Next Thursday, Patri Friedman will be speaking at TEDx San Francisco on the theme of what oceans and biological evolution can teach us about the societal ecosystem and evolution of governance. This will be his third time participating at a TEDx event; a video of his most recent talk, at the December 2011 TEDx Hong Kong, is now online.
Last time, Patri used the TEDx stage to present on how seasteading can disrupt the government industry and enable dozens of floating Hong Kongs, each with millions of prosperous citizens. “I like Hong Kong so much that I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to figure out how we can have more places like it,” begins Patri, who initially seems to be channeling his grandfather, the late Milton Friedman, who spent much of his career trying to persuade governments to act more like this literal shining city
on near a hill.
As the elder Friedman wrote in 1997, reflecting on nearly half a century of astonishing growth, “…in 1960, the earliest date for which I have been able to get [data], the average per capita income in Hong Kong was 28 percent of that in Great Britain; by 1996, it had risen to 137 percent of that in Britain.” Friedman went on to point out that these figures are even more impressive when you consider how little land and natural resources were available to citizens of Hong Kong compared with those of Great Britain. Yet these statistics have not convinced governments around the world to adhere to Hong Kong’s governance model. Furthermore, Hong Kong’s isolated success is largely a result of a historical accident, in which the particular circumstances of post-WWII British colonial rule led to a laboratory-like experiment in limited government and free enterprise. Accordingly, Patri chose a different approach than his grandfather to enabling more cities like Hong Kong–seasteading–which relies on neither persuasion nor coincidence.
When seasteaders talk about our goal of establishing multiple Hong Kongs on the high seas, we are not just referring to freedom in a narrow financial sense. While high GDP is important factor in granting greater choice and autonomy to the citizens of a given country, it is even more importantly an effect of policies that leave people free to choose which systems govern their everyday lives. Future cities, whether on the ocean or on land, can learn a great deal from Hong Kong, but new experiments are needed to provide further evidence that Hong Kong is not a fluke, and that the wealth of nations and city-states comes from harnessing human ingenuity under benevolent institutions, not from resource-rich land or five-year master plans.