February 2, 2009

FAQ: Why not just hide?

I’ve gotten this question several times recently, so I’ve drafted an answer for the book’s extended Q&A. Feedback would be welcome.

Some people’s instinctive reaction is to question why we need new countries when bad laws can just be dealt with by ignoring them, hiding illegal activities. What would you want to do on a seastead that you can’t just do in your own home? There are a number of serious problems with hiding as a solution to bad laws:

* **Integrity**. Imagine asking gays “Why do you need to be accepted by society, when you can just hide your sexual orientation and do whatever you want in the bedroom?” Being able to live one’s lifestyle openly and honestly, whatever it may be, is of enormous value to integrity and self-esteem.

* **Scale**. Hiding is a solution that only works at small scales. The bigger and more successful your movement or community, the more likely it is to be noticed and shut down. We are not interested in starting something where success will quickly and inevitably breed failure. We want to change the world, and that means building something way too big to be hidden.

* **Limited scope**. Some activities, by their nature, are easy to hide (drug use). Others are not – opening a hospital. Hiding thus greatly limits what can be done. And hiding works terribly for systems (as opposed to activities) – how do you hide the fact that 1,000 people have agreed to be bound by a new legal system from those trying to enforce the new one? Our main goals, after all, are at the level of systems. We think the world would be enormously better if people had more freedom to create and experiment with alternative political systems, because we think that existing systems are far from optimal and cause a great deal of suffering. Existing systems would be even worse if we couldn’t hide from their bad laws – but we dare to dream of a world where we get rid of bad laws instead of hiding from them.

* **Long-term planning**. A life of hiding is a life of uncertainty. One never knows when one will be exposed and suffer consequences for hidden actions. This is personally stressful, and bad for business and investment.

* **Security by obscurity**. Protecting by hiding is simply another version of [this rightly-maligned concept from computer security](

* **Capital and Property**. As Hernando De Soto documents in [The Mystery of Capital](References.html#DeSoto2000), wealth differences between nations can partially be traced to differences in their capital markets. In rich nations, property rights are clear and enforced, business is done out in the open, and so businesses can get loans to expand. In poor nations, most things are done on black markets where property rights are fuzzy, and most capital is informal. This means that small business owners can’t get loans, because they can’t prove what they own, and investors don’t have confidence that the business can continue operating. Restricting yourself to the black market can be quite profitable (consider drug smuggling), but it is also a dangerous life (consider drug smuggling). To really change the world, we need investment, contracts, and property rights, and that means operating in the open.

As you can see, hiding is totally unsuited for people with integrity, who think big, want to reform political systems, plan for the long-term, raise investment, and run businesses. If that sounds like you, then seasteading is your kind of movement. Everyone else is welcome to keep on hiding.

2 Comments on “FAQ: Why not just hide?

February 3, 2009 at 5:33 pm


Good luck, I stumbled on this while surfing. 33 years ago your grandfather lived around the corner from my freshman dorm. We walked to campus together a few times. Practical questions come to mind, my apologies if they have already been addressed. 

First is that to be truly free of government intrusion and regulation you will have to be more than an offshore commune. If you were for arguments sake a community of 100 located on a platform 5 miles off the coast you would be wrong to assume that would make you free from regulation. While some posters might hope that your supplying power and other goods to the shore would give leverage that might be wishful thinking. You could expect a visit from the Coast Guard or even the State authorities under a host of regulations and even if you felt that suppressing you would be economically irrational. We are talking about government here, remember? Someone can at any time post a rumor that a child is being endangered in any way and the game is over.

Second and more importantly to me is the problem that any small community that sees itself as refugees threatened by a hostile alien power is subject to terrible internal pressures. Call this the "Lord of the Flies" issue. You can gather the best people with the best of intentions and over time politics, desires, grievances and just plain insanity, will occur. Surviving these threats in any particular small pioneer settlement is not probable. Most small businesses fail for personal reasons and most large entities survive on inertia but become unproductive. The answer is to have a larger number of start ups so that the failure of any single location will not invalidate the whole enterprise. The high cost of entry is the barrier to that approach. 


Hope you can take these criticisms as constructive. You have good people putting serious work into this project.


February 5, 2009 at 2:59 am

If I may be allowed to comment here:

Concerning the first question, correct, five miles off the coast is not anywhere we would want to be.  At minimum twelve, and preferably beyond 200… or past the continental shelf, if the State we are near claims EEZ to that point (as the US does).

As for the second, yes, one seastead would certainly fail as the laws set up within it would become stale and unproductive over time just as has been the case with any State.  Multiple seasteads experimenting on any number of things are needed to garner the freshness and vibrancy needed to have any such endeavor not only survive, but thrive.  The TSI exists to find ways to minimize the cost of entry so that many peoples from all over the world that wish to try new ideas of governance and responsibility can have a venue to do so.

Did my comments answer the questions you posed?

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