is the high cost of switching (just try and get Australian citizenship) and high barrier of entry in starting a new nation. With seasteads, the idea is that people can sample a myriad of free-floating societies with different governmental structures, and this marketplace of social philosophies will lead to better societies. Don’t like the enlightened despotism of Seastead A? Then, move to the green-socialist colony on Seastead B!

 

Okay, still sounds crazy? Well, the concept is not as far fetched as it may seem, and there are existing real world examples. The idea of “seasteading,” creating permanent, politically-independent dwellings at sea, is an old one and based on the international legal principle that, outside of the exclusive economic zone (generally extending a set distance from the terrestrial borders of a country), the international waters or “high seas” are not subject to the laws of any nation except for the home flag of the ship in those waters. If the ship or dwelling does not fly the flag of a recognized nation, then technically it is not under any national jurisdiction if it remains in the high seas. So if you drop anchor in the right spot and have the means, you can begin your own society.

 

This is the (disputed) legal basis for Sealand, a self-declared micronation established when former British radio host Paddy Roy Bates took over the abandoned British World War II sea fort off the British coast in 1967. Although not recognized as a sovereign state by the UN, it operates as a constitutional monarchy by Prince Michael Bates, son of the founder/squatter of Sealand, and has been for the most part left alone by the British government. Sealand has had a colorful history, including issuing its own coins and stamps, establishing an offshore internet hosting facility or “data haven” that mysteriously disappeared, and hosting sporting events such as the annual international egg throwing championship and a 2008 Red Bull Extreme Skateboarding competition.

 

One look at Sealand and you will see that it is not likely what the Seasteading Institute has in mind for its sea-based utopias of the future. The Institute is not interested in squatting old military rigs, but rather in engineering new free floating cities that would provide a self-sustaining habitat and economy, much like any nation. Despite its political ideals, the Institute understands that eventual acceptance of seasteading starts with practical implementation. So they are beginning their ambitious agenda by focusing on incremental engineering achievements. This plan starts with designing and building small model seasteads that will demonstrate the viability of the larger design (i.e. prove through working models that they can achieve stable flotation, ballast control, mobility, synchronization, and habitability). If all the stages prove successful, they will build their primary prototype, the ClubStead, a 200-room hotel/resort to be located off the coast of San Francisco (and whose design they patented last month).

 

Of course there are a myriad of engineering, financial and political pitfalls that will have to be addressed along the way. But even a cursory glance at the Seasteading Institute’s Web site and the work already invested in these ideas, and it’s clear they are committed to making this dream a reality.

 

In the meantime, we can all look to Sealand for some real world guidance. One recent issue has been defense. Just this month, a British newspaper reported that a self-proclaimed German despot named King Marduk has claimed to have taken over Sealand and plans to demolish it and rebuild a Dubai-style resort replete with windfarms and a modern communication platform. Sealand’s Prince Michael has denied any such hostile conquest. Perhaps, he should take some defense advice from the Seasteading Institute. In a white paper entitled “Seasteading: A Practical Guide to Homesteading the High Seas,” the Institute recommends cost effective defensive measures: “For example, sea-skimming anti-cruise ship missiles like the Chinese silkworm are fairly cheap and quite effective.”

 

Original article.

 

City floating on the sea could be just 3 years away (CNN.com, March 10, 2009)

 

A floating city off the coast of San Francisco may sound like science fiction, but it could be reality in the not-too-distant future.

The Seasteading Institute already has drawn up plans for the construction of a homestead on the Pacific Ocean.

 

One project engineer described the prototype as similar to a cruise ship, but from a distance the cities might look like oil-drilling platforms.

 

According to the plans, the floating cities would not only look different from their land-based counterparts, but they might operate differently, too.

 

Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who now works for the Seasteading Institute, said floating cities are the perfect places to experiment with new forms of government.

 

Some of the new political ideas the group is tossing around include legalizing marijuana and making intellectual property communal — so that everyone would take ownership in art produced on the city at sea.

 

“The idea isn’t just about getting away from rules or getting rid of rules. It’s about a system that encourages experimentation with different political systems,” he said.

 

Friedman said the floating city may be built in modular pieces so that city blocks and neighborhoods can be recombined to create new urban layouts.

 

The idea of building cities on the sea is not new, he said, but the Seasteading Institute has come closer to realizing the goal than others.

 

“A lot of people over the past hundred plus years have had this idea and even specifically building cities on the ocean to try out new forms of government,” he said. “But they’ve pretty much been totally imagined and if they did try, they totally failed.”

 

There are several unknowns about future attempts to create floating cities, said Christian Cermelli, an engineer and architect with Marine Innovation and Technology, based in San Francisco.

 

Cermelli, who is part of a team of designers creating a blueprint for the first seastead, said it’s unclear if construction is possible — or what it would cost.

Still, a prototype for the idea may be finished in as little as three years, he said.

 

Friedman said seasteads are loosely based on oil rigs, but with important modifications.

 

“We care more about sunlight and open space, so the specifications are different,” he said. “Also, oil platforms are fixed in place. We think it’s important to have more modular cities. So you would build a city out of buildings that can actually be separated and rearranged.”

 

Cermelli said the ocean cities may use technology from suspension bridges “to expand the space at sea and basically get a roomier platform.”

Friedman says the idea of seasteading has met a range of reactions.

 

“Some people think we’re crazy. A lot of people think we’re crazy,” he said. “Some people think terrible things could happen, others think it would be great.”

 

About 600 people have joined the Seasteading Institute.

 

Some of them, like Gayle Young, say the idea is exciting partly because it’s so different.

 

“I love the idea because it’s audacious. It’s big,” she said. “It’s about pushing frontiers.”

 

Original article.

 

The next frontier: ‘Seasteading’ the oceans (CNET, February 2, 2009)

 

PALO ALTO, Calif.–This chic, tree-lined California town might seem an unlikely place to begin the colonization of Earth’s oceans. Palo Alto is known for expensive modernism, Stanford University, al fresco dining, and land prices so high a modest cottage still sells for well over $1 million.

 

If Patri Friedman gets his way, the area will also be remembered for birthing a political movement called seasteading. The concept is as simple to explain as it will be difficult to achieve: erecting permanent dwellings on the high seas outside the territorial waters claimed by the world’s governments.

 

“Innovation in society and serving marginalized groups has always happened on the frontier,” Friedman said in an interview last week. “We don’t have a frontier anymore. The reason our political system doesn’t innovate anymore is that there’s no place to try out new things. We want to provide that place.”

 

Designing an offshore place to live is one of the first tasks of the Seasteading Institute, which Friedman, 32, founded last year and moved into shared office space near the Palo Alto Caltrain station two weeks ago. Another task is attempting to legitimize living on the seas as practical–and perhaps, given possibilities for offshore businesses, even profitable.

 

Friedman previously worked in Google’s Mountain View headquarters as a software engineer, identifies himself as a Burning Man aficionado, and counts himself as an unabashed libertarian. (His father, David Friedman, is a well-known libertarian law professor, and his grandfather, the late Milton Friedman, won the Nobel Prize in economics.)

 

Given the large number of like-minded souls in Silicon Valley circles, including at the Googleplex, it should be no surprise that a few dozen have coalesced to form a core group of would-be seasteaders, some of whom met last week for a social gathering inside downtown San Francisco’s Metreon entertainment complex.

 

“I’d say that libertarian geeks are our most common audience so far. But in order to succeed, we’ll have to branch out beyond that,” Friedman said. “I think people are a lot better at inventing technology than changing human nature or changing social organizations. This is a technological solution to the problems of politics…I’m a libertarian, but I’m not a libertarian who believes that everyone should want to live in the same kind of society as me.”

 

The Seasteading Institute plans to gather a kind of ad-hoc flotilla, called “ephemerisle,” in the San Francisco Bay near Redwood City over the Fourth of July weekend. The plan for July 2010: find a way to hold the gathering off the coast in the Pacific Ocean.

 

Other supporters of the project include PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who runs a hedge fund called Clarium Capital Management and donated $500,000 to the Seasteading Institute. Former Sun Microsystems engineer Wayne Gramlich is the group’s director of engineering; former Paypal manager James Hogan is its director of operations; Liz Lacy of now-defunct Excite@Home heads its development efforts.

 

While their affection for seasteading has varying origins, the broadest theme is to allow people to escape overreaching governments and replace conventional political systems with something of their own creation. (A section of their Web site is titled: “Land = Crappy Government” and says that terrestrial governments do a “terrible and sometimes horrific job” at serving the taxpayers that are their customers.)

 

Yet the Seasteading Institute’s official position is, to put it in terms that Washington politicians might employ, thoroughly nonpartisan. Once the engineering work is complete and groups can purchase, outfit, and launch their own platforms, Friedman and his colleagues predict that some of the first ‘steaders will not be nudists, recreational drug users, pacifists, environmentalists, or religious groups hoping to create an enclave far away from secular influences.

 

A history of failure


One way to look at the prospect of colonizing the oceans is that it represents the continuation of a westward trend that began with Greece and continued through Rome, Gaul, Britain, and the North American continent.

 

“When people got to California that was as far west as they could go,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C. “Maybe this will turn out to be an opportunity to revive that search for a frontier.”

 

Boaz questions whether the United States is sufficiently repressive to prompt enough people to move offshore. “In a prosperous, comfortable society, it might be hard to get people to take those kinds of risk,” he said, referring to “the risk aversion of a wealthy society.”

 

Plus, colonizing land even at the wilderness’ edge is trivial compared with the technical and engineering challenges of colonizing the ocean. Can a floating platform weather typhoons and so-called rogue waves that can swell to more than eight stories tall? Should it be stationary or mobile? Will food be grown, harvested, or imported? And what about more prosaic matters, such as communications and waste disposal?

 

History is littered with examples of similar projects that failed. There was Marshall Savage’s Aquarius Project, which wanted to start by colonizing the ocean’s surface and then move to the stars.

 

A Las Vegas real estate tycoon behind the Republic of Minerva wanted to form a no-tax utopian society by reclaiming land on a Pacific atoll; alas, the colonists were given the boot by a few troops from the island nation of Tonga. The free-marketeers behind Laissez-Faire City who wanted to found the next Hong Kong were never able to find a sympathetic government to lease them land.

 

An engineer named Norman Nixon has been trying for years to find investors for a so-calledFreedom Ship, which would be a colossal project three times longer than any existing ship, with 25 stories above the waterline and a fully functioning airport. Nixon acknowledged last July that the project was on indefinite hold because his business partner “turned over our entire bank account to a man who promised him a ‘Peruvian Gold certificate’ worth a billion dollars.”

 

The current crop of seasteaders is acutely aware of their predecessors’ failings and has gone so far as to draft a critical history of the movement as part of a larger Internet-published book.

 

“I’d like to see lots of different things tried in lots of different places and we’ll see what works,” Friedman said. “We want to create a turnkey system by which any committed organized group can go out and make their own country and try out some new system.”

 

Jason Sorens, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, SUNY, specializes in the study of secessionist movements. His dissertation was titled “The Political Economy of Secessionism,” and he was the founder of the Free State Project, an effort to convince freedom-loving Americans to move to New Hampshire. (Some 700 have taken the leap so far.)

 

Sorens said the seasteading concept reminds him of microstates like Monaco and Tuvalu. “They sustain their government budgets and their economies on niche economies that are based on commercialized sovereignty,” he said. “Many of them sell top-level Internet domains, and that’s a source of their revenue, or they’re financial or data havens, or they raise money through philately (selling stamps). They use all these trappings of sovereignty to bring revenue into their coffers.”

 

That raises the obvious question: assuming the engineering questions can be answered, and assuming that adequate capital can be raised, what about the legal and diplomatic challenges?

 

Friedman’s answer is that in the short term, seasteads can pay money to purchase a vessel registration from Panama, Liberia, or the Bahamas, in the same way that most merchant ships do. Eventually, seasteads could assert their own sovereignty–something that likely will be met with something less than enthusiasm on the part of terrestrial governments. (Floating pseudo-cities could choose to remain within a nation’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, or sail deeper waters further offshore.)

 

“They may need to establish some sort of sovereignty of their own, and that’s where the secessionist aspect comes in, to protect themselves from legal or military maneuvers,” Sorens said. “Those are really uncharted waters. We don’t have any other examples in international law of man-made structures becoming sovereign.”

 

One case study can be found in HavenCo, an Internet hosting business created nine years ago atop a windswept gun emplacement six miles off the coast of England. The rusting, basketball-court-size fortress was abandoned by the British military after using it during World War II to shoot down Nazi aircraft, and was claimed in 1967 by Roy Bates, the self-described “crown prince of Sealand.”

 

A HavenCo executive said in 2003 that the business was failing, and the hosting service went offline last year. Meanwhile, no member of the United Nations appears to have recognized Sealand as a sovereign state, and it lies within the territorial boundary of 10 miles claimed by England.

 

The Seasteading Institute candidly admits floating platforms will be outgunned by a modern navy, concluding the wiser option is to “avoid angering terrestrial nations enough to provoke an attack.”

 

That means that, ironically, seafaring communities created by liberty-loving libertarians may ban businesses from their platforms that dabble in controversial practices such as offshore banking with complete privacy. (Medical tourism–think hip replacement surgery at 80 percent discounts–coupled with gambling, on-platform use of recreational drugs, adult prostitution, and genetic engineering may prove sufficiently profitable.)

 

“As long as what happens on seasteads stays on seasteads, then terrestrial governments hopefully will not feel too threatened,” Friedman said. “The whole nature of seasteading is that it’s a very experimentalist, very diverse world we’re trying to create. People are welcome to create seasteads that violate any of my recommendations. I could be wrong: if they want to take that risk, we’ll see what happens and we’ll learn from it.”

 

Original article.

 

Ars Technica: Seasteading: engineering the long tail of nations (interview with Patri, June 9, 2008)

 

New competition for sovereign nations

 

Until the 1960s, Europe had few commercial radio stations. Broadcasting was a government monopoly in many European countries, and listening options were limited to a few staid government stations such as the BBC. But as Erwin Strauss tells it, that changed when enterprising “pirate radio” ships began dropping anchor off the shores of European countries and blasting the latest pop music in violation of those countries’ laws. The governments were not amused, but because the ships were in international waters, there was little they could do. Most European governments began refusing the pirate radio ships access to their harbors, but the ships were able to find harbor elsewhere.

 

European governments finally succeeded in shutting down the pirate radio stations in the late 1960s by passing laws prohibiting their subjects from doing business with the broadcasters—including purchasing advertising from them. But the episode created a political constituency for private radio stations and the broadcast of more pop music. In the UK, for example, private, commercial radio broadcasting was finally legalized in the early 1970s.

 

History has many examples of hierarchical institutions being disrupted by technological advances. The invention of the printing press helped undermine the authority of the Catholic Church. Today, the Internet is undermining traditional copyright industries.

 

An audacious new project aims to achieve a similar result by creating new competition for the world’s sovereign nations. The Seasteading Institute, the brainchild of two Silicon Valley software developers, aims to develop self-sufficient deep-sea platforms that would empower individuals to break free of the cozy cartel of 190-odd world governments and start their own autonomous societies. They envision a future in which any group of people dissatisfied with its current government would be able to start a new one by purchasing some floating platforms—called seasteads—and build a new community in the open ocean.

 

History is littered with utopian schemes that petered out after an initial burst of enthusiasm, something the Seasteading Institute’s founders readily acknowledge. Indeed, they chronicle these failures in depressing detail on their website. With names like the Freedom Ship, the Aquarius Project, and Laissez-Faire City, most of these projects accomplished little more than receiving a burst of publicity (and in some cases, raising funds that were squandered) before collapsing under the weight of their inflated expectations.

 

There are many reasons to doubt that the Seasteading Institute will realize its vision of floating cities in the sea; but there are at least two reasons to think that seasteading may prove to be more successful than past efforts to escape the grasp of the world’s governments. First, the project’s planners are pragmatic—at least by the standards of their predecessors—pursuing an incrementalist strategy and focusing primarily on solving short-term engineering problems. Second, they recently announced a half-million dollar pledge from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, giving them the resources to begin serious engineering and design work. While there are many obstacles to be overcome before they will have even a functioning prototype—to say nothing of a floating metropolis—their project doesn’t seem as obviously hopeless as most of the efforts that have preceded it.

 

Ars talked to Seasteading Institute co-founder Patri Friedman about the seasteading project and the engineering and political problems it will face.

Dynamic Geography

 

Friedman describes himself as an “enthusiastic libertarian,” a description that would fit Thiel as well. Their libertarian convictions are a major source of inspiration for the seasteading project. Frustrated with the size and intrusiveness of existing governments, they view the sea as a frontier that will allow people more freedom to experiment with different ways of organizing human societies.

 

They depict government as an industry that suffers from unreasonably high barriers to entry. At present, experimenting with a new form of government requires winning an election or starting a revolution, prohibitively expensive options for small groups. As a result, they argue, even democratic governments are insufficiently responsive to their customers, the voters. The seasteaders seek to lower barriers to entry in the government business in order to create more competition and choice.

 

While his own convictions run in a libertarian direction, Friedman is quick to emphasize that the core value of seasteading is the diversity it would allow. Not all seasteading communities would be libertarian. For example, some seasteads might be founded by environmentalists interested in more sustainable lifestyles. Others might be owned by religious communities seeking to separate themselves from the broader society. Still others might be founded as egalitarian workers’ communes.

 

A key advantage of seasteads is what Friedman calls “dynamic geography,” the fact that any given seasteading unit is free to join or leave larger units within seasteading communities. Seasteading platforms would likely band together to provide common services like police protection, but with the key difference that any platform that was dissatisfied with the value it was receiving from such jurisdictions could leave them at any time. He argues that this would “move power downward,” giving smaller units within society greater leverage to ensure the interests of their members are being served.

 

The spar platform

 

Friedman founded the institute with retired Sun engineer Wayne Gramlich, who coined the term “seasteading” in an essay and who serves as the institute’s engineering director. Along with Andrew Houser, they have penned an in-depth treatise on seasteading. The book-length manifesto includes an impressive depth of technical detail, with discussion ranging from the best construction materials to the the most efficient platform geometry. After considering several options, they conclude that the best design is a “floating spar” design. Under their preferred approach, the living space is lofted several dozen feet above the surface of the water.

 

Image credit: Paul Spooner

The open ocean is an unforgiving environment, and the biggest hazard comes from waves. Ordinarily, waves on the open seas are a few feet high—small enough to pose little threat to larger boats. But under certain circumstances, waves can be as high as 100 feet, which can be difficult for even the largest ocean-going vessels to withstand. The spar platform design neatly sidesteps this difficulty by presenting only a slender concrete pillar at sea level, allowing waves to pass by largely unimpeded. The living space is hoisted high enough that waves pass harmlessly beneath it even in stormy conditions. Supporting this platform requires a large underwater system of flotation and ballast, giving the overall system a dumbbell shape. Another advantage of the small cross-sectional area at sea level is that the platform would not rock noticeably in response to waves.

 

In order to keep costs down, the proposal uses standard building techniques, with reinforced concrete as the primary building material. Friedman and his co-authors estimate that the early prototypes could cost as little as $100,000 per occupant—expensive, but within the reach of many a Silicon Valley millionaire. Because banks are unlikely to accept seasteads as collateral, the first participants would need to be largely self-financing, requiring them to have most of that cash in the bank before they could sign up. Initially, at least, seasteading would not be an option for those of modest means.

 

Nor would it be for people who are attached to creature comforts. Achieving the long-term goal of near-self-sufficiency will require significant lifestyle compromises. Seasteaders would have only a few hundred square feet of living space each and would have to carefully limit the water they consumed and the waste they produced. Vegetarianism would also be an advantage, as meat requires significantly more resources than fruits and vegetables and would almost certainly need to be imported. Diets might also be supplemented by fishing or aquaculture.

 

Perhaps most painful for geeks, seasteading would require significant technological sacrifices. Power would need to be tightly conserved, and Internet connectivity would be primitive. Laying fiber optic cables would be prohibitively expensive, so seasteaders would be limited to wireless communications. Smaller seasteads might be close enough to land to employ microwave links, but the larger deep-sea platforms would be limited to satellite connections that can cost hundreds of dollars a month and currently top out at 1.5 mbps, with high latencies. Telecommuting might be an option in some cases, but weekend frag-fests with landlubbers would be out of the question.

 

Will anyone seastead?

 

The seasteaders have amassed an impressive body of work on the practical aspects of living on the high seas. Dozens of details about the seasteading experience—food, water, power, transportation, waste disposal, household appliances, bad weather, anchors, piracy (both copyright and the real kind), barnacles, ocean currents, and much more—have been hashed out in detail and practical solutions offered. While many of the specifics would doubtless have to be revised once the first seasteaders have gained some experience, there is little doubt that most of the practical obstacles could be overcome with sufficient resources and determination.

 

However, the project faces a fundamental constraint: whether there are enough real people willing to make the required sacrifices. The first few dozen full-time seasteaders would need to be wealthy enough to make a six-figure down payment, and skilled enough to find a significant source of income that could be pursued from the middle of the ocean, yet willing to endure the privations that come with living for weeks at a time on a cramped ocean platform. There are doubtless many moderately wealthy individuals who would be interested in taking a week-long vacation on a seastead. And the response to projects such as the Free State Project suggest that there are a significant number of libertarians who are willing to pick up roots to pursue their political ideals. But the number of people who are wealthy and willing to move thousands of miles from home to live in cramped quarters to promote their political ideals is likely to be pretty small.

 

Image credit: Paul Spooner

Friedman and his partners are counting on life in seasteading communities to grow less harsh as the communities expand. As seasteading communities grow, fixed expenses can be spread across more people, and some seasteaders can find work providing services to other seasteaders. Moreover, larger communities allow increased division of labor, which could allow seasteading communities to produce more complex manufactured goods and offer more sophisticated services. But the number of seasteaders required to create a substantial “internal market” in seasteading communities is likely to be significant—in the tens of thousands, not the hundreds. Even relatively simple manufacturing operations depend on a complex network of suppliers, employees, and distributors. This complex economic infrastructure would have to be replicated within seasteading communities before manufacturing would be viable.

 

Providing services, such as computer programming, legal advice, or accounting, might be somewhat more feasible, since modern communications technologies allow such services to be performed over great distances. But here, too, seasteaders would face significant challenges. It is no accident that the highest-paying service professions often require frequent travel. Most clients want to meet their lawyers, accountants, and other service professionals face-to-face on a regular basis, and that requirement would be a major disadvantage for seasteaders for whom a trip to the mainland is a multi-day ordeal.

 

Even software development, the quintessentially telecommuting-friendly occupation, tends to require face-to-face meetings between the developers and key users during the design and testing phases. Moreover, seastead-based software developers would face stiff competition from Indian developers willing to do the same work at a fraction of the cost.

 

This isn’t to say that making a living on a seasteads would be impossible. There would surely be some viable market niches that the kind of highly skilled and ambitious people likely to try seasteading could fill. But moving to a seastead will involve an enormous economic sacrifice for the foreseeable future, even in the extremely optimistic case that several thousand people can be persuaded to sign up. Hundreds of thousands of people are likely to be needed in order to produce the degree of specialization that would be required to match the standard of living of Western nations. And ideological zeal is not going to be sufficient to attract that many inhabitants.

 

Will governments leave seasteads alone?

 

An even bigger challenge to successful seasteading is convincing the world’s governments to allow new members into the cartel of nations. Several recent efforts to assert the sovereignty of new nations located in international waters have been thwarted by existing countries who have shown little regard for diplomatic niceties. Past efforts to establish sovereign nations in international waters have typically faced the active opposition of nearby governments, which have either asserted jurisdiction by force of arms or destroyed the would-be nation entirely.

 

Conscious of this danger, Friedman’s seasteaders do not plan to seek formal sovereignty for seasteading communities any time soon. Rather, Friedman prefers the term “autonomy,” and advocates a strategy of compromise with the world’s governments, seeking the maximum amount of freedom that can be obtained without invoking the wrath of the world’s navies. That means that despite their founders’ libertarian convictions, the first seasteading communities are likely to restrict activities such as drug trafficking, copyright infringement, tax evasion, and secretive financial transactions that might attract the attention of foreign governments.

The ballast of a seasteading platform

Image credit: Paul Spooner

A seastead would also seek protection by flying a flag of convenience, a maritime custom that allows a ship to adopt the flag of a foreign country and subject itself to that country’s maritime law. Because nations compete for the revenue that comes with ship listings, a flag of convenience can be had for a few thousand dollars, and many nations exercise minimal oversight over the ships under their supervision. However, it’s unclear if this will be sufficient to protect seasteading communities from interference by world governments in the long run. The legal fiction that seasteads are ships flying the flag of a foreign country may provide adequate protection when a seastead consists of a few dozen people with no assets to speak of, but a country may not feel so generous if it is someday confronted with a seastead containing hundreds of its former citizens who are earning incomes without paying taxes on them. Such a country may begin demanding that its laws be enforced within the seastead. With no military, the community may have little choice but to comply.

 

Cost matters

 

Seasteading seems unlikely to take the world by storm any time soon. The concept faces monumental challenges—both economic and political—and the Seasteading Institute will struggle to convince enough people to get on board to make the effort viable. However, cost is a major wildcard. The Seasteading Institute’s current estimates suggest that the first seasteaders will be required to make a commitment in the low six figures for a relatively cramped spot in a seastead. That transaction is unlikely to appeal to any but the most ardent ideologues.

 

Ballast cutaway

Image credit: Paul Spooner

But it’s possible to imagine these costs coming down substantially. Cheaper and more versatile building materials could be discovered. Better solar panels, desalinization technologies, and wireless Internet connections could be developed. And with each seastead that is completed, engineers are likely to discover ways to cut costs.

 

If viable seasteads could be built for tens, rather than hundreds, of thousands of dollars per occupant, it would open the concept to a whole new audience. Buying a spot on a seastead would be less like buying a second home (and paying for it in cash) and more likely buying an RV or a boat. It could create a thriving market for seasteads as vacation homes, which in turn would create a demand for full-time workers in the seasteading hospitality industry. As seastead technology became more advanced, seasteads would become more comfortable, and it would be easier to convince people to stay on them for longer periods.

 

History suggests that technologies don’t have really revolutionary effects until they become cheap enough for ordinary people to buy them. Computers have been around since the 1950s and packet-switched networks have existed since the 1970s, but their really disruptive social effects—such as the emergence of peer-to-peer file sharing—came only when a computer could be had for a few hundred dollars and an Internet connection could be had for less than $50 per month. If seasteading is to have the revolutionary effects that Friedman envisions, it will require seasteads that can be made cheap enough that they are affordable to a large number of ordinary people.

 

Friedman regards cost as the most pressing challenge facing the seasteading effort. He and Gramlich scorn past proposals that required raising billions of dollars before they could achieve the first tangible results. The half-million dollars that Thiel has pledged to the project will be used largely for design and engineering work on the initial prototype, which they’re hoping to splash down in San Francisco Bay within the next few years. Any effort to start new countries is bound to be a little bit crazy, but the Seasteading Institute’s relentless focus on overcoming practical engineering obstacles could make it more likely to leave a mark on the world than the starry-eyed utopian experiments that preceded it.

 

Original article.

 

How-to set up your own floating micro-nation (BoingBoing Gadgets, May 27, 2008)

 

nogodsorkings.jpg

Over at Gizmodo, Adam Frucci conducted an interview with Patri Friedman, executive director of the Seasteading Institute, an organization devoted to trying to convince open seas frontiersmen to live on a gigantic slab of concrete in the middle of the ocean. It’s a pretty fascinating discussion on the subject… especially this snippet, in which Patri (after being asked) talks about the problem of a micro-nation of pedophiles being set up:

 

Each community will decide and enforce its own rules. More importantly, each community will decide its own procedures for deciding on its rules. The point is not just to create one political system or type of system, but to make a turnkey product for creating new countries, so that lots of different groups will try lots of different things, and we can all learn from it.

 

The one rule I think seasteads should enforce on each other is the right for individuals to choose their society. As long as people are freely choosing their society, then as far as I’m concerned the society can pick whatever rules it wants.

 

Personally, I want a society that’s very libertarian for internal affairs, except for strong national security rules against doing anything that will piss off a military power (exporting drugs, laundering money, polluting). Basically the vision of “As much freedom as we can reasonably get away with”.

 

I think forcefully kidnapping 14 year old girls to service a floating nation of perverts would pretty quickly bring a battleship knocking. Patri’s whole interview seems like what it probably is: a retired Google software engineer’s crazy pipe dream of setting up his own Snowcrash-style Raft. But at least Patri’s got the business model figured out: timeshares!

 

Original article.

 

Gizmodo: How to Build Your Own Sea-Based Country for Fun and Profit (blog interviewing Patri, May 27, 2008)

 

Last week, I told you about the new project by a small group of monied Silicon Valley geeks to build autonomous countries out at sea. The project, called Seasteading, will consist of structures out at sea similar to oil derricks but built with living in mind. And you’ll be able to make your own laws! No rules! You can’t control me, mom and dad! In any case, Patri Friedman, Executive Director of The Seasteading Institute and a former Google software engineer, agreed to answer some of my questions about just how, exactly, this project will get off the ground.

 

Gizmodo: What types of people do you see gravitating towards seasteading? What would the day-to-day benefits be that would draw people to the idea?

 

Patri: Pioneers – A lot of people have that desire to build something new on the frontier, and there aren’t a lot of other frontiers left in the modern world.

 

Utopians – I don’t mean this literally (after all, the word means “No Place”). I just mean people who see problems with current social/political/economic/legal systems, have ideas about better ones, and are into them enough to want to actually try them out.

 

The exact day-to-day benefits would depend on individual motivation, and what you don’t like about current countries. For many it will be low environmental footprint and sustainable practices. Personally, I’m a libertarian and I want more freedom. I hate having my money stolen to fund pointless wars and biofuel subsidies that make food more expensive worldwide. I hate having to worry about going to jail just because some of my hobbies involve altering my brain chemistry with substances that don’t come from big pharma companies. I hate that my hot tub has been sitting empty for months because the zoning department wants us to jump through all sorts of hoops. I hate living in a society so big that my voice doesn’t get heard. And a lot of people tell me they feel the same way.

 

Gizmodo: What are the basic steps a normal person would have to go through to become a seasteader?

 

Patri: We’re not quite sure how it will work, but one path we picture is slow, steady, incremental transition from ordinary life to the new one:

 

A person would need to find a group of like-minded folk who all agree on the vision for their society. Ideally, they’d live in the same area, and it would be on the water. Over the course of years, they’d meet, organize, set up the rules for their society, and save up the money to buy the physical platform (or build it themselves using our designs). Once they had the platform (in their local waters), they’d move onto it (as their leases come up / they sell their houses). They’d also be transitioning from their land-based jobs to seastead-based ones, and possibly becoming more self-sufficient if that’s a goal of the community. Eventually, they’d move the platform offshore, perhaps first in commuting distance, and eventually out to the high seas.

 

Of course, someone could also join an existing community, which would be much quicker. Each community can set its own standards, but I imagine you’d have to like the society and its rules, and be able to make a living there (have a job, be able to telecommute, or be independently wealthy). Some may have more stringent requirements, others will have open borders.

 

Another option would be to start out vacationing there, perhaps via a 2-week / year timeshare. Over time, you could add onto the timeshare, and eventually make the transition to living there full-time. I think the timeshare model is a good one for the beginning, because there are way more people who’d be willing to try seasteading a couple weeks a year, as a vacation, than who are ready & able to move there full-time.

Gizmodo: What would you do if, say, a 30-year-old guy wanted to vacation at a seastead with his 14-year-old girlfriend? How will basic rules be enforced and decided upon?

 

Patri: Each community will decide and enforce its own rules. More importantly, each community will decide its own procedures for deciding on its rules. The point is not just to create one political system or type of system, but to make a turnkey product for creating new countries, so that lots of different groups will try lots of different things, and we can all learn from it.

 

The one rule I think seasteads should enforce on each other is the right for individuals to choose their society. As long as people are freely choosing their society, then as far as I’m concerned the society can pick whatever rules it wants.

 

Personally, I want a society that’s very libertarian for internal affairs, except for strong national security rules against doing anything that will piss off a military power (exporting drugs, laundering money, polluting). Basically the vision of “As much freedom as we can reasonably get away with.”

Gizmodo Even using a flag of convenience, do you think you’d find yourselves a target for pirates?

 

Patri: It’s possible, but I really doubt it. You never hear of cruise ships getting attacked by pirates, only cargo ships, because the ratio of “people defending” vs. “movable cargo” is so dramatically different in the two cases. There’s a huge difference between attacking a container ship with 10 or 20 crew and a sea colony with hundreds of people who would be defending their homes.

 

Some people have suggested that if there are rich residents, pirates would attack to get ransom, but that’s just not what you see out in the world. Residensea, the first condo cruise ship, has units that start at $5M, so they have a very wealthy population, and they’ve had no problems. Ransom is dangerous—it’s hard to hide from satellites on the ocean, so you can’t easily kidnap someone, so basically you’re stuck in a hostage situation with someone who has a lot more resources and power than you.

 

Also, the vast majority of piracy is restricted to a few areas, which we’d of course avoid.

 

That said, we wouldn’t want to make ourselves an easy target, so having some weapons seems like a good idea, to defend against countries as well as pirates. There’s nothing we can do to stop the US military, of course, but there are cost-effective defenses like ship-to-ship cruise missiles which we will want to investigate.

 

Gizmodo: What do you see as the biggest hurdle to this project becoming a reality?

 

Patri: Economics. The ocean is a harsh, resource-poor environment. Oil rigs can afford it because they are mining black gold. The price of low-end cruise lines makes me optimistic, but it’s definitely going to be a challenge to make offshore real estate at a reasonable cost. Cost drives everything – if it’s expensive, it’ll just be for rich people, which might make a cool resort, but will fail at the goal of experimenting with new societies. If it’s cheap enough, you’ll get regular people just saying “screw normal life” and doing it. Or retiring there, like Americans who retire to Costa Rica. Also, there needs to be a seastead economy, or seasteads will be poor, and the cheaper the real estate, the less resources the ocean is draining, the more stuff will be profitable.

 

Governments are also a potential threat, but they’re a bit of a wild card. I think we can live in a way which is new and different and doesn’t bring down heat, but you never know when some politician will get pissed off. I think our strength will be in scale and diversity – it’s easy to invade 1 sea-city, not so easy if there are hundreds and more springing up every day. That kind of success will bring govt. attention, but if it’s decentralized it’s going to be hard for them to do much about it. And eventually we’ll be big enough to afford a military of our own.

 

Original article.

 

Peter Thiel Makes Down Payment on Libertarian Ocean Colonies (Wired.com article, May 19, 2008)

 

Tired of the United States and the other 190-odd nations on Earth?

 

If a small team of Silicon Valley millionaires get their way, in a few years, you could have a new option for global citizenship: A permanent, quasi-sovereign nation floating in international waters.

 

With a $500,000 donation from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a Google engineer and a former Sun Microsystems programmer have launched The Seasteading Institute, an organization dedicated to creating experimental ocean communities “with diverse social, political, and legal systems.”

 

“Decades from now, those looking back at the start of the century will understand that Seasteading was an obvious step towards encouraging the development of more efficient, practical public-sector models around the world,” Thiel said in a statement.

 

It might sound like the setting for the videogame Bioshock, but the institute isn’t playing around: It plans to splash a prototype into the San Francisco Bay within the next two years, the first step toward establishing deep-water city-states, or what it calls “seasteads” — homesteads on the high seas.

 

Within the pantheon of would-be utopian communities, there’s a particularly rich history of people trying to live outside the nation-state paradigm out in the ocean. The most ambitious was Marshall Savage’s Aquarius Project, which aimed at nothing less than the colonization of the universe. There was also Las Vegas millionaire Michael Oliver’s attempt to create a new island country, the Republic of Minerva, by dredging the shallow waters near Tonga. And the Freedom Ship was to be a mile-long portable country costing about $10 billion to construct.

 

None of these projects has succeeded, a fact that The Seasteading Institute’s founders, Google’s Patri Friedman and the semi-retired Wayne Gramlich, are keenly aware of throughout the 300-page book they’ve written about seasteading.

 

Instead of starting with a grand scheme worthy of a James Bond villain, the Institute is bringing an entrepreneurial, DIY mentality to creating oceanic city-states.

 

“There’s a history of a lot of crazy people trying this sort of thing, and the idea is to do it in a way that’s not crazy,” said Joe Lonsdale, the institute’s chairman and a principal at Clarium Capital Management, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund.

 

The seasteaders want to build their first prototype for a few million dollars, by scaling down and modifying an existing off-shore oil rig design known as a “spar platform.”

 

This schematic illustrates the ballasting system that Wayne Gramlich imagines would keep the seastead from tipping over. The amount of water in the ballasts could be raised or lowered to move the seastead up and down.

 

In essence, the seastead would consist of a reinforced concrete tube with external ballasts at the bottom that could be filled with air or water to raise or lower the living platform on top.

 

The spar design helps offshore platforms better withstand the onslaught of powerful ocean waves by minimizing the amount of structure that is exposed to their energy.

 

“You have very little cross-sectional interaction with waves [with] the spar design,” Gramlich said.

 

The primary living space, about 300 square feet per person, would be inside the tube, but the duo envisions the top platform holding buildings, gardens, solar panels, wind turbines and (of course) satellites for internet access.

 

To some extent, they believe the outfittings for the seastead will be dependent on the business model, say aquaculture or tourism, that will support it and the number of people aboard.

 

“We’re not trying to pick the one strategy because we think there will be multiple people who want one for multiple reasons,” Gramlich said.

 

Dan Donovan, a long-time spokesman for Dominion, an energy company that operated Gulf of Mexico-based gas rigs, including Devils Tower, the world’s deepest spar structure, said the group’s plan wasn’t too far-fetched. His company’s off-shore rigs, which are much larger than the institute’s planned seasteads, provided long-term housing for its workers.

 

“They were sort of like mobile homes. We could move them from one place to another,” Donovan said. “People did live on them.”

 

But even the institute members admit that their plans aren’t far enough along to stand up to rigorous engineering scrutiny. Some engineers, Gramlich said, have been skeptical of their plan, particularly their desire to do it on the cheap.

 

“We have some legitimate doubting Thomases out there,” Gramlich said.

 

But if the idea turns out to be just crazy enough that it works, Friedman, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, envisions transforming the way that government functions.

 

“My dad and grandfather were happy arguing their ideas and were happy influencing people through the world of ideas,” Friedman said. “I see a real need for people to go out and do something and show by example.”

 

True to his libertarian leanings, Friedman looks at the situation in market terms: the institute’s modular spar platforms, he argues, would allow for the creation of far cheaper new countries out on the high-seas, driving innovation.

 

“Government is an industry with a really high barrier to entry,” he said. “You basically need to win an election or a revolution to try a new one. That’s a ridiculous barrier to entry. And it’s got enormous customer lock-in. People complain about their cellphone plans that are like two years, but think of the effort that it takes to change your citizenship.”

 

Friedman estimates that it would cost a few hundred million dollars to build a seastead for a few thousand people. With costs that low, Friedman can see constellations of cities springing up, giving people a variety of governmental choices. If misguided policies arose, citizens could simply motor to a new nation.

 

“You can change your government without having to leave your house,” he said.

 

Of course, one major role of government is to provide security, which would seem to be an issue on the open sea. But Friedman’s not worried about defense beyond simple firearms because he thinks pirates will lack the financial incentive to attack the seasteads.

 

“More sophisticated pirates will take entire container ships that have tens of millions of dollars of cargo and 10 crew [members],” he said. “On a seastead, there’s a much different crew-to-movable assets ratio.”

 

In fact, his only worry is that a government will try to come calling and force their jurisdiction upon them. Toward that end, they are planning to fly a “flag of convenience” from a country that sells them, like Panama, to provide them with protection from national navies.

 

“If you’re not flying a flag … any country can do whatever they want to you,” he said.

 

Even if their big idea doesn’t end up panning out, their story should live on in internet lore for confirming the dream that two guys with a blog and a love of Ayn Rand can land half a million dollars to pursue their dream, no matter how off-kilter or off-grid it might seem.

 

“Everything changed when we got the funding,” Friedman said. “Before that, it was two guys with some ideas writing a book and blogging about their ideas…. Now that we’ve got some funding, it’s something I plan to make a full-time job out of.”

 

Original article.

 

Accelerating Future (blog interviewing Patri, May 14, 2008)

 

Some of you may have heard of the Seasteading Institute, which announced its existence with a press release a month ago. Basically, Peter Thiel is giving them $500,000 to get started on building an awesome seastead right here in the Bay Area. Sounds like a great idea, I’d love to visit, but it could take a decade or so until we have hundreds of people living on these things. (Even so, it’s a worthy cause!)

 

I caught up with the Executive Director, Patri Friedman, an acquaintance of mine, and asked him a few questions about this new org.

 

Michael Anissimov: Will $500,000 be enough to build a “safe, cost-effective, gorgeous” seastead? If not, how much will it cost?

 

Patri Friedman: Nope. But it should be enough to do the design and engineering work for a small (bay/coast-sized) seastead, and get our research program started. We think it will cost another $500K – $1.5M to build a nice Baystead. We’ll know a lot more about the costs after we’ve hired an engineer and done some initial design work.

 

MA: How many people will live on the first seastead?

 

PF: It depends on what the best initial application turns out to be. If it looks viable to build small seasteads as replacement yachts (much roomier, safer, and slower), then it could be as small as one family. If the initial business is aquaculture, perhaps a crew of a dozen. If it’s a resort, then more like hundreds.

 

MA: How many people will need to be there before it’s economically self-sustaining?

 

PF: This is tough to answer because seasteads are a form of real estate, so it really depends how they are used. We don’t expect our houses to be economically self-sustaining, after all.

 

I’m also not sure that it’s a good way to evaluate success. If one person lives on a seastead and makes a living telecommuting, that’s technically economically self-sustaining. If 100 people live there as a retirement community, and pay for it with investment income, then it’s technically not economically self-sustaining. Yet the latter would look much more like success to me.

 

I’d rather evaluate success by average population and the number of people who are able to make a living onboard.

 

MA: You say the notion of seasteading will be useful as a testing ground for various political systems, and that’s true, but historically, the concept is associated with libertarianism. Will the first seastead have a libertarian form of government?

 

PF: It seems likely, at this point, since the initial group is mainly libertarians. However, I think it will be quite awhile before seasteads are large enough to be truly thought of as countries with forms of government. For example, the single-family seastead mentioned earlier doesn’t really have a “government” per se, nor does an aquaculture farm with a dozen crew.

 

Even a resort with hundreds of people will most likely be owned and operated by a single corporate entity. That entity will want to have a system for administering justice and resolving disputes, and that system is likely to be pretty libertarian, but I’m not sure I’d call it a government. It’s more like Neal Stephenson’s Franchise-Owned Quasi-National Entities from Snow Crash.

 

I’d say the first place you are likely to get something like a government is when you have the first residential/multi-use seastead (or gathering of seasteads). And that’s far enough off in the future that it could be a different group of people.

 

MA: In 1971, a group of people calling themselves the Republic of Minerva brought sand from Australia and dumped it on a reef until it rose above the water level, creating new land. Why is this not the Seasteading Institute’s approach?

 

PF: Well, they did fail, after all :).

 

But more importantly, our vision is much more ambitious. We don’t want to just make one sandy island, we want to bring competition to the governing industry by creating an affordable technology so that anyone can buy/build a seastead and start their own new country. Their method has two major flaws from this viewpoint:

 

1) It doesn’t scale. Every piece of rock which is above water at high tide is claimed by a current nation (because it extends oil, mineral, and fishing rights). There are very few places where reefs get high enough to make good island bases, yet are low enough to not count as existing land. So there are very few places where this technique works. Whereas if we can make seasteads affordable, there are tens of millions of square miles of empty oceans available for them.

 

2) It doesn’t take advantage of the ocean’s dynamic geography. We think it’s important for any new country venture to think about why the government will be better than it is on land. The US started with limited government, but there seem to be very robust effects which make small government not an equilibrium for large countries. Modular seastead communities fundamentally change the incentives facing government. Fist, they loweri the barrier to entry for starting new countries. Second, they reduce customer lock-in (since you can leave by floating your home away at any time). Together, this means they are almost guaranteed to make government work better (any government, not just a libertarian one). A new island has no such properties.

 

MA: In a few sentences, summarize how a seastead might get electricity, food, and generate money.

 

PF: Two words will suffice: “Cruise Ship” :).

 

Floating cities are already real – millions of people take cruises every year, and they’re cheaper than the cost of living in some US cities. We have many differences in mind, but cruise ships prove that the idea is possible. Now we just have to make something safer, stabler, more spacious, more modular, incrementally built, cheaper, permanent, and worth visiting even though it mostly stays put!

 

MA: On your site, all the pictures of seasteads show them suspended above the water. Why is this? What if I want to go to the edge and dip my feet into the water?

 

PF: We have two designs in mind. The one you saw uses tall spars to elevate the living space above the waves. This minimizes waterline area which helps disconnect the structure from the waves, making it safer and more stable. We currently believe this is the best shape for a permanent structure in areas with big waves. This is how most oil platforms are designed, after all.

 

If you don’t have to deal with waves, you can just make simple platforms, like hollow concrete boxes. This could be done near the equator (the doldrums), where waves are much smaller. Or for a large community, it could be done inside a circular breakwater.

 

MA: The practice of using a “flag of convenience” is frowned upon politically. Do you plan to use them for your seasteads?

 

PF: Wait, why is making politicians frown a bad thing? Besides, if flags of convenience are good enough for half of the world’s tonnage, they’re good enough for us!

 

Seasteading may be a weird idea, but we think our chances of success are highest if we use as little innovation as possible. Flagged vessels are an existing category in international law which will give us a simple, clear legal status that should get us pretty much left alone. At least, that’s what our preliminary research shows – we have a volunteer who worked on the Law of the Sea treaty negotiations for the US under Reagan who is researching the subject for us.

 

~~~

 

Well, that was interesting. I’ve been interested in seasteading ever since I read Marshall T. Savage’s The Millennial Project in the mid-90s. Go seasteaders!

 

Original article.

 

Homesteading on the High Seas: Floating Burning Man, “jurisdictional arbitrage,” and other adventures in anarchism (Reason Online article, April 28, 2008)

 

If Peter Thiel funds something, it’s bound to be cutting-edge awesome.

 

He is a supporter of the Methuselah Mouse Prize, which seeks to slow, stop, and eventually reverse aging. He was a producer of the film Thank You for Smoking, based on Christopher Buckley’s charmingly ambiguous novel about a pro-tobacco lobbyist. An early investor in social networking, he was involved with Linked In and was the first investor in Facebook. He’s big at the Singularity Institute(reason‘s Ronald Bailey caught up with him at the Singularity Summit earlier this year, check out the interview in the May print edition), which ponders and pushes artificial intelligence in preparation for a Vernor Vingeian “intelligence explosion.” His first success was PayPal, which he originally hoped “would grow to become an extra-governmental system of currency, something reminiscent of the world described in Neal Stephenson’s novel Cryptonomicon, in which programmers use encryption to create an offshore data haven free from government control.”

 

And last week, Thiel announced a $500,000 investment—the same amount he put into Facebook in June 2004—in the Seasteading Institute. Seasteading, or “homesteading on the high seas,” is an idea that has long attracted libertarians and others who would like to see a little more competition between forms of government. The idea is to get out into international waters and set up a floating outpost (or 12, or 1,200) from which people can come and go, experimenting with different types of legal, social, and contractual arrangements.

 

Thiel’s co-conspirator and resident big thinker is none other than the impeccably credentialed Patri Friedman, son of David “Machinery of Freedom” Friedman, grandson of Milton “Capitalism and Freedom” Friedman. Patri, 31, has been beating the drums for various floating autonomous entities for several years, whenever he can steal time from his work as a software engineer at Google and from his now 2-year-old son, Tovar.

 

Despite the seemingly radical idea he’s championing, Patri sees himself as a practical guy: “Starting a new country is actually a much less hard problem than, say, a libertarian winning a U.S. election,” he says. He says that most of his competitors in the libertarian/anarchist autonomous entity business have been too ambitious, citing efforts from Sealand (the abandoned offshore fort-turned-free-state “which sort of worked” until it was devastated by fire in 2006) to more dramatic failures like Freedom Ship (current estimated cost >$11 billion, construction not yet begun) and the Aquarius phase of the Millennial Project (“colonizing the galaxy in eight easy steps!“) to Minerva Reef (an uninhabited dredged island “invaded” by neighboring Tonga and eventually more or less reclaimed by the sea).

 

Learning a valuable lesson from his predecessors, Friedman is an incrementalist. “I want to talk about what to do this year, not how to colonize the galaxy.” One way to start small, he says, is to hold a kind of floating Burning Man, called Ephemerisle, an idea inspired by childhood pilgrimages with his father to Pennsic, a Society for Creative Anachronism medieval reenactment held outside Pittsburgh, and college stints at Burning Man.

 

“There aren’t that many people who are wiling to drop their lives and move to the ocean.” Instead, he says, “it could start as a one week vacation, but then unlike Burning Man it could grow and eventually become permanent.” Friedman hopes to hold the first Ephemerisle next summer, inviting many types of floating vessels to join him in international waters. Even an ordinary cruise ship might be enough to get started, since the cruise industry has proven that “providing power, water, food, and internet on the ocean is not only possible but can be profitable.” But some of Thiel’s grant is going toward figuring out the best way to throw up some small, cheap seasteads to provide a little non-state infrastructure and get things rolling (or floating, as the case may be).

 

From the official website: “Think about all the hot air and argumentation about a whole host of different political issues—freedom vs. security, absolute wealth vs. inequality, strong family vs. tolerance, open vs. closed borders, whatever the topic du jour is. Instead of deciding them through rhetoric, or voting on a few representatives to decide them for tens or hundreds of millions of people at once, imagine if we could try them each on a small scale and see what happens.”

 

Thiel and Friedman met at a dinner set up by a couple of guys who work for Thiel’s investment firm, Clarium Capital, and happened to be fans of Friedman’s blog. Ajay Royan, a principal at Clarion and now a board member at the Seasteading Institute, described how the meeting of minds between Friedman and Thiel came about a few months back: “Peter knows Patri’s grandfather, so we were just tickled that somebody of that lineage was so close to us physically and was thinking about macro issues from that perspective,” says Royan. “We’d been having a lot internal debate [at Clarium] about how we get a freer space for people to function in. What was intriguing to us was that here was somebody proposing to shift the canvas to a relatively neutral space by recreating a frontier.”

 

Not content with revolutionizing technology and society, Thiel says he’s looking to bring “innovation to the public sector, where it’s vitally needed.” As with PayPal, his aspirations for the project are far from modest: “We’re at a fascinating juncture: the nature of government is about to change at a very fundamental level.”

 

Having a low-cost, gradually ramping up cluster of choices to live on would lower the cost of “jurisdictional arbitrage,” which is very high right now, says Friedman. If you don’t like your government right now, the only way to get a new one is to sell your house, pack up, move to another country, deal with immigration, get a new job and a new house, make new friends, and learn a new culture. This is expensive. But hopping from boat to boat, platform to platform, or island to island is cheap.

 

In fact, Friedman sees seasteading as a real, viable version of a metaphor his dad once used to sell anarcho-capitalism, and demonstrate why Nozickian utopias with lots of free entry and exit will tend toward libertarianism rather than authoritarianism:

 

Consider our world as it would be if the cost of moving from one country to another were zero. Everyone lives in a housetrailer and speaks the same language. One day, the president of France announces that because of troubles with neighboring countries, new military taxes are being levied and conscription will begin shortly. The next morning the president of France finds himself ruling a peaceful but empty landscape, the population having been reduced to himself, three generals, and twenty-seven war correspondents.

 

The question is (to paraphrase Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes): Will three generations of Friedmans be enough? Patri Friedman is optimistic. “I hope I can create a world where [my son] doesn’t need to worry about how to increase freedom because we’ve already got it.” he says. “But I suspect that I’ll still be working on it by the time he’s old enough to help.”

 

Original article.

 

Seasteading (Marginal Revolution post, April 25, 2008).

 

by 

 

A small but passionate minority is deeply dissatisfied with current political systems.  These people seek the autonomy to live under and experiment with different political, social, and economic systems than currently exist. It is this search for sovereignty, for the freedom ofself-government, which is the fundamental motivation for seasteading.

 

That’s Patri Friedman (son of David, son of Milton) and Wayne Gramlich in their seasteading manifesto. In interesting news, The Seasteading Institute has secured funding of $500,000 from PayPal founder Peter Thiel to help make the idea a reality.

 

Long-term trends are somewhat favorable for seasteading because with a cell phone and internet access more and more people could live on a seastead and make a living.  Cruise ships are already floating cities with few regulations or taxes.  Harold Berman argues that the rise of the West was due to competitive law.  Homeowner’s organizations, hotels and condos are private governments (for more see my edited book The Voluntary City.).

 

Competitive law appears to increase efficiency but it’s less clear that competition among governments gives rise to a libertarian world.  Homeowner associations, for example, often impose stricter zoning regulations than cities.  You could say that the system as a whole is more libertarian, but no one lives in the system as a whole.

 

Maybe liberty comes not from choice of government but from forcing people who are unlike to live together.  Isn’t the real reason the First Amendment has any force not that people agree on the value of freedom of speech but rather that they disagree on who they want to shut up?  Is religious freedom a product of agreement on the value of religious freedom or is it a product of disagreement on who is going to hell?

 

Still I hope for the best and congratulate Patri.  Seasteading has come a long way.

 

Original article.

 

Exploring Geopolitics “Permanent Autonomous Ocean Communities” (Interview with Patri Friedman, July 2009)

 

Interview by Leonhardt van Efferink (July 2009)

 

Introduction

Patri Friedman (1976) holds a bachelor’s degree in math (HMC), MS in Computer Science (Stanford University) and an MBA (Cardean University).

 

Mr Friedman is Executive Director and Board Member of The Seasteading Institute and Board Member of Humanity+.

 

This interview focuses on plans of the Seasteading Institute to found permanent, autonomous ocean communities. What are the reasons for this desire? What challenges lie ahead in terms of international law, global competitiveness and energy security? And how would the ocean communities eventually fit within the world order?

 

Because the world needs a new frontier, a place where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can go to test out their ideas. By opening the ocean as a new frontier, we hope to revolutionize the quality of government and social systems worldwide by enabling experimentation, innovation, and competition.

 

Currently, it is very difficult to experiment with alternative social systems on a small scale; countries are so enormous that it is hard for an individual to make much difference. Imagine if small groups had the capability to instead test their own ideas on a small scale and see what happens. People could create societies with different priorities, and we’d be able to quickly see how well those ideas work in practice. Some ideas will work well, some will work terribly and some will be a matter of preference; but above all we are dedicated to the believe that whatever our ideas, we want to stop arguing about them, stop proselytizing them and start living them.

 

What technical expertise would be necessary to build seastead city-states?

 

Quite a lot, since it encompasses so many areas of infrastructure. Besides all the basic civil engineering that goes into a city, the marine engineering that provides that same infrastructure on boats, there is the ocean engineering of how to design safe, affordable platforms that can resist the waves. And then there is the political science aspect – how do you design a new governance system that is better than current systems?

 

Does international law pose a threat to the creation of permanent, autonomous ocean communities?

 

International law is the regulatory environment in which seasteads will operate. It poses some difficulties because of the lack of a widely accepted definition for a nation or procedure for a new nation to be recognized globally. That is why we seek autonomy rather than sovereignty. The 200-mile EEZ means that seasteads either need to be 200 miles from land (on the high seas) or to have an explicit agreement with the coastal state. Most of the regulations that apply to the high seas, such as safety, anti-pollution, and anti-piracy are reasonable and should not be a problem. I expect seasteads to begin by flying flags of convenience, later fly flags with an explicit treaty, and eventually to fly no flag and assert their independence.

 

Economic development of seastead city-states

 

How could the seastead city-states become economically viable?

 

The two competitive advantages are the ocean environment and the low regulation/taxes. The main disadvantage is the expense of dealing with the harsh marine environment. To be economically viable, the former will have to be greater than the latter. For example, we are currently starting a business to do medical procedures on ships, combining the cost-savings of medical tourism with the convenience of being able to get procedures 12 miles from the coast instead of flying to India or Thailand.

 

One nice thing about the advantage of low regulation is that it applies very broadly to many industries. There are numerous historical examples of places like Hong Kong and Singapore with insignificant natural resources that became very wealthy simply through freedom, low regulation, and low taxes. Our task is more difficult because we have higher costs to deal with, but I think it is not insurmountable. The Seasteading Institute is working on business ventures right now so we can demonstrate the economic viability of seasteads.

 

What measures could the seastead city-states take to ensure energy security?

 

They could generate energy renewably, either through standard methods like wind and solar, or more novel ocean methods such as OTEC. But burning diesel is much cheaper.

International position and security of seastead city-states

 

Would the seastead city-states eventually seek international recognition?

 

Certainly, but I expect this to be 50-100 years off. Not until they are of significant size.

 

How could seastead city-states defend themselves against external threats such as piracy?

 

Most piracy occurs in ports, coastlines, and a couple regions where shipping traffic is concentrated by a state with poor security (Malaysia, Somalia). The Somali pirates brag they can go up to 200 miles from the Somali coastline – conveniently, it turns out that most of the ocean is more than 200 miles from the Somali coastline. While a seastead will want to have large calibre rifles and perhaps some short-range cruise missiles for defense, pirate attacks are very unlikely.

 

Why is one of the long-term goals of the Seasteading Institute that “at least one seastead city-state is considered a notable world power”?

 

The goal of seasteading is to change the world by opening a new frontier where new countries are founded. If these countries are truly successful, at least one will be considered a world power, which is why our 100-year goals include this. We don’t mean necessarily a great power like European States, but more international influence than Tuvalu or Vanautu, at least.

 

Original article.

 

 

Audio

 

Joe Quirk Interviewed by Mark Edge (Free Talk Live, September 11, 2013)

Burning Man of the Ocean: Seasteading’s Ephemerisle Explored (NHPR, July 22, 2013)

Every year, a small fleet of house- boats, yachts, and make-shift floating homes anchor together off the California coast for the Ephemerisle festival…it’s billed as a “floating celebration of community, learning, art, and seasteading.”  The concept came from the Seasteading Institute, a non-profit founded by a pair of highly placed tech entrepreneurs who are also outspoken libertarians. Seasteading supports the creation of floating city-states where people can experiment with self-governance and escape the rules and conventions of dry land. Atossa Abrahamian is a Brooklyn-based journalist and editor of “The New Inquiry.” She wrote about her visit to Ephemerisle for N+1 magazine.

 

Listen to the full segment.

The Peter Schiff Show (Interview with Patri Friedman, Jan 10, 2011)

 

Tonight’s show will be hosted by Andrew Schiff with guest Jacob Sullum, Reason Magazine senior editor & author of “Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use,” on how anti-gun advocates are already exploiting the Arizona tragedy. Later in the show, Nick Baumann, assistant editor at Mother Jones, will join us to discuss his exclusive interview with Bryce Tierney, close friend of the Arizona madman Jared Lee Loughner. And finally Patri Friedman, executive director of the Seasteading Institute, will be on to tell us why the best hope for liberty may exist atop a series of small manmade ocean communities. Andrew is also looking forward to your calls on politics, finance, and the economy.

 

Original article.

 

FastForward Radio “Our Future at Sea” (Interview with Max Marty, October 13, 2010)

 

“The legal/political environment doesn’t operate on an exponentially improving curve, why
wait for that system to catch up while technology races down the road
to the future?”

 

–Max Marty

 

Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon welcome Max Marty of the Seasteading Institute to discuss how and why people might soon be taking up permanent residence on the high seas.

 

From the Seasteading.org intro page:

 

What is “Seasteading”?

Seasteading is creating permanent dwellings on the ocean – homesteading the high seas. A seastead…is a structure meant for permanent occupation on the ocean.

 

Currently, it is very difficult to experiment with alternative social systems on a small scale; countries are so enormous that it is hard for an individual to make much difference. The world needs a new frontier, a place where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can go to test out their ideas.

 

Listen to internet radio with The Speculist on Blog Talk Radio

 

Original article.

Freakonomics Radio “What Would the World Look Like if Economists Were in Charge?” (interview with Patri Friedman, March 24, 2010. Top 10 podcast on iTunes.)

 

We’ve just released the third episode of our Freakonomics Radio podcast (here at iTunes; RSS feed here; or listen live via the box at right), and this one strikes close to the heart of many readers. It asks a simple speculative question: What would the world look like if economists were in charge?

 

You’ll hear a bit from Steve Levitt about the economist’s worldview in general, and how it differs from the politician’s. You’ll also hear from the very insightful Russ Roberts, aprofessor of economics at George Mason University who also blogs, has a podcast of his own, writes books, and produces rap videos. Here’s a cut of Roberts’s interview:

 

SJD: Okay, let’s play a fantasy game for a minute and pretend that you, Russ Roberts, a creative and very bright economist come to Washington and are put in charge of the whole country. And unlike every other economist that’s ever gone to high office, you don’t start acting like a politician. You really act like an economist from day one. So you get there, you’re behind the desk, you’ve got a pen and paper. What are some of the first things you do as soon as you arrive?

 

RR: I’m getting goose bumps, it’s so exciting. Well, what I would do? Let’s start with some obvious things. I would get rid of the Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce doesn’t do anything except subsidize exports, which is just a way of saying it makes certain companies rich at the expense of the rest of us. So I don’t think the Department of Commerce does anything particularly useful, I would get rid of that. I’d get rid of the Department of Education. I don’t think that the Federal Government has any productive role to play in the school system. I’d get rid of all tariffs. I’d let people be free to buy whatever they wanted from all around the world. What else? I would get rid of the minimum wage law, which I think makes it hard for low-skilled people to find work; it makes them artificially expensive. I’d change the Federal Reserve. We spend a lot of time trying to find the right interest rate. That’s a fool’s game that has contributed to the current crisis. So I would change the Federal Reserve. I would certainly at a minimum require it to only care about price stability. Right now it cares about price stability, unemployment, the health of the stock market, Wall Street salaries, evidently. So I would get all of those things out. It’s going to be hard to do legislatively, so I would probably replace the the Fed with a Friedmanite fixed growth and money supply or just abolish it entirely and let private money emerge. I’m getting out of control here.

 

 

Kudos to former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar. Photo by Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The program also features an interview withMart Laar, a two-term prime minister of Estonia who has been widely credited with turning a downtrodden former Soviet republic into a “Baltic Tiger.” How did this happen? As Laar tells it, he essentially channeled the spirit of Milton Friedman:

 

ML: First of all, when you grow up and develop under the Communists, then first of all you see what is not working, and that means that the Communism is not working and all those left-wing socialist ideas of state control and so on, they are just not working. They are against the human nature, and they will fail. Which means that when you read the Soviet newspapers about one man who is especially dangerous, especially crazy, and absolutely mad, and we should destroy all the human beings and the economies and so on, and this man was called Milton Friedman. And of course I became interested and when I first read Milton Friedman, it was my first book on economy that I ever have read. Then of course I was very interested because I think most of the ideas were simple but here they looked like work. And when I became the prime minister I decided, Why not.

 

You will hear an interesting story about Laar introducing the flat tax, a Friedman favorite, to Estonia, and about Laar’s meeting with Margaret Thatcher, whereupon he learned that the flat tax was not as commonly applied as he thought.

 

You’ll also hear from Friedman’s own grandson, Patri Friedman, whose personal belief is that the U.S. government is such a sclerotic oligarchy that the best solution is to start a new civilization in the ocean. That’s what led to his founding the Seasteading Institute. Here’s a look at a couple of possible seasteading options:

 

DESCRIPTION
Photo: seastading.orgExterior of Clubstead, a 200-guest hotel/resort designed “to withstand the waves off the coast of California.”
DESCRIPTION
seastading.org Personality Winner of the Seastead Design Contest.

And finally, this being Freakonomics, you’ll also hear from Alliethe high-end call girlfeatured in SuperFreakonomics, talking about what her business would look like if the economists took over and legalized prostitution — along with drugs like marijuana and cocaine, and a market for human organs …

Hope you enjoy.

 

Original article.

 

Wiretap on CBC’s Radio One: “No Man Is An Island” (interview with Patri Friedman, Nov 16, 2009. Listenership of 350,000 in 2008.)

 

Jonathan Goldstein of Wiretap, a talk radio program and podcast on CBC’s Radio One, interviewed Patri Friedman to find out about the motivations and goals of the Seasteading Institute.

 

Direct link to episode MP3: No Man is an Island

 

The interview sits at the beginning of the program (starting roughly 02:10), but stick around to hear Jonathan’s friend Howard describe how Patri has inspired him to tear up his sheets to make a flag so he can declare his apartment a sovereign nation — “the first nation with wall-to-wall carpeting.”

 

This episode can be found in Season 6 of the WireTap episode archives.

 

Afternoons with Jim Mora (Interview with Patri, Radio New Zealand National, 13 October 2009)

 

The Seasteading Institute has plans to construct a series of habitable homesteads off the coast of San Francisco, and which in time would become permanent, autonomous ocean communities. (22′44″)

 

 

Original article.

 

The Bob Zadek Show (Hour-long radio interview with Patri Friedman, September 13, 2009)

 

This Sunday, Bob will chat with Patri Friedman, one of the creators of Seasteading.  Check out their website at www.seasteading.org. A chance to live in Libertarian Utopia and experience America as the Founders intended.  It’s well funded and on the way.

 

MP3 Download.

 

Original article.

 

Voting Yourself Off The Island (Interview Podcast from The Cato Policy Forum, April 8, 2009)

 

MP3 Download.

 

Future Tense (ABC Radio Australia, interview with Patri Friedman, March 12, 2009)

 

Imagine living in a community on a giant floating platform way out at sea. Way, way out at sea. The California-based Seasteading Institute sees the ocean as the last frontier and they want to develop whole cities that float in our international waters. Seasteading isn’t just about finding room to live, it’s an experiment in political and social change.

 

MP3 Download.

 

Original article.

 

CNN Radio Podcast (March 4, 2009)

 

MP3 Download.

 

Bureaucrash Podcast (Libertatian-orientated Interview with Patri Friedman November 14, 2008)

 

Patri Friedman took the time to speak with us about The Seasteading Institute, a project with the ambitious goal of building floating cities of voluntary societies. These cities would lower the barrier of entry to the government services market allowing for various systems to be tried, their mobile, modular nature would also allow members to vote with their feet without having to get permission to leave, or having to sell their homes and business, which could go with. He also talks to us about liberty minded activism as the son of Anarcho-Capitalist writer and thinker David Friedman and Grandson of Noble Prize winning Economist Milton Friedman. For more information, visit the Seasteading Institute’s website http://www.Seasteading.org.

 

MP3 Download.

 

Original article.

 

The Business Shrink (Business-oriented podcast interview with Patri Friedman, September 17, 2008)

 

Listen to internet radio with The Business Shrink on Blog Talk Radio

 

Original article.

 

Political Animals (Libertarian-oriented interview with Patri Friedman, June 19, 2008)

 

MP3 Download.

 

NPR’s Bryant Park Project: Libertarian Island: No Rules, Just Rich Dudes (Podcast interview with Wired writer Alexis Madrigal, May 21, 2008)

 

What happens when Milton Friedman’s grandson, an eccentric billionaire and some ocean real estate all intersect? You get “seasteads,” permanent dwellings on the ocean. The first seastead is scheduled to hit the waters of San Francisco Bay in two years.

 

“Seasteading is essentially trying to create a low-cost vessel that you can move out into the open ocean so that you can experiment and live out on a boat essentially… and install whatever political system you want, in particular, say, libertarian —a political system where there is very little government,” says Alexis Madrigal, who wrote about seasteading for Wired magazine. “And the idea is that it would actually improve government because if you didn’t like what the government of your floating city state did, you could just motor away.”

 

The major players behind seasteading are Paypal inventor Peter Thiel, super-rich ex-Sun Microsystems executive Wayne Gramlich and Milton Friedman’s Google engineer grandson. They all want their colonies to adhere to a specific system: Libertarianism, answering a long-time dream of free marketers: If only there was a place residents could, at last, live purely according to the laissez-faire philosophy.

 

The pods are based on oil rig technology, Madrigal says. One example in the North Sea is four times the size of the Eiffel Tower. But Madrigal says the Seasteading operation is focusing on much smaller, single-family dwellings.

 

Thiel, who is also an early Facebook investor, is known for investing in futuristic efforts. Madrigal points out that Thiel is also a member of The Methuselah Foundation, an organization devoted to stopping aging. In other words, Thiel is an enthusiast of many esoteric initiatives and isn’t exactly holding his breath until the Seastead team slips one into the ocean. Therefore, his $500,000 check to Seasteading should, Madrigal says, be viewed as a “down-payment” on an idea more than a ringing endorsement.

 

“If they come up with something, good, if not, no big deal,” Madrigal says. “They need maybe another million, 2 million dollars . . . if they make progress they get more money, if not, I got on NPR again.”

 

MP3 Download.

 

Original article.

 

 

Video

 

CNN Headline News: The Glenn Beck Show (TV Interview of Joe Lonsdale, August 25, 2008. Over two million viewers.)

 

 

How to Start Your Own Country (2010 documentary by Jody Shapiro on micronations, with a centerpiece interview with Patri Friedman)

The Sea is a Harsh Mistress (2010 short film by Jason Sussberg on seasteading.)

 

German

 

Floating Social Laboratories: Ocean Feeling (Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 23, 2014)

Anarcho-Capitalist Patri Friedman (Punkt Magazine – November, 2010)

 

English translationPDF Download

 

 

PUNKTmagazin What does TSI and which tasks are being pursued?

 

Patri Friedman TSI is short for The Seasteading Institute. TSI is a research firm and firm at the same time. TSI takes the quasi-Seasteading various cities.

 

As the respective cities are constructed?

 

We are yet to evaluate the process. But we have narrowed down the possibilities considerably. Imagine according to our current knowledge, is a city that works much like an oil-platform. We call it “Semi Submergible”.

 

What is your idea megalomania that is criminally legally equated with delusions of grandeur?

 

When it comes to delusions of grandeur, I see all the corruption, the world’s ruthless actions. Many governments destroy more value because they build. Megalomania is a lot of times but mostly positively affected, especially when you Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, which uses as an example. He can channel his ambitions, his knowledge, his combine innovation, and focus on correct tracks. This creates great things.

 

TSI, the project may indeed not shoulder alone. Anyone who works with everything else yet?

 

We collaborate with engineers and lawyers, for example, both are very important to us. On some external research material we are also dependent. Sightings we do also work together with trend researchers and we have advertised various competitions, in which the general public is admitted. Eventually people will have participated every stripe.

 

Freedom can be achieved through idealism?

 

I firmly believe that if we jointly pursue a vision, it is also feasible. And that now affects our concrete case, it is internationally recognized as well as respected, then freedom is absolutely within reach.

 

Legal and political views?

 

Well, I am convinced that it does not work, according to legislative improvements which are also always strive to. For the law will always be defective, no matter what happened to innovation. It’s also a waste of time when you’re fighting for political improvements. We do not know what is actually better and introduce something big, then test, so it plainly and simply, time. Political activism does not necessarily have an academic focus, however, is a certain amount of “Entrepreneurship” condition.

 

 

A perpetual motion by the same you are going different projects. Have hobbies, desires, dreams at all place?

 

Apart from family and just TSI I co-founded specific communities. In one, Tortuga in Mountain View, California, we currently live with a dozen good friends. TSI maintains way some side projects that I want to pursue course. For the game of poker, also one of my passions, I think, unfortunately, almost out of time. From time to time I also do good TV nights. Because I like about Dr. House, Dexter, or Lie To Me Otherwise: normal party games and climbing.

 

Another hobby festivals like Burning Man What parallels to Seasteading there?

 

There are actually several analogies. Burning Man is indeed a quasi experiment in an alternative society eking out their prosperous, extravagant life. At Seasteading same is envisaged. That is, we try to create an atmosphere that combines the different types of companies are mutually reinforcing spiritually, learn from one another and thus can unfold. And yes, you must have Burning Man experience just once. Because in order to explain what is going on, respectively, as it is, it is not enough all the words in the world.

 

Original article.

 

The Golden Cage (Focus – July 24, 2010)

 

English translation.

 

Ever since the financial crisis in politics and society back the call for a “strong state” loud. Why this way would be a dead end.

America, the land of opportunity? Patri Friedman can laugh because only. For the grandson of the Economic Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, the U.S. is a place of paternalism, the rules and regulations – actually no better than any x-any State anywhere else in the world. Therefore Patri can not fulfill his dream of boundless freedom by emigrating – where to go, he should eventually? His solution is Seastead, a world of huge rafts floating on the sea and people like him have home. Together, these artificial islands will one day form a state of its citizens makes no rules – the perfect anarchist utopia.

 

Renaissance of the state

 

Never before such ideas sounded as exotic as currently. Because currently experiencing a renaissance in the strong state that until recently no one could have expected. Patris grandfather Milton Friedman had called for a community that is indeed a stable regulatory framework that allows its citizens but otherwise unharmed. When politicians like U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thought this had fallen on fertile ground. “As little state as possible,” was, at least in theory, the Guideline, markets were deregulated, the government withdrew tended.

 

Ever since the outbreak of the global economic crisis, however, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. With gigantic sums – in the U.S. two trillion dollars, 750 billion euros in the EU – supporting governments ailing markets. More oversight and regulation is the motto of Washington to Tokyo. Even away from the economic state is omnipresent. Smoking, particulate limits, noise standards, store opening times, minimum wages, waste separation, speed limits, alcohol limits, curricula, working life, hygiene, privacy, Internet access, bank accounts, food ingredients, CO2 emissions, broadcasting fees: Nothing is more without monitoring and control. But what has brought this universal responsibility anyway? The state is the solution to our problems – or the cause? How much government is necessary, and are there alternatives?

 

Failure of the markets?

 

What is there to discuss it? The question not only declared statists of the left and right. Even in the “middle of society”, as experience shows that only a strong state that protects citizens from wrong – a little less freedom there is to absorb easily. And what should it be wrong? Hardly a year ago that the world was on the brink of collapse, it threatened the end of the financial system, with incalculable consequences for all. If this is not proof of the failure of free markets, then what? Not the retreat of the state and its authorities, lack of supervision and control have made the disaster to exist? And there were no government cash injections that prevented the collapse? This can of course also see things differently. Ludwig von Mises, the founder of the Austrian school of economics, recognized already a hundred years ago, that the change from boom periods and phases of depression was the result of attempts to lower market interest rates by credit expansion. He thus provided an accurate description of the interest rate policy, especially the U.S. Federal Reserve, which flooded the markets with cheap money and thus continued incentives to bad investments and excessive indebtedness of households. Bubbles appear as a logical consequence. Mises also described the consequences: “There is no way to prevent the final collapse of a boom that was created by credit expansion. The only alternative is:. Either the crisis arises earlier by the voluntary termination of credit expansion – or it was created later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency involved system “The state Geldmo monopoly – which was broadcast in the U.S. on the official independent Fed – appears thus. than the root of the problem and the supposed therapy to prevent the dough with state collapse, as the germ of the final collapse

Many wish for the welfare state

 

With the creation of money to give modern states are not satisfied. Long since they want to guarantee not only the regulatory framework that enables citizens to develop freely. Instead, they advocate a welfare and social protection that which provides protection in any situation. Your responsibilities they have far beyond the traditional functions – stretched out – internal and external security, justice, external relations and financial management. So remember about the powers of the federal cabinet to a public law department store catalog: Environment and Energy, family, youth, seniors, health care, transportation, development, economics, art, culture and science, education, labor, home affairs, sports, agriculture, nutrition, pensions, consumer protection.

 

Governmental sole representative

 

All that really needs to be done by government agencies? Yes, my supporters, because this provides the necessary safety and reliability are assured that the citizens can expect. This argument does not appear absolutely sure. Example retirement: Since 1957 exists in Germany a PAYG pension system, all employees are required members. They finance their contributions the salaries of retirees – at least in theory. In practice, the national pension fund has gone bankrupt long ago, a year, the system needs with grants of around 80 billion euros to be supported by taxes. The alternative is not: This would allow the state confine oblige its citizens to retirement, but even given them the how. Whether they then make provisions with house construction, life insurance, securities account, or gold stocks – the results would hardly be worse than the state pension. Which is by no means more “safe” as now admit even social policy of the government. effect other sectors not convinced the sole representative of the state. Example education: Many private kindergartens, schools and universities have shown that even without government-salaried and supervised staff and off the prescribed rigid grid successful learning is possible. On the contrary, graduates of private schools and colleges often get better deals than at the state institutions educated. Why would parents send their children to private educational institutions increasingly, if they have the chance? > The situation is similar in health care. That even under the current system certainly can be operated profitably, show private hospital operator as Rhön-hospitals and the Asklepios chain. The deal not only about private patients and deliver health care at a high level. The official end, most municipalities or counties, powered houses, are largely deficient. And what the current hygiene scandal shows two Munich hospitals, it is about the quality of care in public institutions ordered not always for the better. Is it really unreasonable to think about the lack of efficiency of state structures?

 

Deficiencies in transport infrastructure

 

Even when traffic – statists for a domain of state action – claim and reality gape widely. Although the public sector with tolls and vehicle taxes occupies considerably more than they spend on the road, the roads in many places are in deplorable condition. Suburban chaos, delays and safety deficiencies make public transport from a bad witness. So why not incorporate private providers? That the – privatized – Railway currently must come up with an embarrassing series of mishaps, speaks only seemingly against such solutions. For in spite of the change of the legal form of the German Railway is still a state-owned enterprise in which even made the Executive Board appointment by government decision.

 

Who should pay?

 

The main argument of opponents of privatization is with great regularity: Only the state ensures affordable services for all. In fact, a good education, it may just be not only for the children of wealthy parents, and socially disadvantaged are entitled to health care, old-age poverty can not tolerate a society, and mobility should not be a privilege of the rich who can afford the tolls of a private road operator can. it is true that: Should not the citizens pay the bulk of his income to the state, he would have far greater leeway to finance his personal lifestyle. A skilled worker remained of his gross salary around 30 000 euros more per year, and even a low-wage earners could assets constitute a significant degree. The state is by no means superfluous, for an army to defend the country, police and a functioning system can ensure only he, even if radical libertarians even want to privatize these areas. But the community came out with significantly less resources if it would withdraw to its core tasks. For internal and external security not devour enormous sums, as is commonly asserted still like. Fewer than three percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is, for example, the Federal Republic of Eurostat for these sectors. Far more money goes into the welfare or health. According to the Kiel Institute for World Economics alone make the subsidies from about 150 billion euros per year. And general administration, which could be reduced significantly in a lean state, costs about six percent of GDP – more than education and environmental protection.

 

The price of freedom

 

And what the cost would come in the minimal state to the citizens? Business ethics expert Gerd Habermann refers to old traditions: “Even in the Bible about tithing is mentioned. I think that is still appropriate “Indeed. If the state were to take ten percent of GDP in taxes would, in addition to spending on security and the administration really necessary even have room for education, nursery schools or roads. The modern welfare state thus appears mainly as redistribution machinery that restricts freedoms and restrict design possibilities. Would the money in the pockets of citizens who earn it eventually, private pension plans, children’s education or health care expenditure for all could be financed.

 

A utopia? Maybe, but not unrealistic than the idea of a strong state, the citizens decreases all the problems. Especially as a minimal state would bring an increase in responsibility and freedom, already the economist Friedrich August von Hayek as the greatest benefit of a private system described. Anarcho-libertarians like Patri Friedman do not believe that the majority of their fellow citizens share these dreams. There probably is only the return to the artificial island.

 

How much government is necessary?

 

Considering all budgets – the federal, states and municipalities – together, showing how the state uses the money of its citizens. The latest survey by the statistics office of the EU – Eurostat – Although dated from 2001, at the weights but has not changed much since then.

 

For proponents of a minimal state should be limited to the community internal and external security. These include justice, police, fire, border protection and defense. These expenditures represent a total of only 2.8 per cent of gross national product. For road construction, the Federal Republic of 17 billion euros, or about 0.85 percent. This amount would be double covered by the fuel tax of about 35 billion euros. The environmental tax devours another 14 billion euros. This could also be funded kindergartens, which cost about ten billion euros. A general tax of ten percent would be sufficient, therefore, to even fund the education. General and administrative expenses consist mainly of interest payments.

 

Most citizens do not realize how many fees and taxes they pay. This is also because, as the deductions are reported in the payroll: The gross salary is the employer’s contribution has already been deducted. The state would impose charges, the employee would get this total, ie including employer and employee contributions paid to social security. The business journalist Günter Ederer has calculated how high the actual prints are a skilled worker. It also excise taxes were taken into account, which must also be paid from the net wage.

 

How much money would the citizens, would they leave their income wholly or largely self? In the example on the previous page a skilled worker would have left 2599 euros a month more. This corresponds to 31 188 euros per year. The real gross hourly wage for a 40-hour week and six weeks of vacation would be at 25.83 euros. Even workers with low wages would still at significant savings. A worker with a reported gross hourly wages of ten euros would come to 18 400 euros a year. He would not pay social security contributions, he remained Euro 7360, even without income tax about 10 000 euros more per year. So that he could protect themselves comfortable private. So there is a health insurance with a high deductible of 3000 Euro per year for just 130 euros a month. The deductible would be problems from the extra earnings of EUR 10 000 per year to finance, especially serious diseases occur almost every year. Little things like cough medicine would pay yourself without difficulty. Expenditure for health insurance would be through the reduction in excise duty, which turned low at low government spending, covered.

 

After 40 years, would be more of an annual salary of 10 000 euros at an interest rate of five percent more than 1.24 million euros. Without the pollution caused by the government’s money monopoly inflation of workers would also benefit from technical progress and could afford, because goods would cheaper. The increase in productivity in the example considered annually by three percent.

Original article.

 

State 2.0 – Conversation with Patri Friedman (Schweizer Monatshefte – July, 2010)

Schwimmende Städte (Handelsblatt, June 22, 2009. Leading German business newspaper. Circulation 145,000)

 

English translation.

 

BERLIN. For a few not very poor people living in a city on the sea is already a reality. At the rate of two to six million dollars on The World to have apartments. The floating city with the immodest name outside looks no different than a cruise ship. But the passengers to live there permanently, including tax benefits and basically without ruling state authority.

 

People like Patri Friedman, former engineer at Google, and its principal donor, PayPal founder Peter Thiel see, actually the technological and logistic Herauforderungen a life on the high seas rather than incidental. Gives her maritime empire, unlike “The World”, just as an idea. But that is great. Friedman told the CNN in March, his Seasteading Insitute ‘m all about it, “to create a system that encourages them to experiment with different political systems.”

 

Because on the high seas, there are not only spatially much space, but also legally, there is not only (so far) no hardware stores and bakeries, but no police force and basically no national laws. Or at least no way to enforce them. In the past, this fact already caused for some discussion. So against owners of cruise ships allegations of exploitation of their crews were loud, or passengers or crew members who have been victims of sexual violence were found, either on board or later proceed on the mainland ways against the perpetrators.

 

Friedman, of course, it comes to more positive aspects of his view that law-free space. One thinks about the Seasteading Institute about it, legalize soft drugs completely and make intellectual property to public property, all in the sense of a particularly creative maritime climate. Swimming is that Free State without mountains one day in international waters west of San Francisco.

 

However, until now the technical and financial challenges but proved to be even greater than the philosophical and legal. Because the city is on the high seas are not only expensive – from lack of role models, the visionaries are also faced with the problem that they do partly not quite know how their vision actually looks like. Friedman talks about a design that is similar to an oil rig in the distance, parts of which could be varied but modular, perhaps connected by suspension bridge-like structures.

 

Another pioneer of marine life, Norman Nixon, CEO of Freedom Ship would actually have to build something that looks like a huge ship, but about four times as large as the largest cruise ships in the present, and 50 000 inhabitants course offers. The project had, however, in Nixon’s own words, by making “some learning experiences” – among other alleged an executive secretary to the entire corporate capital was in shady “Peruvian gold certificates” and thus destroyed.

 

A design that is behind at least a respected and decorated with numerous awards architect, are the so-called Lilypads . What the Belgian Vincent Callebaut has come up with is not only visually more demanding than the aesthetics of the Oil Rig Seasteading Institute or Nixon mega Aida. The idea behind the idea sounds a bit more serious than about the “dope-for-all” philosophy Friedman. Callebaut sees his water lily cities as residential facilities for the people of those States whose flat island kingdom will fall at some point most likely the climate change related sea level rise to the victim.

 

The Lilypads would have to offer it even more than a Pacific atoll, for example, mountains and the possibility of using the ocean currents to be constantly traveling around the world. With solar, wind and wave power plants they should be energy self-sufficient, by rain catcher and reprocessing do not need a supply of fresh water and hanging gardens and much of the food demand on board, or whatever you will call it then, satisfy. Will be complemented by your own vegetables then, among other fish and algae catch. Only one Callebaut know yet: how much the whole thing would cost, and who should pay for it.

 

Therefore, it will come with the floating city of the future probably just as with pretty much all the technological revolutions of the past: they are not created on a model of large vision, but pragmatic, practical, step by step along the reality. So you have in the Netherlands. Approximately in Maasbommel in the province of Gelderland, already begun to build in areas where due to flooding risk is actually forbidden to all settlement activity, houses Whose cellars are however huge tubs, and with rising water they swim along piers anchored deep in the ground, just stop.

 

The architect Ken Olthuis about who designed such buildings, with boat garage on the lower deck and parking for the car one floor up. Also, this type of construction is not cheap, but if anyone can be a pioneer in transition to climate-related amphibious lifestyle, it’s probably the Dutch, in which a quarter of its territory is already below sea level.

 

But perhaps those pioneering role will also take very different. In Bangladesh, for example, the country where the rising sea levels of millions of people will be affected, farmers have begun not only to grow on floating carpet of water hyacinths vegetables. Here and there, such as recently reported a writer from Bangladesh on BBC Radio, it is also already dwellings enter not at all wealthy families, the foundation of bamboo, air-filled canisters, drums and plastic bottles are made and which will float in a flood.

 

The land on the Indian subcontinent, although one of the poorest in the world. The inventiveness of the narrows, however. Feasibility studies also requires anyone – and no “approval to the exhibition of animals.” Which had to receive in addition to many other papers, a group of young people in New York, the Waterpod inhabits a kind of self-catering houseboat. The approval was necessary for the onboard chicken coop open for visitors on the ark. Access to the public a few days ago for the first time should be possible. But there were technical problems – not with the chicken coop, but the gangway.

 

Original article.

 

I want to create a floating Hong Kong (FAZ.net – September 7, 2009)

 

English translationPDF Download

 

Patri Friedman wants to colonize the oceans with islands. The grandson of famed economist Milton Friedman has quit his job in order to realize an anarcho-capitalist utopia.

 

Mr. Friedman, in the United States, the tax and social security burden is relatively low. You could be happy! S tatt which you wish to migrate to the sea in order to pay no taxes anymore?

 

I am concerned not only about economic issues. The United States is also the country with the most prisoners in the world – the so-called land of the free! And as far as taxes, I would not fret about Sun, if the money was spent on useful things. But the state is wasted. My fundamental question is: Our country is much too cumbersome. Imagine a government and tax system, so the whole set of rules and laws, even as the technology front. But you should experiment with technology, and we must say that we are experimenting with very little! The state system is a technology – and it is in this sector absolutely no start-ups. We want to allow people to experiment with forms of government, enabling progress.

 

They are since 2008 President of “Seasteading Institute”, which has set itself the goal to build floating, autonomous settlements. On these like-minded citizens to live far out on the oceans. Majestic in open waters, in forms of government that they choose themselves In our world there are already one hundred ninety-three countries. Is there because none of it, with you too could come to terms?

 

No. Because in countries that offer more control freedom, there is less economic freedom. Our idea is greater: Instead of one hundred ninety-three countries, there will be thousands of countries, with a much wider range of tax and social security systems. Our problem is not the number of states, but the high entry barriers to this “market” is. To try a new system, you would have to make a revolution. Or win a war. Maybe you would have to only win an election, but this is very difficult.

 

That is probably true for your project. Until last year, you have indeed worked as an engineer for Google, you can say, for the most innovative company in the world. It was there so you too conventional?

 

Exactly. We did market research. That was quite interesting, but not nearly as exciting as to revolutionize the world.

 

Do you love the ocean?

 

Yes. But that is not the motivation for our project. The political idea is central: We want more versatility and innovation. Countries and for start-ups, the ocean is the best room. At the moment, we talk a lot, present our ideas to design good-looking models, blogging – these are the simplest exercises. To collect more money, specifically to work with the engineers to implement the project step by step is much more difficult, but also more important. We just built the first model finished, but we need to improve it further before we build the prototype, which will in a few years floating off the coast of San Francisco.

 

How long did it take from the idea to the decision to make this science fiction idea seriously?

 

The idea came in 2001, at a time when I had a student a lot of time. I read a lot about the ideas of the Libertarians. At some point I realized that I only had the opportunity given to live in the free society that matches my mind when we found many, many different companies who join together in a competition for residents. I wrote the book “Seasteading: A Practical Guide to Homesteading the High Seas”. Then, I went but only to Google, married, became a father. If I had no family, I could now live on a raft in the Mediterranean Sea, a coffee shop and write over the satellite Internet a blog where I could call my own country. But only now, after looking at the Paypal founder Peter Thiel has donated $ 500,000, we are pushing the project forward concrete.

 

What “freedom” you are looking for on the sea?

 

I’ve always had a desire for personal freedom, since I was a child. What motivates me is not so much the desire to do and be able to do what I want.Rather, it bothers me to have to live in a society with thousands of people who all have different, their own ideas of right and law. So I have to live every day with rules that others do and where I do not agree. I therefore feel they live in a depraved society, but wants to live in a society that shares my values.

 

And soon you’ll be the first political refugees of Western democracy.

 

Hm, funny! You know, democracy is at the moment of the latest technology. I do not consider it for the flowering of technology rules the political and social systems. If we could just experiment and diversify, we found determined systems that work better.

 

What did your colleagues?

 

You are crazy! They found it but also courageous, that I give up my job for a passion.

 

They want even more, especially economic freedom, which certainly lies in your genes: Her grandfather was the Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, and even her father David is an academic freedom fighters. Now if you one day out to sea driven with your tiny, floating raft State that would seriously reduces your quality of life. Imagine, you would really want to live there!

 

At first it will be pretty tough, but in the long term, the islands are getting better and bigger and bigger.

 

She once lived in a small village?

 

No. I was born on the east coast and had lived 15 years in California, currently in a settler community.

 

You know the feeling, the ceiling falling on your head?

 

Absolutely. But I can well imagine a loud people that I like to live for weeks and months at a floating settlements. I would travel between by simply time to time in major cities.

 

They had to suffer many losses for your zero percent tax, for the freedom to assist the poor who want to support you, not the state, for school choice for your son and so on. No forest, no mountains, no coast.

 

If I did not expect that the first small modules could grow in the long term, I would not be interested in that idea. I want to create a floating Hong Kong, not a floating village! And that will take decades at best. Maybe I did not even go to more freedom, but I work for a company that will be free.

 

Your country will never be able to be autonomous – without soil, without sources of fresh water.

 

I do not know so well. I would argue that a state is sovereign then, if he can defend himself. Monaco also he has no agriculture. You know Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage? Maybe we’ll produce enough sushi for ourselves and for export. Otherwise a sea state is actually probably never have a comparative advantage in food production.

 

Could you imagine free floating island states for ideological groups seeking not freedom, but the opposite – maybe for fascists?

 

Absolutely!

 

Then we would have thus a fascist island, one for nudists, five anarcho-capitalist or a hundred islands for Palestinians and Israelis

 

Yes, it’s very great! Or do we build these islands for people who want to not pollute the environment more. The more, the better, as long as everyone can choose where he lives.

 

And when an Israeli and a Palestinian island get too close, then they change direction?

 

Hopefully they simply drift far apart.

 

A strange utopia, right?

 

Yes.

 

Is there on your island police?

 

Perhaps the police should be in private. I do not know that we would try it and find out if it’s good.

 

What else is allowed, what is fun? Drug use, trafficking, cannibalism?

 

I do not want to be the boss of all the islands, each should decide for themselves.My concern is that adults are free to decide the State in which they live and that this state of its environment is not dangerous. Issues affecting children, are very complicated. If it among adults free from conformity to cannibalism comes, I have absolutely no problem with that.

 

Now, one may express many doubts about the feasibility of your project – on the funding, storms and tsunamis, terrorist attacks, and pirates. You constantly hear. Annoys you that, it slows the imagination?

 

Ask me anything about pirates! My friends sometimes ask me in jest, to annoy me, what was the matter, when pirates come. All these questions are answered yes to our website “seasteading.org”.

 

The economist Adolph Wagner once formulated the “law of increasing government spending.” It states that the government’s share is increasing. If it should never give your island states, and you have to pay more taxes – because you could not imagine so close to your peace? Maybe you join a monastic order!

 

No, that’s not for me. The major problems of mankind are for me: mortality, aging, and the restriction that we colonize space can not. Humanity will not longer be able to live long on a planet, the addition also could still be destroyed.We need economic growth in order to improve all these things, because that is very expensive.

 

Have you talked to your grandfather died in 2006, Milton Friedman about your fantasy ocean?

 

Unfortunately, he was already very old when I told him about it. He did not think I would ever build such an island. He thought it was an excuse. He always wanted to live with the existing States, but he was living in a time in which the state has been getting bigger and bigger. That is with us in the family so a very natural progression from generation to generation: My father then said before, we want more freedom, but it does not work well in a democracy. He defends the so-called anarcho-capitalism.

 

My son is three and a half years old. Shows he has some behavioral problems? He gladly runs away again?

 

He spoke early and talks a lot. A really independent spirit!

 

And you will not be disappointed in him if he will not be the first person who enters the Martian?

 

No, I think it will take a long time before we colonize space, the space is very expensive. We need only times a few decades for the ocean.

 

Original article.

 

Wir fangen noch mal an… (Blog interviewing Patri, 2008).

 

Existing companies can not change it, believes Patri Friedman. He wants to build floating countries in the ocean, where people live the way they want

 

Patri Friedman is dissatisfied with the states that there is in the world already. Therefore, he wants to build new. On platforms in the ocean. For this to happen, founded the former Google software engineer, the Seasteading Institute . We asked Mr. Friedman, why it must be states on the water and how that is.

 

Detonator: Mr. Friedman, why should I leave my comfortable home to move to a remote platform in the ocean?

 

Patri Friedman: I’m not sure if you want to. But there are many people who are not satisfied with the way their companies operate. You have new ideas for rules, according to which they want to live. You will find people who think the same, live by these rules and want to establish a new form of government.

 

Detonator: Would not it make more sense to modify already existing companies on land?

 

Friedman: That would be better in any case – if it were possible. But as existing states function as change takes place there, it is not realistic to achieve a real difference. When the government of a country thought of as part of an industry, they see: There is no competition, and it’s pretty hard to build a new state. The customer, ie the citizens of a state, are also bound over extremely long periods of government and states. Compare that with a mobile phone contract for a year or two! It is very difficult and expensive to move from one country to another. And governments have no incentive to do better, because people are either way there. 

 

Detonator: On the ocean that it should no longer give anything? 

Friedman: On the ocean we want to overcome these drawbacks. We want to build the floating cities from modular units. If anyone does not feel like a city, he simply floats to another and this is followed. Cities can freely decide which country they want to join, and so on. On land that is not possible, no country in the EU, for example, can simply swim away and join another alliance. It might not exactly cheap to pull the sea. But it is definitely better than to live on land.

 

Detonator: Now, when many people give up their land and join existence floating States that would not be a problem for conventional States?

 

Friedman: I hope so. Then there would finally be some competition in the industrial countries, governments have finally more incentives to work better.

 

Detonator: The idea sounds good to get used to. But this is not more of a luxury project for a wealthy elite? What ordinary people would that be?

 

Friedman states on land tend to favor the elites rather than to serve the average citizen. Elites also have advantages, for example when it comes to a court case, because they simply can not afford the best lawyers. Our project would not before sharing an elite, idealists. People who have a very clear idea of how they want to live. That’s a minority, but this minority is large enough to establish new countries on the sea. You would be too small to change something in a democratic country. 

 

Detonator: In the swimming States to be home to people as they want, without having to submit to governmental regulations and states must. But what if someone built on a platform of a fascist regime and killing people? How much will the swimming States may, where draw a line?

 

Friedman: If one of the swimming States attacked another, then you have to be able to defend themselves. That is clear. Difficult to answer the question, what happens if within societies people are treated badly. Our idea is: As long as people are free to choose which company they join, we need not worry about what is happening inside a company. Because the people have voluntarily chosen this company yes. Of course there are special cases, for example when it comes to children, or if states do not allow information from outside the country. Then you would have to intervene. 

 

Detonator: What role would then play universal human rights?

 

Friedman: Each company should determine for themselves what they are for human rights. They should not harm the rest of the world, pollute the environment or develop weapons of mass destruction. An important part of our idea is that we create as many different companies as possible. With different rights and rules. As an experiment to see how they work. If we were to require the states to which human rights they have to hold themselves, the experiment would be pointless.

 

Detonator: People in swimming States must also make a living. Economic opportunities are not very restricted by the life on the water? 

 

Friedman: Economic issues are actually the biggest problem. Therefore, our island states will be economically linked as much as possible with the rest of the world and trading. Even island states or cities-without their own natural resources can be very wealthy. Hong Kong is the best example.

 

Detonator: How will people find partners and reproduce when they have so little choice?

 

Friedman: There will be many holiday trips. If you live in a small, isolated village on land, so they visit every now and then larger cities. What works in small towns will also work in swimming States. In addition, the platform will be mobile. Several floating cities or states could then unite as a festival.

 

Detonator: Were it not for these companies still peoples of philistines, because there are few cinemas or theaters were on the platforms?

 

Friedman: No one will live the whole year on a platform. Neither do I. Maybe just under two thirds of a year. In the remaining time, you can visit other countries and cities and get the culture that you need. 

 

Detonator: the platforms Would not lead to environmental problems in the ocean? 

 

Friedman: The swimming States must not prejudice the rest of the world. Therefore, you may not pollute the environment. And oceans are already very resilient ecosystems. But platforms could even help the environment. We want to build fish farms there has been mainly on the coast and in lakes, on the open sea, they would do less damage. 

 

Detonator: What will it cost a swimming-state? 

 

Friedman: We want here in the San Francisco Bay first build a test island, which will be a few hundred square meters. This will cost nearly a million dollars. For larger platforms in the open sea would have to invest a few dozen million. Dört could then live but also hundreds of people. The price per square meter would then be a few hundred dollars. 

 

Detonator: Your goal is to live on the platforms independently of other states. How to achieve it?

 

Friedman: Ideally, we can build the platform in international waters and conclude bilateral treaties with some states. These countries would then let us grant, if we fulfill certain conditions. Until we’re ready, but will be a long time. Until then, we can run the platforms under a “flag of convenience”. That is, we take as the Panamanian flag, then include legal terms for this state, which leaves us in peace. 

 

Questions of Stefan Kesselhut

 

Original article.

 

 

Estonian

 

Milton Friedman’s grandson establishes novel ocean free city (Postimees – May 19, 2011)

 

Classic free-market economy and the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman’s grandson, Patri Friedman is carrying the project, with the aim of available countries away from the settlements on artificial islands offshore, and that these various novel political and social state models tested.

 

In presenting their project gone Patri Friedman, The Seasteading Institute CEO was in a meeting organized by the club in Misese «Marine introductions and Freedom» Tallinn English College lecture room on Tuesday, 17 May evening.

 

The idea of marine introductions is to build communities, to be able to experiment with new social opportunities in order to meet 21st century.

 

As the land is occupied territories for the different countries, it desirable to build these communities to the sea, to be able to experiment with alternative forms of governments today outside of any national legal validity.

 

Although different theories can tell us how their lives would be better to set up, the next step will inevitably theories into practice in order to show to a wider audience, how it could materialize in reality.

 

As a next step to make the world turn around rändabki Patri Friedman, in order to inform people untried possibilities and find the project’s supporters.

 

It was founded as a typist The Seasteading Institute 2008th In the spring, a half million dollar venture supported by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel immediately. Its aim is to establish an economically independent offshore operating entirely on their own to start receiving settlements.

 

If companies can test new technologies, and the like, the countries of governance is not new. In the manner proposed would be an opportunity to try them in practice, said Google tarkvarainsenerina previously worked for Friedman.

 

If everything is still working on the system, just ranting, then Friedman decided that the real manner. “I’m libertariaan, who thinks most of the methods of increasing the freedom libertariaane wrong. I believe that such free-floating islands and cities of the construction management professional societies, leading to a rapid pace of innovation and growth in diversity. ”

 

He thinks that the movement libertaanlikus too much academic debate and theorizing and elements, while too little entrepreneurial element and a practical example to show activity.

 

Many libertaanlased dealing with his opinion and criticism of governmental action pointless complaining about, rather than compete with the governments of the post.

 

Friedman examines the governments of the countries where the services are and where people pay taxes and receive a service, it does not deal with governments üldfilosoofilise discussing morality. It can also be seen in his opinion and the governments of the countries where the technologies that will operate on the basis of the law.

 

While we look steadily from his life miserable proven solutions and try out new ones, then nothing happens after that of governance.

 

Some of the common representative democracy, in his view, and it does not develop valitsemistehnoloogia poor, since it is a monopoly. Friedman is also the example of a bad way the business sector, which is dominated by big companies and where to enter the new company set very high barriers.

 

New forms of governance, however, can not be tested, because the states are available throughout the land among themselves, so with their adherents, Friedman decided to look instead towards the open sea.

 

Floating Islands’ goal is not to take a particular practice or libertanistlikku anarchistic society model, but test the tiny communities and innovative sootsiumites radically different social order.

 

And because these communities consist of artificial islands in terms of the structure of the modules, it would be an act of competing forms of government in which the people can decide which belong to the society, without leaving home. But leaving and joining together naaberasundusega’s home, and the government will make the people of the most satisfying decisions.

 

Friedman called it the system of voting with feet modeled homers voting. Military government announced the next morning to find himself so people tühjaksjooksnuna.

 

Anyway, the complexion of the sea Settler Project – is now behind long-term investors, and how many people will work on a daily basis, through the settlements for all kinds of issues, from the field to the legislation on Engineering and business issues.

 

If the anticipated beginning of the first prototype of a floating island in San Francisco Bay to present in 2010. year, then the current plan by the deadline set for the presentation of the first settlement in the 2014th year.

 

Original article.

 

 

Spanish

 

Spanish Maritime Institute Interview with Miguel Lamas, “The cruise market will create authentic floating cities” (September 12, 2011)

The floating city is possible (La Voz de Galicia – August 29, 2011)

 

Since Miguel Lamas Pardo (Ferrol, 1976) met with the project for the creation of small city-states in the middle of the ocean, their involvement in the initiative has not stopped growing. This engineer provides expertise in naval shipbuilding. Not surprisingly, it takes more than ten years working in shipyards in the Ria de Vigo. The idea, promoted by the Seasteading Institute, located in Silicon Valley (California, USA), famous for being the world’s business brain, the spot from which illuminates the future of the global economy, has the backing of great benefactors as the owner of PayPal, Peter Thiel, who just donated $ 1.25 million to ensure that it becomes a reality soon.

 

- What exactly is the Seasteading Institute?

- This is a think tank, which is the term used in English to define a laboratory of ideas. People around the world share their knowledge in the various fields necessary to achieve a goal. In this case, to create a floating city, functioning as a small country. But the institute which will not build.

 

- How did your relationship with this institution?

- A little over two years I began to have contacts through Internet point with the Seasteading Institute. They began to offer my opinion on various aspects of marine engineering, and they invited me to a conference held in San Francisco. From there, the collaboration was intensified until in the last few months all the work I’ve developed what have become my dissertation.

 

- Is the dream of creating a floating city is possible?

- Of course. As everyone, at first, the idea also gave me some surprise, but when you surround yourself with the innovative environment that exists in Silicon Valley you realize that you are such groundbreaking concepts that change the world. Without going any further, Peter Thiel, who just donated over one million dollars to the cause, built his fortune on two ideas that now seem everyday: make payments for our purchases over the Internet (PayPal) and the show part of our life in the Red (Facebook).

 

- But technically you can take on the challenge?

- Yes. Precisely my thesis is to show that the problem is not technical but political and economic.

 

- And there’s someone who has already launched its construction?

- Two of the members of the platform created Blueseed, a for-profit initiative that aims to Silicon Valley, through floating structures in coastal California.

 

- Do you really believe that in the near future there will be many cities in the middle of the ocean?

- That’s the idea that handles Patri Friedman, the heart of the Seasteading Institute and grandson of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, free market advocate. He argues that if the current economic system anyone can start a business, the next step in the evolution of humanity will be able to create our state.

 

- Having worked with this laboratory of ideas, what level is believed to Galician marine engineering?

- At this point, I have no doubt. Galician marine engineering industry and are at the highest global level and so I think we should continue in the future. Unfortunately the workload has fallen considerably in recent months and many companies, including mine, have been forced to implement a redundancy. I hope the situation will recover as soon as possible.

Miguel Lamas ferrolano Engineer advises the Seasteading Institute

 

Original article.

 

Run Your Own Country (El País, April 15, 2011)

 

In 1959, the movie The Mouse That roared (in Spanish, a knockout) showed a Peter Sellers smallest sovereign state in the world engaged in combat with medieval weapons U.S. supremacy. A satire of the Cold War based on the novel by Leonard Wibberley anticipating a global revolution on a small scale: the birth of micronations, self-declared states founded by dissident citizens with patriotism deterministic criteria.

 

“We might attribute its emergence to the hippy era,” the filmmaker Jody Shapiro, who attended the recent Miami Film Festival to present his documentary How to Start Your Own Country (How to build your own nation). “However, historically there many previous examples. When the Mayflower left Harwich in 1620 and landed for the first time in North America, the U.S. was considered a micronation. was not used exactly that term, but there are contemporary documents of the British Parliament which refer to them as a yet unrecognized independent state. ”

 

The maximum difference of micronations today regarding former colonizers is that nobody walks claiming the territory of others by force. “Just try to start fresh from his own place,” says Shapiro, whose career includes producing films of Guy Maddin or short series Green Porno with Isabella Rossellini. The director was fascinated to discover Erwin Strauss’s book How to Start Your Own Country (1985).

 

Today there is even a Lonely Planet guide about micronations of the world, but then that was the first attempt to gloss over the phenomenon. “My purpose in making the film was a portrait not extensive, but raise more questions than answers, trying to understand what makes a country be considered as such. I realized that there is no clear definition of what is a country. According to the Montevideo Convention of 1933, there are four requirements to be considered a State: a population, a territory, a form of government and the recognition by other states internationally recognized as such. And more questions arise here: How many countries have to recognize you? Does one? hundred? “.

 

In her search for answers, went primarily to the United Nations and asked the same question that many of you will be doing, how many nations in the world? Stop counting. This was his response: “We have no idea.” “Well, actually it was even more shocking, literally told me: ‘We are not an authority on the subject. Please consult your local bookstore or a world almanac.” Currently, the UN has 192 member states. And there is a whole network around micronations seeking recognition. “There’s even a New York agency called Independent Diplomat basically dedicated to providing rental diplomats to give them a voice.” Most have currency, stamps or own passport.

 

There are historical cases that have stood up to international law. As the Principality of Sealand, an offshore platform 10 miles of Suffolk (England) that was taken by a pirate radio show in the sixties, Paddy Roy Bates, and ended up proclaiming their sovereign. In 1968, his son was put on trial for opening fire on a British Navy attempted eviction and won the case, which was interpreted as evidence of de facto sovereignty.

 

Beyond conflict over territorial waters, The Seasteading Institute, founded by Silicon Valley geek Patri Friedman, raises since 2008 solutions found floating offshore communities. “After a decade trying to bring about changes in the U.S. political system, concluded that it was impossible to do in a deep or lasting, especially if yours is a minority opinion,” said his press secretary, Randolph Hencken. “Over the settlements on the sea opens a realistic chance to experiment with ideas and governmental policies can not be tested in established nations.” This draft 2.0 countries, largely funded by Peter Thiel, co-creator of PayPal, studying formulas technological, legal and financial to create self-sustainable platforms that facilitate the birth of any State, “from a gambling paradise like Las Vegas to a sharia Islamic republic “in the words of Shapiro.

 

There are examples with a purely pop temperament. The conceptual artist Gregory Green founded in 1996 The New Free State of Caroline, who eventually settled on an island whose final whereabouts still refuses to disclose, and has about 4,000 citizens (“just send me an e-mail to gregorygreen59@hotmail.com to be “easy) and 14 consulates in the world (the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, among them). “This founding a nation no longer own a romantic idea,” he admits. “But that’s the most important aspect of this phenomenon. All major political changes started with a romantic idea to make this a better world.”

 

Original article.

 

The conquest of the ocean (CNNExpansion.com, Nov 19, 2009)

 

In 2030, world population will exceed 8,000 million. Of those, 5.000 million are concentrated in urban areas, predicts the Center for Human Settlements (UN Habitat or UNCHS, for its acronym in English). Seeking solutions to overcrowding, or resize the luxury ocean gain ground, architects and real estate developers create new horizons for saltwater.

 

Theo Eicher, professor of economics at Washington State University, a study estimated that if a house cost $ 221.000 in 1989, could be worth real (inflation-adjusted) of $ 447.000 in 2006, due to the use regulations of soil. Something similar happens in the Bay of San Francisco, where the average house price is half a million dollars.

 

The Institute of Marine Appropriation (Seasteading Institute), headquartered in Mountain View, California, hopes to reduce housing costs to colonize the oceans. “There is enough space in the sea to avoid the costs imposed by zoning and regulation of the land.”

 

In 2008, Wayne Gramlich and Patri Friedman founded the Seasteading Institute (seasteading.org), for research and development of structures in the sea. The institute, which has among its benefactors to Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay Pal works with the firm of naval architecture and engineering Marine Innovation & Technology (IM & T).

 

“It would be very expensive if cities pretendieran replicate marine life as it is on land,” said Patri Friedman, executive director of the Seasteading Institute.

 

The main problem to solve is not technically and logistically it would take timely and costly provisions.

 

At first the houses would also be expensive (about $ 300 per ft2 [0093 m 2]), but to the extent that popularized the concept would reduce prices. “In two to five years would begin building a small settlement at sea of between 10 and 200 people, while the first city marina, to about 100,000 people, would be ready in 25 years,” says Friedman.

 

To date, the institute now has the outlines of various projects like ClubStead, a development of offices, apartments and a floating resort seven levels, casino and 200 rooms.

 

Engineering is by Alexia Aubault, Dominique Roddier and Christian Cermelli, IM & T, while the architectural design is Wendy Sitler-Roddier, signature ELS Architecture + Urban Planning, both based in San Francisco.

 

According to preliminary studies IM & T, the structural design is based on the construction of a primary horizontal platform semisubmersible. On it would rise four towers supported with steel cables that would provide a better balance between the forces of tension and compression, caused by wind and wave action.

 

Locate the structure in the sea has its challenge. One option is the use of submerged pillars that support the building, which will give strength by reinforced concrete and steel. Another, is to anchor the structures in a ‘mountain’ marina, or place them in areas with stable wind and currents. Even thinking of installing engines and GPS systems to keep the structures in place.

 

Dominique Roddier, IM & T vice president, explained that the development of the whole structure would take between 12 and 18 months. It would be built on land and sea transport to your destination.

 

“The Seasteading follow the right steps to have advice from architects and marine engineers. Thanks to this progress has been made with the project, “says Roddier.

 

But there are projects that are already reality. The U.S. manufacturer of acrylic panels and structures Reynolds Polymer Technology (RPT) designs aquariums halls, restaurants and spas submarines. The most famous is the restaurant Ithaa Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (formerly Hilton), plunged five meters into the sea, with a 270 degree view of the Indian Ocean reefs.

 

The planning was the responsibility of the firm Crown of the Maldives and Built by New Zealand’s MJ Murphy, who completely assembled onshore restaurant in Singapore, and then take him to the Maldives.

 

It is a steel frame and acrylic that allows diners to admire the marine life. “For air circulation inside were installed air conditioning units on each side of the room submerged. Underfloor air ducts that run up the sides of the stairs to get to the surface, “explains Dave Duff, Vice President of Research and Development of RPT.

 

Mike Chesney, director of Dear and Facilities RPT argues that acrylic was used because it retains its clarity over time, while the glass is taking a greenish color for their steel content. “The color distortion ruins the experience, especially when it comes to observe marine life.”

 

According to Chesney, acrylic is 17 times stronger than glass and four times stronger than concrete to withstand sea pressure. In the case of restaurants or spas, details Chesney, rooms are assembled acrylic ground and then placed with cranes and sandbags attached to the structure to be submerged, while a group of divers guide placement.

 

RTP participated in other projects such as the spa on the island Huvafen Fushi Maldives, dipped to 3.3 meters, the underwater aquarium in Dubai Mall, where the company installed 14 acrylic windows of 6.3 m wide, 5.5 m high and 386 mm thick and an acrylic tunnel 48 m long which is located 11 m below the sea and offers a 270 degree view of marine life.

 

Over 20 years ago, Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman of the Arab developer Nakheel, built the largest port ever made by man. Unhappy with achieving just that, the Sultan decided to apply the same technology in reverse to create the largest artificial islands in the world.

 

In the late ’90s, he ordered Bin Sulayem 50 feasibility studies requiring 42 consultants and three years to determine the engineering, architecture, traffic and business model.

 

Nakheel commissioned construction companies Jan De Nul of Belgium and Holland Van Oord, create the Palm islands (Jumeirah, Jebel Ali and Deira) and the World Map. The idea was announced in May 2002 and now only remains in the Palm Deira construction, which will be open to the public in 2013.

 

To build the islands were used about 80 boats made expressly for dredging, suction, drive and cut.Over 27 million tons of rock were the key to building the ‘Palm’ and breakwater “absent, the islands would disintegrate with the passage of some storms,” says Wim Dhont, Middle East specialist of Jan De Nul .

 

The document forming the world, Van Oord details that, after pouring the rocks up to 3 meters high, divers experts examine every rock and geotextile mesh placement underwater to ensure correct positioning.

 

Other vessels removed and emptied 600 million m 3 of sand from the Persian Gulf. To shape cutters used boats. Then vibrocompactadoras machines to cement solidified the ground and planting vegetation (12,000 palm trees).

 

In the next phase was built infrastructure and services, such as bridges connecting the 300 m islands to the mainland.

 

The Palm Jumeirah is the smallest (5.6 km). Construction began in June 2001. It has a trunk and branches formed 17 to 94 million m 3 of sand and a hoop (breakwater) of 11.5 km which required seven million tons of rock. It has 30 hotels, 4,000 villas, 3,000 apartments and 80 penthouses. 8,000 people reside there.

 

As for the Palm Jebel Ali (12 km 2), Jan De Nul used 230 million m 3 of sand to create between 2002 and 2007, an island with a 20,000 m artificial reef that required 20 million tons of rocks and materials facilitate the accumulation of nutrients to support an abundance of marine life.

 

The hallmark of this palm are its 504 houses built on platforms in waters of the Arabian Sea, as well as departments and residence hotels that serve 300,000 people.

 

The Palm Deira (46.3 km 2) was begun in 2003. Van Oord will use 1.140 million m 3 of sand to complete the island in 2013. The total area is larger than the city of Paris and will house one million people.

 

Finally, The World (28 km 2) consists of 300 private artificial islands. It took 320 million m 3 of sand and 34 million tons of rock.

The sale of each island of The World is by invitation (about 50 per year between businessmen, celebrities and royals) and the price varies between 20 and 50 million dollars.

 

The first individual projects will be ready in late 2010.

 

Original article.

 

The Crisis Checked by the Ocean (El Mañana, July 6, 2009)

 

They plan to develop residential and commercial project in San Francisco Bay

 

San Francisco, California. – By 2010, at least one person will remain one year at sea. This is not a scientific experiment, but a draft plan to develop real estate in San Francisco Bay.

 

Homes and businesses over the Pacific Ocean looking to be the answer to the housing crisis affecting the neighboring country.

 

The price on the first platform of 3000 estimate is $ 228 per square meter.

 

“We believe we can offer office space on the coast comparable or slightly higher (in price) in San Francisco.

 

“It is true that a place in the sea is not cheap, but innovation is expensive, and we expect the price to fall as fast as the movement progresses,” says the website The Seasteading Institute.

 

Seasteading means living in houses built on the high seas, that is, the construction of permanent housing in the ocean using specially designed structures to resist the effects of remaining in the marine environment.

 

A year after the idea emerged, the Institute, consisting of engineers and investors, working overtime to get ready the first design running before end of 2009.

 

Between February and March brought together designers and architects to create the floating city of their dreams.

 

András Gyorfi, Hungary, won the competition with his project The Swimming City, a place of recreation.

 

During July and September The Seasteading Institute plans to develop the prototype for presentation in the fourth quarter and then inhabit.

 

The Institute’s mission is to establish a permanent aquatic communities and autonomous allowing them to experience various social, political and legal.

 

Previously, projects and Sealand Ship Freedom came with the idea of living in buildings surrounded by water.

 

Sealand, which at the time was an esplanade and marina has 550 square meters of floor area, is home to the family of Paddy Roy Bates and is located 10 kilometers off the coast of Suffolk, UK.

 

In 1967 it was proclaimed a State, but the British government does not recognize it.

 

Freedom Ship, meanwhile, is a city boat promoted by entrepreneur Norman Nixon, but so far has stopped.

 

Original article.

 

 

Polish

 

Seasteading – Creating their own state on the sea (The Economist: The Ideas Economy, January 21, 2012

 

 

 

Portuguese

 

For A Fresh Start At Sea (O Globo, April 17, 2010. Brazilian newspaper with readership of 1,100,000)

 

RIO – Mathematician Patri Friedman, grandson of Milton Friedman – one of the most important economists of the twentieth century, Nobel Prize in 1976 and greater influence of neoliberalism – favors a resumption of society. In fact, several restarts, commented libertarian, 33, who was in Brazil to attend a seminar at the invitation of Millennium Institute. But since there is no more free land to explore, defend cities floating in the ocean. There, each group would experience your ideal economic model. In it, the government would have a minor role and the financial system would be decentralized. In its forecast, your project, still no location set, would be ready in 2015 and receive 50 people. He says studies show that one-tenth of the world population is willing to leave their country to try and welfare elsewhere. Is it?

 

How would these cities at sea?

 

The goal is to let people try out new ideas of how to live in society. Everything on a smaller scale and at sea. It would be a fresh start, too based on technology. And it would be a small group of people living together, trying something new. Remember that most ideas almost never leaves large companies, but small businesses, small groups. An example: the iPod. Apple has not made the first portable music. A small group did, and then they saw that it worked and decided to make a better version. But the original idea was for a small group. The important thing is that cities start small, so that ideas arise.

 

Life at sea is dangerous, no? Expects many fans?

 

Our forecasts suggest that by 2015 we will have the first city, with 50 people. It would be the first community that can become large. Who does not care about the dangers could go. But many will not want to live in these experiments. Most prefer to live like this, in a big world where she feels safe with the current system. About the dangers of the ocean? Platforms and cruises are good example of success. It’s just a question of money. The waves more expensive problem. Tsunamis are not problems in the ocean, only when they arrive on the coast is that they are great. But hurricanes, yes, they are problems. We’ll have to make buildings that are large enough. Okay, with technology, everything can work.

 

It would be a new beginning?

 

Were several restarts and an optional form. It is not a revolution, when people are forced to start over. You will join the resumption if you want. Nobody is forced to nothing. We want multiple beginnings. You can iniar something really different, you start somewhere empty. The Old World discovered the New World to start new companies.Now there is no more place for pioneers. All land is already occupied. Let’s make a new space to be discovered.

 

Do you think the current models are wrong?

 

The models do not work very well. So we are trying new things. But I will not force anyone to try my ideas. I want to find a group that does not agree with the model today and get an idea of a better system.

 

You are against the government, as an institution?

 

I am not against government. But I am against the current models of government. The government are large when compared to companies. It would not be such a problem if local authorities had more autonomy. But all the power goes to the capital, in all countries. The exception is Switzerland. Typically, government failure rather than the market. And the government compels people to do things. With the government, there is no competition, but monopoly. Remember that there are no angels in government. Instead, selfishness and greed, which also appear in the business world. The point is that these ingredients in the government do more damage than the companies. At sea, cities can test management alternatives. As each group would have a different idea of government, several models were tried. And instead of debating and writing books, we would have more experiments. In my city, I seek less intervention. Communists are welcome to start a life in the oceans. As capitalists. So let’s see if I’m right or wrong. Then, who knows, even me speechless.

 

Many people want a strong government …

 

Alright. But it is easier to convince people with real examples of what arguments. I think the system does not work right because the government is great. In the ocean, cities can try new things and can fix the government, which will stimulate even other economies. If a lot of people go to the ocean, the government here will try to improve to prevent this evasion. It is a novel way of competition. If a lot of people out of Porto Alegre, for example, and you live in floating cities, the government will want to know what is there and where you can improve.

 

But a project is economically viable?

 

The initial investment is $ 5000 per square meter, which is not that high of a cost to the city. But the costs go down. And when they get cheaper, we have factories and people come from all over the world. Has a study done in every country that asked how many would move to another country in search of other life better: a tenth would move. One goal of the towns in the ocean is to put a competition between cities. If cities were run by businessmen, there would be more competitive. Today, we make the laws and then check to see if they work.

 

These cities can not become strongholds of equals?

 

There are several of these proposals and ideas is a gay city. Several groups might want to stay together, yes. But other groups would like to be together as religious.

 

And where is the democracy?

 

Democracy works best in small groups. With fewer people, democracy can function better. At sea, you can give more voice to each. In a country with 200 million inhabitants, your vote does not matter. Then, the individual cares more about what’s going to make for dinner than to choose the best policy. We’re talking about 200 million people. But if we move to a city with a thousand inhabitants in the ocean, your vote really matters and your ideas can really be heard.

 

Who would protect your new system?

 

The government. I do not want a city without a government. Let’s try to make other new forms of government. I would prefer less intervention. But others may want more intervention. There are several answers to this question. What I see in practice is that the model will work. In my town, I’d like less intervention. But there may be another more intervention. We’ll see what will work.

 

The global crisis has shown that government intervention can save the economy, no?

 

There are other perspectives on the crisis, as he believes that governments have caused much of the trouble. When buying banks, governments may have taken their economies from the crisis may have done or things get even worse. Part of the reason of the global crisis is that the financial systems of countries are large and similar. In the ocean, the idea is that there are different kind of government, different types of banks and currencies. Indeed, libertarians believe that different types of currencies and banks would have prevented the crisis. Some believe that the crisis was generated by central banks. I do not know. But if we have cities without central banks, we can see if they are saved when the crisis comes. Today, all countries are so alike, all have central banks. We do not know the answer because we are not trying different things. Perhaps, in the ocean may not have crisis or might be even worse. But what is possible is to test in the real world, instead of staying arguing. It’s pure science.

 

How to distribute income, for example?

 

In different cities, we can test different ways to distribute income. And so people can see what we can do well for the city. If the task of distributing income was made by angels, was well done and the world would be better. But, as is done by the government, there is a plan to distribute to the poor. But when economists look at the government program, usually the opposite happens. And even if the country manages to make this distribution, there is a loss of value. If there is $ 100 for every poor, he will only receive $ 20. This is because the government does not handle and give the money. Instead, it creates different programs and laws: the government wants to control. Only studies show that higher government spending, the country grows more slowly. With more spending, the country gets richer more slowly. This gives a nice graph. I personally think it does not work.

 

Do you agree with the proposal from his grandfather, to have a negative income tax?

 

Yes, but this is very difficult. The beginning, people did not understand what my grandfather said. He wanted to draw a good law for a situation he did not want to exist. He preferred not to have a negative income tax. But this would be a good way to make an income redistribution. Negative income tax is paid at the right hand of the poor, which is much better than giving them food, home. Give the poor money and can decide what they will do.

 

What criticisms do you do with the current financial system of the country ?

 

The higher the country’s dependence on the proper functioning of a few large banks and, worse. That is why it is good to have smaller banks. And thus have a more decentralized system: if some banks fail, it’s okay because it will not ruin the economy. Rather, few and large banks and an adjustment system which allows, for example, a buy other. Every crisis is different. And the regulators make new laws on past crises. It banks always make their way into these laws. You need to decentralize the system with smaller banks. But governments pull to centralization.

 

In Brazil, some measures to contain the crisis included cutting taxes. We right?

 

To stimulate the economy, nothing like cutting taxes. Tipping fees was a better way than in the United States, which gave much money to the banks.

 

If you want to stimulate the economy, cutting taxes is a clever way. Reducing rates is good anytime, anytime.

 

Original article.

 

Living at sea: Seasteading, the project viable for the future (TVI24, March 1, 2010)

 

The idea of a community installed in March is generally associated with libertarianism, philosophy policy that advocates absolute freedom for men, something like anarchy with free competition concerns in the markets. The InstituteSeasteading , the project more viable for the future , is no exception to this trend.

 

The Seasteading scores between rivals for two reasons: bet on a small scale, not falling into the temptation of utopias unaffordable in terms of finance and technology, and the attention of a billionaire with a special flair to dig gold mines.

 

Peter Thiel won the world when it launched the Paypal system and invested $ 500,000 in nowSeasteading Institute. Exactly the same amount as applied on a small project in 2004:

 

Original article.

 

The new frontier of the libertarian movement: colonize the oceans (Gazeta do Povo, 21 June, 2009)

 

Tired of living in a country where a prosecutor wants to stop selling toys in fast-food? Where it is not the owner of the establishment to decide whether to permit smoking on the premises? Where voting is compulsory? Do you think that advances individual freedom are timid and time-consuming?Maybe it’s time to meet the contract led by Patri Friedman, founder of the Seasteading Institute, California and enthusiast an idea that seems to have gone out of science fiction books: create thousands of country-floating, free to set their own forms government.

 

Grandson of the Nobel Prize in economics Milton Friedman, one of the greatest thinkers of the American libertarian movement, Patrick, 32, is taking his grandfather’s teachings to a new stage. He says he believes it is necessary to create a competitive market for governments. And the best way to do this, he argues, is the permanent settlement of the oceans.

 

Prototypes created for the Seasteading Institute: colonization of the oceans will begin slowly, with family-sized platforms

 

“I think the government as an industry that provides services to citizens and businesses.An industry uncompetitive because it is very difficult to start a new country. Like all territories are already occupied, you need to win a war or an election, or a revolution to begin making a new government, “he said in an interview with Gazeta do Povo, by phone.As the last three options seem unrealistic for a relatively small group of libertarians, the best way, and even cheaper, says Friedman, is developing technologies that enable the creation of city-states in the one area that remains free from government : the oceans.

 

To better explain how new and better forms of government could emerge on the high seas, he draws an analogy with multinationals.Companies build new factories and offices in different countries, depending on the incentives they receive – low taxes, for example. But while there is a competition for companies, the same is not true for citizens. “I think this is due to lack of mobility. For a company is relatively easy today, moving to another country. But for people is much more difficult. Some countries will not let you go, others will not let you leave. Outside the financial and emotional cost, which is also high. “

 

With the project of creating floating platforms, in which cities could be built in a modular way and, depending on the wishes of the customer, entire buildings moved to other places, “you could change the country without moving home.” This unprecedented mobility force a competition between governments also unprecedented, says Patrick. “We think a new country as well as business model. If you get a country and do good job in attracting businesses and citizens, serving the needs of both a low cost, then this country will make money. You would force governments to test new institutions and create better places to live. “

 

Story

 

In 2001, Patrick met the engineer Wayne Gramlich, a libertarian science fiction fan and former employee of Sun Microsystems. Shortly before that, Gramlich had fallen by Oceania Project, a plan to create a new country on an artificial island in the Caribbean. “Oceania had a lot of nice pictures, concept art, but that was it,” he told Wired magazine. The engineer went on to study ways to improve the idea, also more cheaply – the Oceania foundered for lack of investment. He formulated a solution with two-liter plastic bottles that would be used to support a floating platform and posted the project on the Internet.

 

Patri was the web that took note of ideas Gramlinch. The two discovered they lived near each other and began to find. Last year, the ambitious plan to live free in the ocean started to become reality.They created the Seasteading Institute (the idea of the bottles was later discarded because Gramlich had underestimated the power of the waves in the open sea). The institute has received funding of $ 500,000 from billionaire Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal, the online financial transactions company sold to Ebay in 2002 (Thiel reportedly received $ 55 million in sales).

 

Future

 

The first practical test of the Seasteading take place in October in San Francisco Bay. The institute plans to test small floating platforms. Regardless of how the project evolves, Patrick says he will definitely start small. Before that whole communities start to live in the oceans, first small platforms are created, family size, which will be “anchored” near shore.

 

Patri is the first to admit that the whole idea sounds like a crazy. The challenges are enormous, security against attacks by pirates and other countries, the very logistics of living on the water.Currently, a major concern of Patri is to create a sustainable business model. “I do not believe a business model that relies on the infringement of the sovereignty of other countries, because they can go there and end it all. The idea, at first, is not annoying other countries. “

 

He sees two comparative advantages for the Seasteading. One is the fact that they are in the ocean. Aquaculture, farming of aquatic organisms, for example, can be a good deal. The other is the fact that they have little market regulation. “Almost any business can benefit in a highly regulated environment. That’s why companies open business in places like Hong Kong. The question is: what business can benefit from little regulation enough to pay the extra cost to live in the ocean? My favorite at the moment is medical tourism. There is a huge global market of people traveling to other countries such as Thailand, India and Panama, to receive medical procedures more affordable. We already know that people are willing to travel and trust in doctors from other countries to receive medical treatment. So this is something we could do. You get into a ship in San Diego, for example, would travel about 12 miles in international waters, the medical procedure and would return. “

 

Even that utopia does not pass it, nobody can deny that Patri Friedman is trying to build a freer world. His grandfather would be proud.

 

******

 

Interactivity

 

The colonization of the oceans can create the most attractive forms of government?

 

Original article.

 

Floating City proposes new form of civilization on the high seas (Epoca Negocios, June 9, 2009)

 

The celebrated French designer Phillippe Starck argues that we should all have the power to see ahead of our time – not just to look after our interests but also the interests of the rest of humanity. The idea seems to fit perfectly on concepts from Seastead, an organization that aims to create new frontiers of a civilization forefront, or something like “Swimming City”.

 

Developed by Hungarian designer Andras Gyorfi, the “Swimming City” is a city that revolutionizes aquatic forms of government and social systems worldwide. More than that. The model is a clear example of freedom to dare, create and innovate. The concept consists of a recreational resort with extensive recreation area, swimming pools, outdoor amphitheaters, airstrip and helicopter shadowed a marina. It was designed especially to compete for the first design competition sponsored by Seastead – and won. The designer’s Swimming City took home the prize of $ 1000.

 

Besides him, other professionals won in other categories such as design aesthetics, personality, and choose the best public image. They all won $ 250 awards. Among the 41 projects entered, it was possible to see various types of aquatic structures, such as sports arenas, medical centers, universities, hotels and residences.

 

swimming-city-3.jpg

 

The mission

 

The most recognized projects are part of the contest Seasteading (TSI), founded in 2008 with the mission to “promote the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous ocean communities, enabling innovation from new political and social systems.”

 

In other words, the institution wants to make the oceans the ideal places to build cities complete, self-sufficient and fully habitable. “Currently it is very difficult to try alternative social systems on a smaller scale, the countries are so large that it is difficult for an individual to make a difference,” he said. Therefore, the organizers of the TSI advocating “something like Web 2.0″, where several small governments serve many niche markets. It would be a dynamic system where small groups experience and all copy what works, discard what does not work and readjust the leftovers to make it work.

 

The achievement

 

To make these cities as real, however, it takes a lot more than argument. A system like this would be possible? How would that work? “It is difficult to give a brief answer on this. What we are pointing out the cruise ship industry as proof that the supply of energy, water, food and Internet over the ocean is not only possible, but also profitable, “he said.

 

And if you thought that the intention of those behind the project is to build a city water from day to night, he cheated. They say they intend to sail into the future with concrete plans and viable.The strategy is to start small: first a model in miniature, “able to float in a cup.” The proportions would grow, glass aquarium, followed by coast to reach oceanic dimensions.

 

The TSI has received support from the American publication Wired and an incentive of $ 500,000 from Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and an investor in several companies such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

 

To Patri Friedman, executive director of the TSI, the Seastead is not a utopia. Former software engineer at Google, he said in an interview with Wired that the multinational has set its standards of how something can grow quickly. “This has the potential to exceed those standards, making a seastead, there’s room for a thousand,” advocates.

 

How would a floating city

 

swimming-city-maquete.jpg

 

One. Platform

 

Covering an area of 50 km2, the platform lets any steel deck ship with shame. Carbon fiber cables are anchored to the pillars Enhancing the structure and allow a wider surface.

 

2nd. Water supply

 

In a city water is no lack of water. Present on all sides, that substance will always be available through desalination equipment, capable of providing fresh water for drinking and farming.

 

3rd. Base support

 

Water tanks placed on four pillars will support the floating city to nine feet above sea level and minimize the impact of waves.

 

4th. Engine room

 

Did not like the neighborhood? Change it up. The island can travel at speeds up to 2 knots powered by four diesel engines, reinforced with electric generators.

 

Original article.

 

 

Russian

 

The idea is floating on the surface (Esquire, Sept 22, 2010)

 

PDF Download.

 

What do you call a person who satisfied the present state of society? Whiner. What do you call a person who satisfied the present state of society and has an idea of what kind of society has come to him more? Dreamer. But can it be called a whiner or a dreamer of a man who not only dissatisfied with the present society, not only knows what kind of society he wants, and is ready to create it? I think not. Such people can change the world. But the problem of the modern world is that these people have no place in it. They have no opportunity to peacefully and relatively cheap to try out their ideas. Traditional states are too high – and the costs of obtaining power in them is enormous.

 

Of course, you can just change the place of residence, but, first, here are your costs are often too high (have to leave home, work, capital), and secondly, the likelihood that you will find the perfect person for you company, is vanishingly small . This is a non-competitive environment.

 

A century ago, Mark Twain said, “Buy land. Its no longer manufactured. ” All land in the world for a long time occupied by the existing states, and buy it with sovereignty unrealistic. But if you create their own state on the land is not likely, why not do it in the unoccupied neutral waters of the ocean?

 

This is sisteding – permanent residence in the sea (from the English. «Sea» – «Sea” and «homestead» – «household». – Esquire). Sistedinga essence to give any group too small to listen to it in a democratic society, the ability to build their own utopia, and check whether they are feasible in practice. Our task – to create a legal framework and to develop technologies.

 

The first step we have done: we have designed a floating hotel ClubStead , which will drift off the coast near Los Angeles or San Diego. This is our proof of the possibility of building engineering sisteda a more or less reasonable money ($ 120 million). We have developed lots of technical information, calculated the design characteristics, analyzed the climatic characteristics of the region. Hotel total area of 34 200 m2 will drift about ten meters above sea level on the four pillars-floats. At seven levels ClubStead will be located one hundred rooms, two helipads, marinas, casinos, shops, restaurants and all the necessary support systems: generators, desalination, sewage and the like. Now with the support of Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal, libertarian and venture capitalist. – Esquire), we are actively looking for investors.

 

However ClubStead – this is only the beginning. When and if our project is completed, we will turn the world’s oceans to the laboratory for testing experimental state and government startups. The sea will be swimming a lot of countries – mostly small, but among them, of course, there are several large and successful. Successful solutions are the basis of floating, and then to copy the existing member on land. Countries sistedery likely will change faster and faster to innovate than traditional state. Just because they are smaller and easier for them to change course – in all respects. As a result of a variety of companies will increase significantly. Life at sea can be attractive for a variety of groups – political (libertarians, socialists, communists, anarchists), religious (Muslim and Christian fundamentalists), or, shall we say, “special interest groups” (nudists, environmentalists, supporters of free drug or possession of weapons).

 

The world would be a world sistederov genetic. And in the world of genetic difficult to get answers to evolutionary questions, with little species. However, with a large array of species – emerging, changing, adapting – we have more chances to find an evolutionary strategy that will stable. It will be a kind of natural selection, or the experimental verification of social hypotheses, based on the scientific method, or market competition – call it what you want, it’s all about the same.

 

To evaluate the success of the company, we look at the financials. Some companies simply to successfully attract customers and make them bigger. The same thing will happen when sistedinge: some countries are more attractive, people will want to come (or rather, sail) in them and stay there to live. In a sense, success rate is simply the flow of migrants.

 

If we talk about what can be engaged sistedy, it is important to soberly assess all their advantages and disadvantages from a business perspective. Simple transfer of the majority of specific companies or business models in the sea is hardly possible – not least because you are cut off from traditional resources, infrastructure and clients that are on dry land. But you can use two indisputable global benefits that have sistedy of freedom, which is guaranteed their sovereignty, and traditional sushi stability and comfort in remote parts of the planet. Here are just a few examples of what can be sisted.

 

Emerson Stepp. “Oasis of the Seas.” Hotel project for Seasteading Design Competition 2009

First, it can work in the field of tourism. Of course, the market has developed for a long time, the competition is fierce, but sisted has one indisputable advantage over the traditional resort: it can establish any system of internal rules (eg, legalizing drugs). And the idea of relaxing in the sea should not be a surprise the customers: after all, many people who go on a cruise without ever leaving the board liner (which is, incidentally, the industry with a turnover of $ 17 billion a year, which serves ten million people). A very popular could use underwater sistedy (off the coast of Florida, for example, already has an underwater hotel Jules Undersea Lodge, room costs $ 300-600 per night).

 

Second, there may be sisted by the production, storage and processing of different resources. For example, the mineral resources: oil platforms at sea no longer a rarity, as for the refineries, they are much more logical and safer to move to the place of production. One that gives us a giant multi-billion dollar market, but because in addition to mineral resources is bioresources.Sistedy are fish farms, fishing or warehouses, such as canneries. Finally, the surface sisted can extract energy from the wind, sun and waves, and in such amounts as will suffice not only for self but also for export.

 

Third, sisted can become a scientific center, a floating laboratory. In this role, it may replace the research vessels – just tow the platform to the right place to study animals and geology of a particular region. An example of this is the vessel FLIP Scripps Institution of Oceanography (in essence – a barge that can walk on water in both the horizontal and vertical position).

 

Fourth, it can be a smart sistedy offshores (literally), in which there is no patent and copyright laws. The result may appear, for example, World Library, which – around the Berne Convention – will gather in electronic form all published books in the world.However, as the experience of the pirate radio stations that have long existed on the coast of the UK abandoned platforms defense, conflict with the rights holders can be a very serious threat. This list is far from complete. Sistedah can be located on the companies operating on the Internet and providing various virtual services; sistedy be transit points for cargo carriers and telecommunication stations, nursing homes, and the spaceport.

 

Of course, the organization of our own sisteda be demanding, especially at first. The value of our floating hotel – $ 120 million, and, unfortunately, this amount does not scale, that is, you can not build a hotel four times less than $ 30 million, but in the beginning of the way each technology is expensive, but over time it gets to his feet, and – as to increase production – prices go down.

 

It is not clear which model sistedinga be more consistent. Perhaps this will be a small squadron of ships sail under the flag of any country like Panama, perhaps it would be great ships like tankers and cruise liners, perhaps – floating platforms. The last option is still more likely. To create a real state with a functioning economy, need of high population density, and the ships are not suitable for this. There is another option – sistedy underwater. Unlike ‘infesting’, they are protected from the waves and winds.Underwater sistedy can be very well protected, they will be difficult to detect, but it is pretty cheap to expand. However, even here there are some disadvantages: difficult access to sunlight and fresh air, high pressure at great depths, the high cost of initial construction, lack of energy.

 

However, the main threat to sistedinga – is not man-made disasters, it is not the waves and winds, not a tsunami and whales, which can turn the platform or ship. It is not even the pirates – most of them small robbery and foraged just not able to attack sisted more or less decent size. As for the pirates, who have relatively large organized groups and capture the huge ships, they attack sisted to anything. Have not you noticed that these pirates seize tanker trucks exclusively? The reason is simple: they are a lot of valuable goods, for which you can get the ransom, and a few people that have to deal with. From the point of view of the pirate cruise ships is well behind in this relationship – as it will lose the vast majority sistedov. Therefore, the main threat to sistedinga – Maritime Policy of existing states.

 

The hotel “Oasis of the Seas” is the marinas, helipad and acres of gardens

Speaking of military protection, there is a lot of subtleties associated with what we give preference to models. If it is a ship, it will be possible for some 200 miles from the coast, and if the floating platform – then at 12. And, of course, if the swim a few kilometers from the coast of the U.S., China would not attack on us, but that’s hundreds of miles away – not sure. Our primary means of protection would be to not to annoy the few that are able to manage violence in the distance – have strategic bombers, aircraft carriers, missiles and submarines. This list is extremely low: China, Russia, the United States, several European countries. That is, to fight for their sovereignty can, but let their own people to do things that angered the most powerful countries, it is not necessary. Take, for example, drugs. Personally, I believe that their criminalization in the U.S. is immoral. But at its sistede I allowed to produce drugs for their own use and would ban their export. The same thing with taxes – you can cancel them at home, but do not allow people from other countries have to hide their assets. I am a practical man, and ready to apply some of the rules – not even quite free rules – that we are not covered. Because my goal – to get the maximum amount of freedom. And if we export heroin and terrorists launder money, the shop quickly closed down.

 

Sistedinga philosophy allows us to look at things broadly. For us it is important that a person can choose a company or form a new one. And then it does not matter what I believe immoral. This “second-level libertarianism” structural libertarianism: Even if a particular company is not free, but it allows everyone to break away and establish their own society, then the whole system becomes a libertarian – at the next higher level.

 

But for sistedov exist not only the internal threat. Sistederov how society will be exposed to the collapse of the inside? This is just one of the questions to answer to experiment. Moving to the new state, people are by that very fact to sign an explicit social contract. Someday, if society becomes sistederskih many of them will be some that will keep its citizens by force. I do not know exactly how to deal with it. For example, you can require every citizen sisteda each year to renew his own social contract.

 

The history of mankind knew relatively free society. For example, Iceland VIII-X centuries AD, which studied my father (the ideologue of the anarcho-capitalist David Friedman. – Esquire). Their laws are adopted democratic majority, but the courts and the police were private. This system perfectly existed three hundred years. Or the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War, and in some ways even before the Great Depression. But in the U.S. used a very poor mechanism for protection of human rights – democracy. Research results in the entire areas of the economy show that democracy will sooner or later lead to victory lobbyists. There are laws that benefit small groups and disadvantageous to others.

 

Of course, to stifle freedom takes time. To document like the U.S. Constitution came into disrepair and it stopped paying attention, it took a couple of centuries. At sunset this freedom in the U.S., I think, was largely due to the fact that the country at one point was left unoccupied spaces. When vanished frontier – border developed land, people have nowhere to escape was in search of freedom.

 

And here we must note that the ocean is different from land in one important respect. On the water, you can not build a fixed building. At a time when freedom is threatened, people who need it, can simply untie their homes and float away. They will constantly be on the kind of the frontier, which means they will always have the opportunity to make a bloodless revolution.Imagine, as there is a city grows richer, and inevitably there are interest groups. Someone wants freedom – and he goes to found their own town. He will not have to sell this house or even your office to change – it can simply mooring and berth in the new country. In his possession is 70% of the surface of the planet. And maybe, by the sea free society can exist much longer than on land.

 

Original article.

 

 

Romanian

 

Floating city – a dream that could become reality in just three years (HotNews.ro, August 1, 2009)

 

A floating city off the coast of San Francisco metropolis seems to be an idea worthy of science fiction, but it could become reality in the near future more than I think most people, allowing experimentation with new forms of government, reports CNN 

The Seasteading Institute has already made plans to build such a city in the Pacific Ocean. One of the engineers who designed the plans describe the prototype as similar to a cruise ship, but from a distance, the city will remember more than marine drilling platforms.floating city will not only look different from traditional cities, but will also work differently. Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who now works for the Seasteading Institute, said floating cities are the perfect places to experiment with new forms of education . Some of proposals aimed at legalizing marijuana and defining intellectual property rights as collective property. Friedman said that floating cities can be built modular, so components can be restored, creating new urban landscapes. idea of building floating cities is not new, he says, but Seasteading Institute has come much closer to achieving this goal than others. “Many people in the past hundred years, had the idea of building floating cities in the trials to test new forms of governance. But all these projects have either was purely imaginary, or, if you tried putting them into practice, became resounding successes. ” But there are quite unknown in this project, says Christian Cermelli engineer and architect at Marine Innovation and Technology in San Francisco. Cermelli, working and him on this project, says it is not yet clear whether it is possible to achieve floating city, and the costs can not be estimated. Yet, a prototype of this idea could be ready in three years, he says.

 

Original article.

 

 

Italian

 

Freedom on the oceanic plate – Back to the myth of the island-nation (la Repubblica, June, 2008)

 

SAN FRANCISCO – Sooner or later we have dreamed of abandoning the strict rules of contemporary society to live in a state built in our image and likeness. Emilio Salgari in Wonders of the millennium had envisioned an Earth in which independent cities, the future of the polis, sailed free, incessantly, the oceans from the cardinal point to another. Marshall Savage, a professor at USC, promoter of the Project Aquarius http://en.wikipedia. org / wiki / Marshall_Savage , the even wanted to use to colonize space, while Michael Oliver, a billionaire Las Vegas, with the Republic of Minerva Project, http://www. imperial-collection. net / minerva. html, Aimed to build an island nation off the coast of Tonga. Norman Nixon, American businessman and political un’istrionico who launched his candidacy for the presidency of the United States with a write-in campaign, he’s instead came up with the idea of Freedom Ship, http://www. freedomship. comThe length of a mile and the cost of tens of billions of dollars, the island nation would be anchored in international waters and offer home a hundred thousand people.now to the category of projects is also added to the Seasteading Institute,http://www. Seasteading. org /, which intends to build a number of houses ocean, this time anchored at the bottom of the sea, connected by an air network will form a true independent nation of the seas. But if advanced projects from precursors of the Seasteading Institute, which had a of, say, fanciful, that Californian institution has a financial and conceptual weight that was missing in those who had preceded him. First of all because you are involved in a number of luminaries in Silicon Valley, including the founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, Patri Firedman – Member of the tip of the Google Prediction Team – Wayne Gramlich, an engineer at Sun Microsystems and Joe Lonsdale, partner of Clarion Capital Management, a hedge fund in San Francisco. But also because it is backed by a feasibility study of 300 pages,http://seasteading. org / seastead. org / book_beta / full_book_beta. html . And to prove that they do not joke technocrats Californians have already invested $ 500,000 in the project head at the same time promising to launch the first prototype of SeaSteady dwelling within two years and to anchor in the Bay of San Francisco. “History is full of crazy people who have tried to make this kind of thing, “said Lonsdale, Seasteady appointed president of the Institute,” Our idea is to do it in a way that is not crazy. ” How? Spendedo at the beginning a few million dollars to resize and edit a floater type Spar oil platform, http://www. offshore-technology. com/projects/genesis/genesis8 . html, one of those in which the housing (about 50 square meters per person) can be costruti the central tube that anchors the platform to the seabed. At the top, emerging from the sea, would be located instead of the sun, the Giardini, libraries, canteens, impanti solar power energy of the homes, facilities for satellite communications and the internet and all other buildings of community character. “Spar The model is safer because it has a low interaction with transverse waves,” said Gramlich. With regard to nationality, the promoters of the Seasteading Institute does not expect to make a case to be discussed at the United Nations. For now behave as if they were launching of ships wanting to escape the tax by purchasing a flag of convenience. 21 May 2008 )

 

Original article.

 

Seasteading, humanity in the ocean (PuntoInformatico, May 20, 2008)

 

Rome – I had already tried those Pirate Bay Sealand , to found a new country outside of the control of old and stale nations of the land, but the project had not taken off. Now we reprove those of The Seasteading Institute , relying on a more ambitious goal of P2P free and a considerable economic contribution by the founder of PayPal .

 

“The Seasteading Institute announced today its foundation with the aim to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities, able to allow experimentation and innovation with different social, political and legal,” you can read on the website the new organization. The basis of the project are the ideas and work of Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich, one engineer at Google code and the other ex-programmer Sun, authors of the book Seasteading: A Practical Guide to Homesteading the High Seas.

 

On the border between utopia and ideas sessantottarda 2.0, the duo will breathe new life in anemic drives innovation of public facilities that currently govern – good or bad – the lives of citizens of the most advanced part of the world. “The public sector is simultaneously the largest industry in the world and less innovative – says Friedman, Executive Director of TSI – a barrier to entry and an imposition on its consumers that makes it seem any tiny private monopoly.” The world continues Friedman , he needs something new : a new model political, economic, social, “a diverse ecosystem of vendors offering a variety of institutions that evolve to serve its citizens.” The open ocean, “the last frontier on the planet Earth,” in this sense is the perfect place to experiment with innovative variations of the human community, and the government. As noted Wired , there are certainly examples of past colonization of open water , and the idea of seastead , settlements marine Friedman and Gramlich want to conceive, would resemble dangerously background narrative of the award-winning dystopian video game Bioshock . To be convinced of the feasibility of the project is instead Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, which gave financial assistance to the lymph visionary ideas of the duo with a contribution of 500 thousand dollars. TSI indeed not born with the idea of founding a new continent, a new human race or a new galactic empire, but rather with the aim of building, at prices financially accessible, self-sufficient platforms able to withstand the weather of the open ocean and based on the design of so-called spar platform . A tube of reinforced concrete float, with the top of the platform full of buildings, gardens and solar panels, this is the basic structure of the settlement to which aquatic TSI is working with the company’s success largely dependent on possible business models – tourism in the first place – and the corresponding amount of people that the structures would be able to attract. If the ultimate goal is to improve the lives of common people and public support, the newly founded institute has decided to follow an initial approach rather pragmatic . The main areas that are now the attention of the project are threefold, namely the community , able to attract and bring together potential residents of seastead, research , through which identify the basic requirements for life in the open sea the design of structures, political feasibility, infrastructure and technology, engineering , which will have the task of checking the feasibility of building a platform to ditch initially in the San Francisco Bay and then to be sent around the seven seas.

 

Original article.

 

 

Dutch

 

Floating city in the ocean (architectenweb.nl, July 9, 2009)

 

Graphic designer Andra Gyorfi won “The Swimming City ‘, the first design of the Seasteading Institute . The design is intended for a permanent floating city in the ocean. With the changing climate and potential flooding at sea residence offers a solution.

 

The Seasteading Institute wrote a contest for a permanent living place at sea design. The participants were therefore used the platform design of Seasteading, which a patent application is made, that they adapted to their own design.

 

The overall winning design came from the Hungarian Andras Gyorfi. Its design includes several facilities such as a swimming pool and open-air theater, but also a helipad and a shady harbor under the floating city. Gyorfi made all buildings are different in size and shape, so all surprising architectural details to be discovered as different windows or paths with a unique character. Some of the roofs of the buildings are made to garden. With ‘The Swimming City “plays the Hungarian in the desire for an environmentally sensitive habitat. The design is not actually made. However, it is Seasteading Instuut engaged in the development of a maritime city which it can be realized. Check out the winners in the other categories on the website of the Seasteading Institute. Acknowledgements idealize.nl

 

Original article.

 

 

Indian

 

The Seasteading Movement – Living off the grid at Sea (TV5, September 15, 2011)

 

 

YouTube video.

 

Milton Friedman’s grandson makes waves with ‘seasteading’ plan (Daily India, June 4, 2011)

 

London, June 4: Milton Friedman’s grandson Patri has a vision that might have made the economist proud- building a floating libertarian nation a dozen miles off the coast of California.

 

Despite the widespread skepticism that the project is bound to invite, Friedman has already secured over two million dollars in venture capital for the development of a nation flotilla, CBS News reports.

 

Friedman, a former Google engineer, now working for the “seasteading” movement aims to complete the project by 2040.

 

Friedman hopes to foster conditions for startup governments to thrive which are “consumer-oriented” and “constantly competing for citizens.”

 

A couple of years ago, in an interview, he sketched out the idea of seasteading. He explained how a short-term work-around would be to buy a ship registration in the same way that most merchant ships do. Questions of sovereignty and secession would come later, he said.

 

“Innovation in society and serving marginalized groups has always happened on the frontier,” Friedman said.

 

“We don’t have a frontier anymore. The reason our political system doesn’t innovate anymore is that there’s no place to try out new things. We want to provide that place,” he added.

 

Original article.

 

 

Singapore

 

Milton Friedman’s grandson makes waves with ‘seasteading’ plan (Yahoo! News Singapore, June 4, 2011)

 

London, June 4 (ANI): Milton Friedman’s grandson Patri has a vision that might have made the economist proud- building a floating libertarian nation a dozen miles off the coast of California.

 

Despite the widespread skepticism that the project is bound to invite, Friedman has already secured over two million dollars in venture capital for the development of a nation flotilla, CBS News reports.

 

Friedman, a former Google engineer, now working for the “seasteading” movement aims to complete the project by 2040.

 

Friedman hopes to foster conditions for startup governments to thrive which are “consumer-oriented” and “constantly competing for citizens.”

 

A couple of years ago, in an interview, he sketched out the idea of seasteading. He explained how a short-term work-around would be to buy a ship registration in the same way that most merchant ships do. Questions of sovereignty and secession would come later, he said.

 

“Innovation in society and serving marginalized groups has always happened on the frontier,” Friedman said.

 

“We don’t have a frontier anymore. The reason our political system doesn’t innovate anymore is that there’s no place to try out new things. We want to provide that place,” he added. (ANI)

 

Original article.

 

 

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