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May 9, 2014

German TV show Titel, Thesen, Temperamente announces Seasteaders as “Totalitarian.”

Audrey Stimson, Producer at ARD German Television, emailed us 10 times while requesting an interview, promising, “Millions of viewers will be watching.” We hosted her camera crew at Thiel Capital, where they interviewed Randolph Hencken and myself on camera for about 15 minutes each.

They asked us for high-res footage.  We sent them 8 Great Moral Imperatives video series, The Floating City Project,  5 Things You Need to Know about the Floating City Project, and a 30-second video that sums up the theory of seasteading.

Audrey forwarded the footage to TV journalist Joachim Gaertner, author of I am Full of Hate, and I Love That: A Documentary Novel based on the Columbine massacre. Joachim served as the author and editor of this segment. He only used a short quote from each of us, and the videos of seasteads were used as a backdrop to ominous music and narration worthy of Vincent Price. These were interspliced with short quotes from humanitarian economist Paul Romer, Blueseed cofounder Dario Mutabdzija, and Google cofounder Larry Page. Joachim then declared the whole lot of us…

… totalitarian threats to democracy.

Max Moor, the host of the show, opened with this, translated from the German:

“Welcome, respected viewers, to Titel, Thesen, Tempramente. Those of us who believe in freedom and democracy did surprisingly have cause for joy … But while we enjoy our small victory, the gentlemen of Silicon Valley are already many more steps ahead, taking off into megalomaniac spheres full of new worlds and new societies completely divorced from our real lives. Except of course that we, the old-fashioned fans of democracy, have to pay for it– with our money, our freedom and our very dignity.”

and concluded the show with this:

“The vision of running whole nations like start-up companies suggests something totalitarian. Even if they’re meant to be created far out on the ocean, they threaten our basic democratic rights even here.”

As these words were spoken, Joachim Gaetner and Audrey Stimson’s names were emblazoned across the screen.

They don’t permit viewers to debate or comment on their videos, so we wrote an email in protest.  Joachim wrote back immediately:

“If you present a concept in public and you agree to discuss it you have to face the concept being debated and commented on. And yes, in my view there is something totalitarian to the idea of a society that is governed like a startup company … I cannot see anything unethical or shameful in making a well-founded comment.”

Joachim claimed:

“Honestly, when I first heard about Seasteading I was intrigued by the idea to create floating cities on the ocean in order to try out new forms of government and living together as we all search for concepts for future societies to develop.  But in fact, it came as a surprise and a great disappointment when I watched the interview Audrey did with you and Randy … you are not able to answer the most basic questions.”

Joachim forgot that we asked Audrey to send us the questions a week ahead of time.  We wrote out answers in preparation for the interview.  We don’t have the video transcript of the actual interview, but below are their questions exactly as written, and the answers we prepared and placed on the table in front of us during the interview.  You can decide for yourself whether the answers we prepared give any indication that Larry Page, Paul Romer, and seasteaders are totalitarian threats to democracy.

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Q: Let’s say 10 years from now, how do you imagine yourself being living in a floating city off the shore?

A: With our Floating City Project, we hope to see a new small experiment with governance offering superior prosperity and employment for local people, showing that small startup nations can discover new solutions.

Q: What will a seastead be like? Who is setting up the rules, who is running the place? How about legislation, law enforcement, taxes?

A: Imagine European monarchists in the 17th century asking, “What will American states be like?”  We can’t know.  The political structure of all new nations is up to the people who found it, and we hope aquatic pioneers discover a diversity of political structures.  We’d like to see hundreds or thousands of novel arrangements competing to attract immigrants to their seastead.  As long as people can voluntarily join, and voluntarily leave, we expect to see a market driving improvement in governance.

Q: You are just providing the infrastructure, but nevertheless you must have a certain vision of what kind of social and political experiment you would like to set up? What drives you to be part of this?

A: Seasteaders don’t seek to impose one vision of society.  Seasteaders seek to provide anyone with the technology to start their own nation.  We think a fluid frontier will fundamentally change the relationship between government and the governed.

Imagine if your city was like a floating Lego set. You can shift and assemble and reassemble at will. Governments can only form if people choose to attach to each other.  If you got in a political fight, you can detach your houseboat, sail somewhere else, link up with your allies, and found your own nation.  If you can vote with your house, governments will be like companies and citizens will be more like customers.  We think this will create a market of governments competing to attract citizens.  On a fluid frontier, citizens wouldn’t struggle to survive government’s choices, governments would struggle to survive citizen’s choices—just like companies that go out of business when they fail us.

Q: Usually in a shared flat after some time people start to create problems over who is going to wash the dishes. What gives you confidence that like 250 people on a platform out in the sea will not start fighting at a given moment?

A: Three hundred and fifteen million people live in the US right now, and they argue passionately but peacefully.  If I live in a flat with people who argue too much, I leave and find a more peaceful flat.  Current governments make it very difficult to switch to a better government.  Seasteading allows people to join and leave more easily.

Seasteads with too much conflict will not attract more people to voluntarily move there.  Seasteads with peace and prosperity will attract immigrants.  In current governments, it’s very difficult to try something new.  Seasteading gives people the opportunity to try something new.

Q: It is obvious that at least at the beginning of seasteads being put in practice it will be pretty expensive being accepted as a seasteader. So what can you learn from a social experiment of mulitmillionaires?

A: Ninety-two percent of the people who filled out our survey to express interest in moving to the first floating city are not millionaires. We estimate that the cost per square meter in our Floating City Project will cost about what it would in London.  As seasteads get larger, economies of scale may drive prices down  Cruise ships used to be for rich people only.  Mobile phones used to be for rich people only.  Now they are for everyone. Our ultimate goal is to provide better jobs and opportunities for the poor.

Q: How about citizenship, when you settle on a seastead. Will you have your own citizenship? And if you keep US citizenship for instance you will have to pay taxes in the US, if you take on another passport, you lose your citizenship?

A: Seasteads are nowhere near the stage where they are recognized as sovereign nations, but we hope they will be in the future.

Q: What if the regime of a host nation changes?

A: All people everywhere have to cope with what happens when regimes change. If seasteaders follow the examples of defenseless island nations like Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands, Singapore, and Trinidad and Tobago, they will provide value for larger nations.

Q: The name “Seasteading” recalls the homesteads that settlers in the 19th century were able to reclaim. What kind of vision does this name resonate with?

A: The United States was a giant life raft where dissatisfied people could arrive and try out new ideas. Nothing worked out the way anybody planned, but in the cauldron of competition for new citizens, Americans forged new kinds of governments that changed the world.  Disruptive new ideas come from the fringe on the frontier.

Q: San Francisco and the Silicon Valley is one of the most vibrant and innovative communities worldwide. What experiences can you take from the Silicon Valley, what economic and political strategies that can help build new forms of societies?

A: Our experience with the rollercoaster of Silicon Valley teaches us that the smartest experts can’t predict which startups will succeed, but that granting people the technology to try lots of startups allows people to discover solutions. We’d like to bring the startup sensibility to governments. Right now we live in the IBM of nations.  We’d like to provide the technology for people with fresh ideas to try their own Microsofts and Apples in governance.  If people chose to move to those places, we know we’ve created something valuable.

Q: Can states, can societies be run like a startup company?

A: Every society starts as a start-up.  The United States was a start-up country.  The problem is, once they are successful, they don’t allow new startups. Seasteading is a technology to start new startups.

I know it’s strange to think of government as a technology, but when we created democracy in the United States a few hundred years ago, that democracy then spread around the world and created health, wealth, and happiness for millions of people around the world, but now we don’t have a chance to try something new.

[This the first quote they used, and their narrator spoke over Randy’s words in German, saying:  “It might sound strange, but democracy is a dated technology, a few hundred years old. It’s brought prosperity, health and happiness to millions of people on the whole world, but now we want to try something new, and there’s no chance to do that here.”]

In our current systems, governments have monopoly control over captive citizens.  There are many people out there with novel ideas, and no place where they can try their ideas out.  Seasteaders want to provide them the technology to try out their ideas.

[This is the only other quote they used, and their narrator spoke over Joe’s words in German, saying:  “In our system, governments have a monopoly. We citizens are prisoners. There are many ideas for other forms of government, but no space to try them out.”]

Q: It seems like the desire for new forms of social and political systems, the search for alternatives is growing. Where does this come from? (Economic crises? Tax systems? Incompetent governments?)

A: Human beings are creative.  We all profit from this creativity in other industries.  Governance is the one industry that does not permit peaceful disruptive technologies that show us a new way.  We’d like to empower all the people out there with new governance ideas.

Q: Now some of the most successful states in the world like China or Singapore demonstrate that technological success and economic growth is possible without democracy. What does this tell us about future political systems?

A: It tells us we don’t have enough examples of what can work.  Singapore is an island nation. When it gained independence, the average yearly salary was $511 USD.  Today 17% of their population are millionaires.  We’d like to see more unique experiments.

Q: Let’s say like 50 years from now what do you think Seasteading will be like? And what will its contribution to solving the most urgent problems in the world be?

A: We hope in 2065 floating islands nations will discover new ways of living together the same way the American frontier discovered and demonstrated that democratic republics can work.

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Given that none of our answers were used, we wrote Audrey and Joachim the following email:

Joachim:

Consider the political spectrum.  At one extreme end is totalitarianism.  Now look at the opposite end of the political spectrum.  That’s where the seasteading community resides. To introduce seasteaders as totalitarian is a perfect lie.  Calling seasteaders totalitarian is like calling Joachim Gaertner an ethical journalist.

Seasteaders will not dictate our particular plan for government. That’s what a totalitarian would do. Seasteaders seek to technologically empower anybody to start any kind of government they choose. Seasteading is more democratic than democracy, because in the seastead vision, citizens can leave and sail their homes elsewhere any time they want. Seasteading is radical democracy.

You claim you were “intrigued” by seasteading until you listened to our interview and discovered we were totalitarian threats to democracy.  I suppose you were also “intrigued” by Larry Page and Paul Romer, and upon investigation discovered they were also totalitarian threats to democracy?

The great threat to democracy is not a floating island. It’s a press that lies.

Joachim, it can’t feel good to do this kind of reporting, where you portray humanitarian efforts as the opposite of what they are. Larry Page and Paul Romer and many seasteaders are working hard to make the world a better place. You severely disrespected your audience with this fiction piece.  You and Audrey and your colleagues could chose an honest career in journalism.