May 22, 2009

Some Take the Low Road, Some Take the High Road

DanB’s [Realist and Idealist Views of Basesteading]( addition to the wiki reminded me of the classic low-road vs. high-road distinction which always seems to come up when talking about seasteading strategy. I think this distinction and terminology is useful, so here’s a crack at a book section on it. Suggestions / criticisms / comments welcome!

A frequent distinction which comes up when discussing seasteading strategies is between the so-called low-road and high-road approaches. While this is not a perfect distinction and many proposals fall in-between, it seems to be a pretty fundamental axis along which people’s worldviews fall, and so it is actually quite a valuable classification. While there are no standardized definitions, I view the two paths as follows:

**Low Road: DIY Seasteading**

The low road is small-scale, low-capital, high-labor DIY seasteading. It tends towards self-sufficiency and disconnect from the global economy. It will likely be funded, built, and run by the occupants.

Some low-road approaches are:

* Build a DIY single-family seastead which is largely self-sufficient and sail it around the world.

* Go to the doldrums (where there are minimal waves), build some cheap platforms, and grow your own food.

* Pastor Jason’s [Belize Basestead Proposal]( is a more detailed explanation of a low-road approach. Note the focus on self-sufficiency, new economic models, building things with your hands, etc.

The advantages of the low road include:

* You don’t have to be rich, or know anyone who is.

* The primal satisfaction of working with your hands.

* Self-sufficiency is freedom.

* Start now.

**High Road: VC Seasteading**

This strategy, by contrast is large-scale, high-capital, and integrated into the global economy. It relies on specialization and trade. Most residents will not directly create what they consume, but rather, will work at a specialized job for money, and then use the money to buy what they need. It may be funded by occupants or investors, will likely be built by specialists and operated by professional property managers.

The advantages of the high road include:

* You can do specialized, high-paying work.

* Things you use are provided by specialists with a comparative advantage: your seasteads are built by shipyards, your food is grown on land.

* More luxury, higher level of comfort (easier to convince the wife!).

Some high road approaches are:

* Operate a medical tourism or [condo cruise ship](

* Build a hotel / resort on a spar platform, like [ClubStead](

**Compare & Contrast**

The development of the modern world can be viewed as a movement over time from the low-road to the high-road model. Modern wealth comes from the fact that we have specialization and economies of scale, rather than having each group of people grow its own food, make its own tools, and so forth. However, with wealth has grown government and regulation. Economic interdependence has led to political interdependence. In other words, self-sufficiency means both poverty and freedom. The high-road accepts entanglements to get wealth, while the low-road accepts poverty to get freedom. Neither is ideal, and each is the natural result of different preferences and priorities. Rather than arguing for one vs. the other, I will instead talk about some of the characteristics and attitudes that tend to lead a person to favor one over the other:

**Low Road: The Pioneer** **High Road: The Entrepreneur**
Job skills Hands-on, self-sufficiency Knowledge worker
Capital Low High
Income Low High
Lifestyle Third World First World
Do It Now – yourself! Right – hire a specialist!
Individualism Prefers freedom of small group Prefers diversity, economies of scale of larger group

The difference between current low road and high road lifestyles can be seen by contrasting live-aboard boaters and the cruise industry.

**Live Aboard Boaters** **Cruise Ships**
Go where you want, when you want Go where the customers want, when they want
Costs money Makes money
Funded by owner Funded by investors
Need sailing and self-sufficiency skills Need skills for the jobs on a cruise ship
It’s cramped and uncivilized! Who wants to live there? It’s a vacation or job, not a life
Passion Profession
Small and lonely Community – but temporary
Hard to control: small, anonymous Somewhat hard to control: profit => political influence

These differences result in conversations like:

Pioneer: Single-Family Seasteads are the way to go! Anyone can build one and live on it and be self-sufficient.
Entrepreneur: Uh…if they know how to build things. And know how to grow their own food. And don’t mind living in a confined space with a few people and no satellite internet.

Entrepreneur: Cruise Ship Condos are the way to go! Anyone can go live on one.
Pioneer: Uh…if they have a couple hundred thousand dollars to buy a condo. And a job that can pay for food and fuel and is portable all over the world. And don’t mind having to compromise on an itinerary with 200 other people.