The Seasteading Institute July 2010 Newsletter
Table of Contents
- TSI News
- State Of The Floating Micro-Nation Movement: Patri’s Mid-Year Update
- Sign up for the 2011 Reason Cruise
- In the World
- The BP Oil Spill – A Political Engineering Problem Solved by Seasteading
- Call to Action
- Know of a foundation that could benefit TSI? Help us reach our goal of $250k by 12/31
- Monthly Updates
- Blog Posts
- Community Links
– TSI News –
State Of The Floating Micro-Nation Movement: Patri’s Mid-Year Update
The mid-year status update is presented as an experiment. It is TSI’s way of keeping our readers well informed about our progress.
Accomplishments & Status
The Poseidon Project is our key initiative to do the research and build the movement from which the first operating seastead will emerge. We’ve made less progress than we hoped this year, as most of our organizational bandwidth has gone into Ephemerisle and fundraising. Despite this, our time/cost estimates have actually gone down, which is wonderful and exciting! The main reason is promising preliminary research suggesting that ships are suitable for Poseidon, and we likely won’t need a ClubStead-like design, which greatly reduces projected engineering costs. Additionally on the business side, we’re finding lots of interest from entrepreneurs who’d want to operate businesses on a seastead, which means Poseidon’s operators won’t have to start or run the onboard businesses, just the seastead itself.
However, we don’t want to let this piece of good fortune get in the way of recognizing our significant mistake. Doing the basic research to enable Poseidon is TSI’s most important area of work, and we should not have let other initiatives, even ones as crucial as fundraising, slow forward progress. Going forward, we will do better at giving Poseidon research the attention it deserves – at the top of our list of priorities. Strategically, we’ve learned key lessons about Ephemerisle planning and keeping fundraising efficient . Financially, thanks to Jim von Ehr’s funding and the redirection of funds from Ephemerisle 2010 (see below), we have more funds available for Poseidon research. The result will be much greater progress the rest of the year.
TSI engineering researcher Miguel Lamas Pardo wrote reports on Dynamic Position power requirements, the Ampere Seamount west of Spain, and classification of seastead structures, as well as engineering blog posts on a variety of research. TSI’s consultants Marine Engineering & Technology presented a paper: Feasibility and Design of the Clubstead: A Cable-Stayed Floating Structure for Offshore Dwellings at OMAE 2010 in Shanghai, the premier offshore engineering conference. And our 2009 engineering intern Eelco Hoogendoorn has generously, on his own time, completed a draft of Part 1 of his Engineering Overview Report.
Later this week, Commercial Lead Max Marty & intern Tony Dreher will be launching Sink or Swim, the first-ever seastead business plan contest, currently with $5,000 in prizes (funded by contest sponsors, led by HumanIPO!). This crowdsourced approach will generate valuable research about promising business models to help establish seasteading’s economic viability.
I gave 12 talks in 5 countries reaching 600+ people, and TSI held Bay Area events ranging from “Film on a Sail” to an Aquarium of the Bay outing to Let Freedom Ring, an evening event partnering with PRI and FEE. Stanford student Jason Sussberg produced his 15-min documentary on seasteading, “The Sea Is A Harsh Mistress”, which premiered at Stanford and in Hamburg and is now headed to the film festival circuit. And our mailing list, Facebook fans, and Twitter followers are all up 30%+ for the year. And we’re trying to expand our networking scope beyond what I can do by having James Hogan, Max Marty, and other TSI staff members attending various events.
Ephemerisle 2010 was canceled due to insurance costs, which was unfortunate, but our ability to change course allowed us to avoid spending much more on the event than it was worth, and direct the saved funds into higher ROI projects like Poseidon research. The community has risen to the challenge by organizing their own floating festival. And event manager Dana Harrison’s great team of staff & volunteers, multitude of new connections in the local marine community, and accumulated learning will be useful to future events like Ephemerisle 2011 – for which planning has already begun! We have many ideas on how to achieve a cost-effective event that spreads the seasteading message for 2011.
Press this year has been low-volume and high-audience, which is ideal, including the Freakonomics Podcast (top 5 on iTunes) and Brazil’s O Globo (1.1M circulation).
As we reported on May 12th, we smashed through our $100k fundraising goal for the first half of the year thanks to a generous $100k gift from Jim von Ehr for location & engineering research. We are more than half-way to meeting the Thiel Foundation’s $250k match for 2010, with $122k in donations received and $17k in pledges on the way. While we are on track, it is mostly because of Jim’s large gift, we have no expectations of such a large gift in the second half, and we have not yet been successful at obtaining foundation grants. So while I am proud of our success to date, especially considering our inexperience, fundraising remains a major concern for the future. Translating individual interest into donations has been very difficult and unsustainably time-consuming (~75% of my time in 2010). Fortunately, we are learning rapidly how to be more efficient going forward.
Strategy Changes & Clarifications
A strategy for such an audacious and long-term goal as settling the oceans cannot be fully specified in advance: it must be fluid (appropriate!). So as we continue taking small steady steps, we often find ourselves making course corrections based on what we’ve learned, which we’d like to share. Here are our main mid-year learnings & changes:
- Ephemerisle 2010 cancellation. This difficult decision significantly altered our year, making our summer less exciting but less hectic, and letting us put more resources into research. We should have been more aggressive about monitoring the ROI of the event, and as Director of Operations James Hogan had warned, six months of lead time was not enough for such a complex event. Also, we’ve realized how much better it would be to locate the event in the SF Bay. So we’re starting Ephemerisle 2011 prep now, a full year in advance, and beginning with research on key issues like insurance to make sure we can achieve a worthwhile ROI before committing significant resources.
- TSI staff need to be more efficient with our time (especially fundraising). We also must continue the constant battle to focus on projects that are useful, even if difficult, rather than those which are fun & easy, but ultimately a distraction. It is not always easy to tell the difference, but we are learning.
- We’d like to remind everyone that TSI’s role in Poseidon will not be in creating seasteads (which is best suited to a separate entity), but to create the conditions which will enable other ventures to build seasteads. We haven’t been communicating this as clearly as we should.
- As the time when these separate ventures appear draws closer, we are talking internally and with our counsel about how TSI should interact with other entities in a way which is fair to all our stakeholders, does not pose conflicts of interest, and is compliant with IRS regulations. We must make sure TSI, as a non-profit donor-funded entity, does not use its resources to unfairly benefit any individual or for-profit corporation.
- Due to the likely shift from platforms to ships for the first seasteads, it looks like TSI will not need to do as much short-term engineering research as we expected, and can focus on longer-term scaling issues like mooring systems and breakwaters. So while we are still looking for a seasoned engineer to lead our efforts, it is no longer clear this is a full-time job, and we may fill the role by partnering with academic researchers.
- On the business side, we are now working on forming a community of entrepreneurs and facilitating the exchange of ideas to catalyze business creation, rather than planning to launch businesses ourselves. This is because we don’t have the time & staff to start businesses as well as doing TSI work, and we are meeting so many entrepreneurs that we don’t think we need to start businesses ourselves in order to have customers for the first seastead’s commercial real estate.
Overall, I have very mixed feelings of worry and accomplishment. Poseidon progress has been slow and key basic research questions are unanswered, yet the finish line has gotten closer and many key research initiatives are beginning. Ephemerisle 2011 in the SF Bay requires major changes to reduce insurance costs, but has exciting potential to become a highly visible floating city in a major metropolitan area. Fundraising has been extremely difficult and time-consuming, but is mathematically on track and getting more efficient.
With a long adventure like seasteading, it can be difficult at times to tell if our hard work will pay off later, but I’m definitely sure that we are learning rapidly (if sometimes painfully) how best to direct our efforts. And so I’m optimistic that we’ll see significant progress in coming months. Glad to have you along on this audacious adventure!
Patri Friedman, Founder & Executive Director, TSI
Short comments? Go to the Facebook Item for this update. Next month we’ll include a forward-looking preview of TSI’s projects for the rest of 2010!
Sign Up for the 2011 Reason Cruise
The First Seasteading Conference on a Cruise Ship
Thus we are pleased to announce that Reason Magazine and The Seasteading Institute are teaming up to bring you a seven-day Caribbean Cruise featuring thought-provoking speakers, influential journalists, and an all-star cast of thinkers and freedom fighters from around the world. As a guest on the Solstice, Celebrity Cruises’ beautiful luxury liner, you’ll be able to take part in a special Seasteading Seminar geared towards exploring the political and economic concepts of seasteading, where you’ll hear directly from TSI Executive Director Patri Friedman as well as TSI Director of Operations, James Hogan.
To learn more and book tickets, visit our Reason Cruise page.
– In the World –
The BP Oil Spill – A Political Engineering Problem Solved by Seasteading
by Eric Jacobus
On April 20 the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, causing arguably the most disastrous oil spill in US history. Is this just the nature of oil drilling, and is an energy revolution the only solution? Or is there an engineering flaw, not in the oil rig, but US governance itself, a flaw that could be solved with the seasteading vision?
Disregard for the Rule of Law
Following the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 the 101st Congress unanimously passed, with 205 Democrat and 155 Republican yes votes, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The act included a key provision, §1004:
§1004: … holders of leases or permits for offshore facilities, except deepwater ports, are liable for up to $75 million per spill, plus removal costs.
According to the law BP is required to pay only $75 million in liabilities after cleanup costs. The Obama administration has called for a $10B levy on BP to be applied retroactively, despite the 1990 bill, an indication that the federal judicial system has little regard for the rule of law that it established. Such legal uncertainty is problematic and economically non-competitive, but without an open market for experimental governments to implement a strict rule of law, businesses are often left with few alternatives. With seasteading in the picture, the market for government would be much more competitive. And given the economic advantage when governments adhere to the rule of law, seasteads could solve this problem, not just in America, but in any country that must then compete with a nearby seastead’s sound, attractive legal system.
The Regulatory Environment
Further reading of the wiki article reveals that the Horizon rig was exempt from US regulatory scrutiny, as evidenced by an article whose title says it all, “Feds let BP avoid filing blowout plan for Gulf rig“:
Petrochemical giant BP didn’t file a plan to specifically handle a major oil spill from an uncontrolled blowout at its Deepwater Horizon project because the federal agency that regulates offshore rigs changed its rules two years ago to exempt certain projects in the central Gulf region, according to an Associated Press review of official records.
Complex and corrupt regulatory environments are not only uncompetitive in the market, but often destructive, and they’re symptomatic of ballooning, sclerotic governments. Seasteading could spell the end of regulatory regimes such as these, introducing more competitive systems.
Engineering as a Solution
The standard response to this problem, after blaming the private sector, is that we need better laws and a better regulatory agency. New laws are passed, a new staff is given regulatory authority, but these solutions tend to cause more problems than they solve. Congress has already incentivized people to buy more efficient cars, and if a 0.65 mpg improvement in fuel economy at the cost of $1.38B in tax money is considered a success then they’ll try it again. But even if we change to a renewable energy source, will Congress respect the rule of law? And will regulatory agencies become more effective and less corrupt somehow? If not, we’re back where we started.
A better option would be to make the private sector 100% accountable. But under the US political system 100% accountability is asking too much. If it’s politically unfeasible for Congress to let GM be liable for their losses then can we expect any difference in their treatment of oil companies? Or solar companies? The risk is passed on to taxpayers by elected officials who aren’t held accountable for the long-term effects of their laws, and the voters who put them into office certainly don’t expect to be held accountable either. There’s no accountability, so it has to be distributed via taxation, which slows our economy and makes us less competitive.
Seasteading presents an engineering solution: instead of changing the regime, make a competitive one. Such competition might try 100% accountability and strict rule of law, or it might be bold and try 0% and no rule of law, but if the Worldwide Governance Indicators tell us anything it’s that rule of law correlates with healthy economies. In the market of governance, strong economies survive, bad economies crumble, and the regulatory and legislative blunders that bring about multi-billion dollar disasters like the BP spill will have nothing to stand on.
– Call to Action –
Know of a foundation that could benefit TSI? Help us reach our goal of $250k by 12/31
TSI is actively looking to make connections with the foundation world, which are crucial to our meeting our ongoing funding needs. If you have contacts who work at grant-making organizations, whether private foundations, public agencies, or corporate foundations, drop us a line at to figure out whether we might fit their areas of interest and benefit from an introduction.
– Monthly Updates –
- Main Blog
- Engineering Blog
- Let A Thousand Nations Bloom
- July 8th-11th: FreedomFest 2010 — Come visit Patri Friedman, James Hogan, and Max Marty at The Seasteading Institute booth! This year’s 7th Annual FreedomFest happens in Las Vegas, Nevada. Register for the event here.
Jason Sussberg, creator of the Ephemerisle Documentary, has uploaded his short film, History of Libertarian Countries at Sea, where Patri narrates previous attempts of creating autonomous freeholds in international waters.
TSI has presences on most major social networking sites. These are used for announcements, discussion, and are a good way to find other seasteaders in your area.
– Special Thanks –
To our donors and members, who continue to astound us with their generosity, their volunteered insights, and the quality of their characters;
To our forum participants, who have been keeping discussions lively, fresh, and civil, helping to further the cause of seasteading on all fronts;
And to you, for reading our newsletter!
See you next month!
Direct link to this blog post: https://seasteading.org/blogs/main/2010/07/08/the-seasteading-institute-july-2010-newsletter