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January 15, 2009

Joe on Innovation and Craziness

Joe Lonsdale, our Chairman of the Board, recently talked to a reporter for an upcoming piece about the question of fun/crazy business models and the risks for our brand. For space reasons, little of the discussion will make it into the final article, so we’re posting Joe’s thoughts here:

> Q: something Patri was talking about during the conference’s brainsorming session on business models– the fact that you could have a seasteads devoted to aquaculture or gold storage, but you could also have seasteads that attempt to out-Vegas Vegas. Can you expand on that a little bit, the concept of seasteads that are devoted to having fun? Can you recall any similar examples that you and Patri have discussed?

> A: This of course is a dangerous line of questioning because I really feel like the most important thing for seasteads is to encourage innovation in government by trying out new ways of modeling and running communities and societies. But the brand can be misinterpreted very easily because of something that sticks out in people’s minds and co-opts their focus.

> We have a lot of responsible intellectuals, successful business leaders, and other pillars of the community very intrigued by this. But one reason certain important people who back us or encourage us might not be officially involved in the press is because of the obvious risk of what people could do with these things, and thus the brand risk they could face for being involved. Our goal is not to impose our morals on others, but we will try to have some basic ethics in place — in the hypothetical scenario where we were involved with selling them or in helping run a confederation of seasteads (which is not necessarily a goal but is a possibility), we’d only support seasteads where children are not mistreated, and where anybody there has the right to leave, for instance, and will probably have rules about checking in on the ones we’re involved with and support. A confederation might have different rules but work together to support and sustain each other ad get the benefit of certain economies of scale, and adhere to certain standards that are agreed upon ahead of time, with different methods for resolving disputes.

> But despite our best efforts there are going to be some crazy things people do. We think that the trade-off is worth it — that more good than harm will come from this freedom to explore new possibilities. But might some scary cult get in charge of one and do something that would horrify us? Maybe. And people might start a seastead where illegal drugs are carefully monitored and administered to their own standards in the privacy of their own sovereignty, but others might choose to do it with less rigorous safety rules and think that this is fun — I’d be opposed to the latter for sure, but it might not be my choice on their seastead.

> Wrt fun possibilities, yes, personally, I think it would be fun to allow people to use various sophisticated weaponry under carefully controlled circumstances in a seastead — if it’s done right, making sure the weapons were not exposed to the US in any way, it could be educational and entertaining. And yes the idea of doing this in a bachelor party with models might appeal to some people as a fun time and a great resort. If you wanted to out-Vegas Vegas — listen I’m not the expert here, I’m busy building awesome tech and finance businesses with Silicon Valley engineers — but I can imagine that there are certain things that are illegal at Vegas strip clubs and parties, and various casino incentives or tactics that you can imagine an owner and his beautiful girls putting in place that might be fun and effective but are outlawed in Nevada. There are a lot of intriguing possibilities! Whereas another seastead might out-Singapore Singapore, and have extremely strict rules and people would choose to go there perhaps from the third world to work on software projects and coordinate with people in California.

> At heart Patri is an intellectual, as are a lot of our backers, and we’re following in the tradition of some of the greatest thinkers and innovators that America has to offer. **Yes, this could be a lot of fun, too. But hopefully, despite the brand risks we’ll face with some of the naughtier things people might choose to do offshore, people will come to understand the high-level focus on innovation and improving the human condition that our organization is fighting to achieve**.

Indeed. Because concrete examples are so key to understanding, people are always asking what government on a seastead would look like, and it can be fun to think about answers. But we must not lose sight of the bigger picture – our goal is not to create any single system, but a diverse ecosystem of states that cater a variety of goals and philosophies. That is how we’ll be able to truly revolutionize the governing industry – not by merely pushing a single system.