Getting Around Big Government: The Seastead Revolution Begins to Take Shape (Forbes, July 30, 2012)
October 17, 2012 by Eric Jacobus
Getting Around Big Government: The Seastead Revolution Begins to Take Shape
Seastead Model. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
No matter who wins the November election, the federal government will grow more expansive and expensive.
Democrats enthusiastically promote the Leviathan State. Republicans believe in the same, only they want to expand government a little slower and charge taxpayers a little less. George W. Bush was a bigger spender than Bill Clinton and Barack Obama was a bigger spender than Bush. If Mitt Romney is victorious in November, he likely will be an even bigger spender.
Such is the unending political battle over individual liberty.
But it may be possible to leapfrog government entirely. Imagine “seasteading”—living on a floating city outside of any country’s jurisdiction.
Four years ago Patri Friedman, a young software engineer who is grandson of famed economist Milton Friedman and son of even more radical economic theorist David Friedman, founded the Seasteading Institute with seed capital from Peter Thiel, lawyer turned PayPal founder. Since then the national government has spent more wildly and irresponsibly and regulated more irrationally and expensively. Washington has started more unnecessary wars and restricted more essential liberties. Americans should challenge the Leviathan State’s land-based monopoly.
Seasteading would allow residents to avoid supporting the usual tangle of public bureaucracies and accompanying gaggle of private parasites—lobbyists, journalists, even think tank analysts—that dominate Washington. There would be no more paying for endless yet needless wars.
Creating communities independent of existing states would help the rest of us as well. Most existing proposals for change, argued the Seasteading Institute’s Friedman and Brad Taylor, “rely on the reform of existing institutions or the consent of existing governments. In a competitive market for governance, we should expect governments to make such concessions; in the current uncompetitive system, we should not.”
Seasteads could help provide that competition. They would, argued the Seasteading Institute, “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.” Show people that genuine limited government works and people will choose that option.
History is filled with visionaries who overcame the doubts of others. Like past explorers, traders, and colonists. People who crossed the forbidding Atlantic Ocean in rotting wooden boats to settle in the New World.
Looking toward the future today are people who hope to mine the seabed. And those who envision space exploration and colonization. Although Star Trek might never become a reality, we won’t know if we don’t try. Those promoting seasteads also are visionaries.
The Seasteading Institute’s objective is “to set the stage in order to empower others to do so.” The organization recently held a conference in San Francisco bringing together entrepreneurs, engineers, lawyers, investors, and others whose collective effort will be necessary to turn theory into practice. The group is offering the Poseidon Award for the first genuine seastead and hopes to award the prize within three years.
The Institute also has a wide-ranging research program. Studies look at engineering (what are the best ways to construct viable seagoing communities?), economics (what kind of businesses could be run off-shore?), and law (what kind of legal regime should govern seasteading?). The Institute even has acquired a ship to be used, according to Randolph Hencken, the Institute’s Senior Director, to test “experimental technologies that may contribute to the sustainability of long term ocean habitation.”
Finally, the Institute is the principal public advocate for the movement. Serious work will be necessary to stop avaricious governments from grabbing control of any new seasteading communities.
The Seasteading Institute’s archives offer an interesting read for anyone hoping to find a practical way to escape today’s increasingly parasitical and violent Leviathan. Indeed, the detailed research suggests that it really might be possible to create such independent communities.
Seastead advocates are not crazed anarchists against government. They are promoting new forms of governance.
For instance, in his paper “Governing Seasteads: An Outline of the Options,” Brad Taylor observed: “We tend to take the existence of states—monopolistic providers of governance and wielders of coercive force over some large geographic area—for granted. Throughout most of human history, though, rules have been created and enforced in a decentralized way, producing customary systems of law.” Taylor reviews many of the options which exist outside of formal civil government.
The greatest legal-political challenge likely would come from traditional governments. From large cities which annex neighboring communities to nation states which conquer other countries, governments don’t like competition. Existing international rules likely would consider seasteads to be ships (which would be subject to the laws of their “flag” state) or artificial islands.
The Law of the Sea Treaty might hinder seasteading. In their paper, “Charting the Course: Toward a Seasteading Legal Strategy,” Dario Mutabdzija and Max Borders warn that LOST’s declaration that ocean resources are the “common heritage of mankind,” backed by the provision which bars subjecting “any part of the high seas” to state sovereignty, “could be one of the most formidable obstacles seasteaders face while creating permanent societies at sea (at least societies that are outside the auspices of established governments).”
Worse, piratical governments may concoct new rules, either unilaterally or perhaps through another United Nations conference, to control seasteads. In their paper, “Building the Platform: Challenges, Solutions and Decisions in Seasteading Law,” Dario Mutabdzija and Max Borders warn: “In all probability, nation-states and international organizations will try to interfere with the activities of seasteaders.” The authors point to Great Britain’s attempt to block so-called “pirate” radio stations operating from international waters.
Washington poses a particular threat. In his paper “The True Obstacle to the Autonomy of Seasteads: American Law Enforcement Jurisdiction over Homesteads on the High Seas,” O. Shane Balloun warns: “In the long run, however, avoiding the global nature of United States admiralty jurisdiction will require far greater patience and creativity of seasteaders than will conquering a platform-sized area of the ocean.”
Whatever the law, if seasteads are going to become more than a visionary’s dream, they must take practical form. Although the idea seems simple enough—a movable, ocean-going city of some sort—it could take many forms. In their paper, “Seasteading Business: Context, Opportunity and Challenge,” Max Marty and Max Borders discuss a variety of organizational forms, including an enterprise owning one all-encompassing business, a variety of smaller operations, or only a physical platform.
The authors also discuss possible locations, including the Mediterranean off of France and Israel, Pacific off of China and Japan, and Atlantic off of the American Northeast. Their discussion moves the issue from the theoretical to the possible. Another paper, “Seasteading Location Study: Ship-Based and Large-Scale City Scenarios,” by multiple authors, studies the many factors which would go into siting a seastead.
Obviously, it is essential to overcome the engineering challenge of constructing cities at sea. How to do so? George Petrie has written a paper with a mouthful of a title: “Parametric Analysis of Candidate Configurations for Early Seastead Platforms.” His work highlights the serious thought that has gone into turning seasteads into more than artist renditions. The potential costs are significant, but he argued: “future technological advancements offer the possibility of additional cost savings, putting seasteading within the reach of a much broader segment of the population.”
Seasteading might never be technologically, economically, or politically viable. On the other hand, seasteading might become one of this century’s most important social advances, offering people not only a new lifestyle but also an opportunity to escape the increasingly suffocating, parasitical state. We won’t know until entrepreneurs attempt to turn this vision into reality.
Successful seasteading likely would have far a more important impact than will the outcome of November’s election contest between big-spending warrior wannabes. Whoever wins will deliver more and bigger government. But seasteading could transform the battle for liberty. We all will gain if seasteads go from drawing board to water.