The Problem with Seasteading

I first wrote about seasteading two years ago, shortly after the Seasteading Institute launched. The brainchild of Patri Friedman (grandson of Milton) and others, seasteading is a program for political reform based on a proliferation of self-governing ocean colonies. As I described it in 2008:

A key advantage of seasteads is what Friedman calls “dynamic geography,” the fact that any given seasteading unit is free to join or leave larger units within seasteading communities. Seasteading platforms would likely band together to provide common services like police protection, but with the key difference that any platform that was dissatisfied with the value it was receiving from such jurisdictions could leave them at any time. [Friedman] argues that this would “move power downward,” giving smaller units within society greater leverage to ensure the interests of their members are being served.

Seasteading is based on a delightfully bottom-up argument: that the problem with government is the lack of choice. If I don’t like my job, my apartment, or my grocery store, I can easily pick up and go somewhere else. The threat of exit induces employers, landlords, and store owners, and the like to treat us well without a lot of top-down oversight. In contrast, switching governments is hard, so governments treat us poorly. Seasteaders aim to change that.

The pragmatic incrementalism of seasteading is also appealing. Friedman doesn’t have to foment a revolution, or even win an election, to give seasteading a try. If he can just a few hundred people of the merits of his ideas, they can go try it without needing assistance or support from the rest of us. If the experiment fails, the cost is relatively small.

Yet seasteading is a deeply flawed project. In particular, the theory of dynamic geography is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationships among mobility, wealth creation, and government power. In a real-world seasteading community, powerful economic forces would cripple dynamic geography and leave seasteaders no freer than the rest of us.

To see the problem, imagine if someone developed the technology to transform my apartment building in Manhattan into a floating platform. Its owners could, at any time, float us out into the Hudson river and move to another state or country. Would they do it? Obviously not. They have hundreds of tenants who are paying good money to live in Manhattan. We’d be furious if we woke up one morning and found ourselves off the coast of South Carolina. Things get more, not less, difficult at larger scales. Imagine if Long Island (which includes the New York boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn and a lot of suburbs) were a huge ocean-going vessel. The residents of Long Island would overwhelmingly oppose moving; most of them have jobs, friends, familiy, churches, favorite restaurants, and other connections to the rest of the New York metro area. The value of being adjacent to Manhattan swamps whatever benefits there might be to being part of a state with lower taxes or better regulations.

Successful cities need a variety of infrastructure—roads, electricity, network connectivity, water and sewer lines, and so forth. At small scales you could probably design this infrastructure to be completely modular. But that approach doesn’t scale; at some point you need expensive fixed infrastructure—multi-lane highways, bridges, water mains, subway lines, power plants—that only make economic sense if built on a geographically stable foundation. Such infrastructure wouldn’t be feasible in a “dynamic” city, and without such infrastructure it’s hard to imagine a city of even modest size being viable.

I think the seasteaders’ response to this is that the advantages of increased liberty would be so large that people would be willing to deal with the inconveniences necessary to preserve dynamic geography. But here’s the thing: The question of whether the advantages of freedom (in the “leave me alone” sense) outweigh the benefits of living in large urban areas is not a theoretical one. If all you care about is avoiding the long arm of the law, that’s actually pretty easy to do. Buy a cabin in the woods in Wyoming and the government will pretty much leave you alone. Pick a job that allows you to deal in cash and you can probably get away without filing a tax return. In reality, hardly anyone does this. To the contrary, people have been leaving rural areas for high-tax, high-regulation cities for decades.

Almost no one’s goal in life is to maximize their liberty in this abstract sense. Rather, liberty is valuable because it enables us to achieve other goals, like raising a family, having a successful career, making friends, and so forth. To achieve those kinds of goals, you pretty much have to live near other people, conform to social norms, and make long-term investments. And people who live close together for long periods of time need a system of mechanisms for resolving disputes, which is to say they need a government.

The power of governments rests not on the immobility of real estate, but from the fact that people want to form durable relationships with other people. The residents of a seastead city would be no more enthusiastic about dynamic geopgrahy than the residents of Brooklyn. Which means that the government of the city would have the same kind of power Mayor Bloomberg has. Indeed, it would likely have more power, because the seastead city wouldn’t have New Jersey a few hundred yards away ready to take disaffected residents.

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58 Responses to The Problem with Seasteading

  1. Don Marti says:

    What if a seastead is more of a “company town” run by a company that offers services such as ship-based offshore engineering? An employer can move close to where the customers are, without getting work visas for employees who only work aboard.

  2. Brian Moore says:

    Might “imagine New York as a seastead” be a flawed metaphor? New York evolved as a city very different than a future seastead New York would — over 400 years and with a very different historical path. Perhaps a proto ssNY, because the economic costs of moving would still be low, would adhere to Friedman’s goals, and then develop a history of those policies which would still hold when it got much larger.

    I honestly have no idea. Maybe seastead New York would look just like, uh, land-stead New York. But I have absolutely no idea what a seasteaded city would look like. I don’t know what I would equate it to at this point. Yeah, my cutting comment to your post is: I am totally ignorant. Take that.

  3. Tim Lee says:

    Obviously, on some level it’s hard to say what a seasteading city would look like. And if Friedman can convince people to try it out, more power to him.

    But my point is that the power of governments has very little to do with the static geography, or any other specific feature, of today’s cities. The vast majority of society’s wealth is tied up in close-knit social and professional networks and fixed, large-scale, long-term investments. These things are inherently easy to tax and regulate because they’re inherently slow-moving. It’s why Wall Street is still on Wall Street despite the fact that they could get much lower taxes if they relocated to South Dakota. Ditto for Silicon Valley, which could save a bundle on income taxes by moving to Nevada. The reason these companies stay where they are isn’t because they can’t afford to build new buildings in another state. (If anything, building a new building in South Dakota would be dramatically cheaper than renting office space where they are now) It’s because their employees are too deeply embedded in the social and professional fabric of the New York and San Francisco metro areas, respectively, to leave them. Dynamic geography changes this situation not at all.

  4. Brian Moore says:

    Yeah, I see your point. I myself live where I live not because of some reasoned assessment of laws and taxation (’cause whatever the optimal form of those things are, Ohio ain’t it) but because of that social fabric of friends and family.

    In a somewhat related topic, have you seen Arnold Kling’s, uh, person-steading suggestion, which would allow people to pick what legal jurisdiction they were in, regardless of physical location? It’s more fully fleshed out than that, but I can’t find the link right now…

  5. Brian Moore says:

    I’d like to note another major problem with seasteading, as shown by your picture above: their interior decorating.

  6. Walsh44 says:

    Remember Gateway Computers? The ones that came in the spotted cow boxes? They moved their corporate headquarters from bucolic South Dakota to the San Diego area in 2001, reportedly because the caliber of executives the company wanted to attract & keep wanted the amenities & quality of life that a West Coast metropolitan area offered, not the rural charms of North Sioux City, SD.

  7. dadafountain says:

    Any gamers reading this? If so, maybe I’m not the only one who gets major creepy deja vu from Bioshock when they hear about seasteading. Or is that just me?

  8. Tom says:

    dadafountain: It’s not just you.

    I think Tim’s argument is completely right, but I’m not sure the seasteaders deserve responses of its quality. The idea strikes me as being every bit as risible as hippy communes or any other utopian scheme — except in this case it’s also both economically unworkable, and wouldn’t enjoy the communitarian norms that slow those efforts’ inevitable descents into fractiousness.

  9. Kevin G says:

    dadafountain & Tom: just wait for Bioshock Infinite. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_gEzOZKyE4

  10. shecky says:

    It’s even worse than Tom says. Seasteading is beyond utopian. It’s just a batshit crazy scheme. So much so, I think few people outside the looniest of libertarian circles would not laugh at the notion.

    When you stop laughing, and give it some thought, you begin to realize just how wacky the whole idea is. Thanks in part to Tim’s post, it became a bit more clear.

  11. hetherjw says:

    The whole argument of scale is beside the point. The point is for a small band of economically well off people to hide from the government and still keep their economic power (not something that can be done in the Wyoming cabin example in the piece). As soon as you get any type of scale you have lower (relative) income people who are in need of services. Seasteading just provides an opportunity to go somewhere where services don’t have to be provided and the most well off can move to away from the least well off. The libertarian ideal.

  12. Tulse says:

    Wait a minute…are you saying that libertarianism is ridiculously impractical and ignores real-world human psychology? Huh…who’d a thunk it?

  13. Francis says:

    There’s one other tiny little problem w/ seasteading and spacesteading — the environment is incredibly dangerous. If you want to “seastead” within a few miles of the US coastline, the US Navy is pretty much going to insist that you’re within the US system of government. If you want to cut loose and float the great Pacific Ocean, in addition to the problem of growing your own food in a salty environment, you get the pesky details of dealing with hurricanes, pirates and the other dangers of the deep ocean.

  14. Egypt Steve says:

    How can Friedman be confident that “any platform that was dissatisfied with the value it was receiving from such jurisdictions could leave them at any time”? When in human history has this ever been the case?

  15. Infidel753 says:

    Probably the best argument against the viability of seasteading is that the idea has been around for years and there’s still no one actually doing it. To anyone reading this who thinks seasteading is both practical and attractive, what’s stopping you?

  16. Tulse says:

    Probably the best argument against the viability of seasteading is that the idea has been around for years and there’s still no one actually doing it.

    And it’s not like there haven’t been attempts to: as Tim’s earlier article points out, the Seasteading website itself lists at least 8 failed projects.

    Surely if this were practical we would have a whole flock of New Libertarias floating on the seas, serving as enticing targets for pirates.

  17. Jess says:

    Seasteading is the self-inflicted straw man of libertarianism. Every time a libertarian suggests some small, reasonable, entirely-defensible reduction in state power (or, equivalently, an anarchist suggests some small, reasonable, entirely-defensible reduction in corporate power [there is not only equivalence but also a great deal of overlap here]), the great intellectual defenders of the status quo respond triumphantly with, “Oh yeah? What if there was no government or corporatism at all? Then it would be like Somalia or Waterworld or something!” In response to this inanity, great libertarian thinkers offer… seasteading?

    Good grief.

  18. Jose Jimenez says:

    There is an even more fundamental flaw to this idea.

    The super rich figured out seasteading a long long time ago. They buy these things called “yachts”, and they cruise around with their friends and go wherever they want and do whatever they want (John F Kennedy for example).

    If I were one of these super rich people and got a brochure promoting a “penthouse” in a floating oil rig, I’d say “fuck you, I already have a 50 million dollar yacht, gotta go, to Barcelona. goodbye”

    The idea just seems fundamentally brain damaged, which makes sense as it was spawned by a bunch of libertarian whackjobs (a unique sort of whackjobbery that seems to be particular to the western US).

    I don’t get it. If you want to be in the middle of nowhere, just buy a shack in Nevada. It’s way cheaper, and just as boring.

  19. Joe S. says:

    Yeah, I like your claim that people go to big cities because that’s where the jobs are. What jobs are those?

  20. Brian Moore says:

    Bioshock references = +10 pts.

  21. Kris says:

    Your basic argument is that seasteading is mainly about being able to move if you don’t like the government. You’re right that if a seastead grows, that’ll quickly become impractical for most residents. But I see the main benefit of seasteading as being _more_ living space rather than a fundamentally different _kind_ of living space where villainy somehow can’t exist. That is, the “dynamic geography” is less important and realistic than the chance to start over and maybe try a constitutional, capitalist republic similar to what the US once was. (Comments about how libertarians == anarchists are a strawman argument.)

    What’s holding seasteading back? As the Seastead Institute guys point out, past projects have tended to be ridiculous communes with no business plan. “Let’s find a billionaire to hand us money to build something cool with no plausible return.” There’s still no clear, economically viable way to get a seastead working, but now that people are paying attention to the practical concerns, there’s been progress. Check out the “Seasteading Book” for some early research. Also, with advances in technology — I was just reading about a more efficient desalination device for instance — there are more options for building a worthwhile ocean industry and for making a seastead liveable. Give the idea time and maybe it’ll surprise you.

    Oh, and the comments about pirates strike me as silly. You don’t really think people extreme enough to move to a seastead will greet pirates with dinky nonlethal weapons and UN resolutions, do you?

  22. BobDobolina says:

    Don Marti provides the single best warning I can think of about sea-steading. Any such arrangement would, IMO, very likely develop into something like a “company town.” If that doesn’t turn you off the concept right there, then congratulations on never having been exposed to the history of the “company town.”

    Jess: “the great intellectual defenders of the status quo respond triumphantly with, “Oh yeah? What if there was no government or corporatism at all? Then it would be like Somalia or Waterworld or something!”

    Actually, in my experience, Somalia usually comes up when “anarcho-capitalists” try to present it as an example of libertarianism in action. And yes, that still happens.

    Kris: “(Comments about how libertarians == anarchists are a strawman argument.)”

    Not really. There are all sorts of libertarians who claim to be anarchists or “anarcho-capitalists.” In fact that’s a fairly major sector of libertarianism.

    I know it sucks to be the non-crazy kind of libertarian and have to endure getting bashed over the head with the sins of the crazier portions of your movement time and again. I may not always agree with the sane, Jim Henley style of libertarian, but at least they’re not living on a different planet, are generally sane enough to know why speed limits exist and than Ayn Rand is an embarrassing figure, and are courageous enough to actually own up to the less right-wing-friendly aspects of their ideology. It sucks that such people get lumped in with the kooks, but … let’s face it, the sane parts of libertarianism are really just classical liberalism. When it comes down to it, it’s the frisson of having revolutionary (and unfortunately often impractical) ideas to offer that makes “libertarianism” distinguishable as such.

  23. Gene Callahan says:

    “libertarians == anarchists”

    Kris, are you commenting in C++?

    “Jim Henley style of libertarian”Bob, Jim doesn’t consider himself a libertarian no more.

  24. Glen Raphael says:

    “Surely if this were practical we would [by now] have a whole flock of New Libertarias floating on the seas”

    That one is trivial for a seasteading fan to answer: it’s not practical yet. Which doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.

    Think of the cost of having a big government around as the “Government Tax” and the cost of staying alive and comfortable on the ocean as the “Sea Tax”. So long as the Sea Tax is larger than the Government Tax, Seasteading isn’t very practical. But the Sea Tax isn’t proportional to your income and actually keeps declining with technological progress. Each new advance in technologies such as solar panels and distillation systems reduces the cost of the Sea Tax as does economic growth generally. Eventually those lines on the chart are probably going to cross. Not for everyone, but certainly for some. Then seasteading will be practical.

  25. Patri Friedman says:

    There are some good points in Tim’s post about the limited benefit of modularity (although the comments are embarrassingly bad), but it contains mistaken assumptions about the sizes of modules, the exact benefits of modularity, and how it would function in practice. That’s my fault for having lazily used the convenient sound-bite, rather than clearly explained the details, and for not having written up those details in any accessible way. For this reason, the bulk of my and my co-workers thoughts on Tim’s article have been put in the notes section of the book we’re writing, so that we can address them for a larger audience.

    However, it is Tim’s mistake to assume that the only or main benefit to seasteading is modularity. If people could create new un-modular sovereign islands, that alone would revolutionize the government industry. Modularity is gravy.

    And much of what Tim claims about mobility is just wrong. By his arguments, the United States could never have formed, because no one would have left the big cities with their fixed infrastructure for the empty territory. There would be no rich hedge fund managers leaving NYC for Connecticut. The US would not have hundreds of rich taxpatriates every year renouncing their citizenship (the number is growing rapidly). We wouldn’t see a net tax migration from high-tax to low-tax US states. Sure, most people won’t move to get a better rule set, but some will. Those people, plus lots and lots of tourists, will make the seed for a new city.

  26. Hunter says:

    @Patri Friedman: “And much of what Tim claims about mobility is just wrong. By his arguments, the United States could never have formed, because no one would have left the big cities with their fixed infrastructure for the empty territory.”

    Speaking of embarrassingly bad comments… Of course there will always be pioneers when geographically possible, there are also some pretty obvious regularities in the development of human societies. Not to be too glib, but you could probably learn a lot by watching, say, Deadwood. Or considering the fact that the real increases in freedom in England over the last two centuries pretty clearly developed out of the internal dynamics of that society, not in response to the existence of America.

  27. Don Marti says:

    @Walsh44: actually, I do remember Gateway. After they moved HQ to California, those high-caliber executives executed a near-perfect corporate flame-out. They went from Fortune 500 to getting picked up cheaply by Acer. Maybe they would have been better off going to sea.

  28. BobDobolina says:

    “Jim doesn’t consider himself a libertarian no more.”

    Ah, well. That makes sense. Good for him.

  29. Roger says:

    Patri,

    Your references to rich taxpatriates who are already renouncing their citizenship spotlights the key issue with this and all other ‘Going Galt’ fantasies – rich people can already arrange things so that they pay little or no tax and can evade or just break national laws with if not complete impunity a pretty high probability of nothing really bad happening to them.

    So if you can transfer your property and citizenship to the Cayman Isles, Monaco or Belize while still spending as much time as you want in NYC, Paris or London and hire Johnnie Cochrane to resolve any annoying accusations of murder or pedophilia that might crop up why the hell should you want to relocate yourself to a converted oil rig?

    And as someone else pointed out the rich already have seasteads – they are called ocean-going yachts – and indeed L Ron Hubbard sailed his and a whole flotilla full of scientologists from port to port for years on end when he was too paranoid to set foot on dry ground.

    In fact the only way I can ever see this getting off the ground, seabed or whatever (I must admit to a certain haziness on the technicalities…) is if you can find enough desperate socialists to join up – we’re generally the people who really fear and loathe our society and are still utopian/dumb enough to imagine that if only we had a really blank slate we might finally make it work.

    In fact I rather like the vision of Kropotkinist and Randian and Stalinist and Hayekian and Trotskyist platforms uneasily co-existing.

    There is even a historical analogy of sorts in the Stylite movement in the late Roman Empire: once St Simeon had the bright idea of sitting on a pillar out in the desert to contemplate infinity in perfect solitude, a whole forest of rival stylites grew up around him – each with a little sect of groundling supporters who financed the constant competitive raising of their heroes pillars, while the stylites themselves roundly abused and flung their filth at each other to express disagreement on various abstruse points of theology.

    And thinking of religious fanatics on platforms how do you think things will go for you if even one Jihadist millionaire decides that a seastead is a perfect site for a madrassa/training camp? – I am genuinely curious…

  30. Rich Allen says:

    I dont agree with this article at all. Why does the author select one of the worst models of a seastead to display with the article. does he work for fox news? i smell some rupert.

  31. Chad says:

    Fox news? You realise libertarians (a large majority of those who support seasteading) are usually right wingers? Limited government, low taxes, freedom… does that sound like something fox would report as bad? Only CNN would do that. And they are just as bad as Fox at picking and choosing how to make people look bad.

    As for the article it has some gapping holes in it for sure.

    For one some of the designs I have seen were for one family seasteads. Others for about a block of people. Not to mention the ideas of making the seasteads like floating cubes where they can connect and dissconnect easily (not that I’m for living in a cube). 1-5K people countries could be easily swayed by just the threat of a percentage of their population leaving. That alone gives the people more power.

    I for one picture a seastead off the east cost… the whole thing sort of like a floating Las Vagas. Casinos, shows, clubs, hotels. Floating north as summer comes then back down south out of the cold. That way the people on the east cost wouldn’t have to travel half way across the US for some good casinos and fun. Think about it, the people who live their wouldn’t need to produce their own food as every time they neared a city (NYC, Boston, Miami) they’d get an influx of people coming to buy their ‘product’. Now these casinos and clubs would be bigger solider moduals, while the workers would still be smaller detachable houses hidden away from the shore side of the town/city. If they got tired they could easily leave with their small black of housing. And if the city lost to many people it wouldn’t function.

  32. safira says:

    apparently most have not heard of boats yet …. rafted together makes them a seastead

  33. economist12345 says:

    “In fact I rather like the vision of … Stalinist … and Trotskyist platforms uneasily co-existing.”

    Socialism in One Seastead? Or not?

  34. Nick B. says:

    This argument is rather spurious. You’re describing large cities as positive network externalities that simply can’ t be overcome. If that were the case, *everyone* would live in large business hubs. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. At all. And furthermore, with the advent of the Internet and the rise of telecommuting – the fundamental nature of business is shifting away from centralization. If I can earn my living from anywhere, then I have no need for centralized tyrannical power. And that’s what we’re talking about – if the ‘governments’ of sea-sted communities became centralized, people wouldn’t leave because they need their social ties. (i.e. centralization)

    It’s patently false. People that willingly pick up and leave their *country* to escape tyranny aren’t going to accept it on the high seas just because of social ties. And furthermore, you act as if fragmentation of sea-sted communities would happen on an individual level, which is also wrong. If I leave, I’m most likely taking my friends with me because our values are the same; we’re in the community in the first place to avoid tyranny. If it starts occurring, that’s the point – we, like capital flowing toward the freest markets – can easily leave ourselves.

    Sea-stedding is a philosophically sound idea. The fact that half of these responses are nothing but mocking and namecalling (as opposed to counterarguments) is why tyranny exists in the first place. Mindless conformity based on whatever the flawed cultural zeitgeist of the time happens to be. I’ll take the “lunatic libertarian” label happily, because a cursory examination of the idiot making the assertion exposes the attacker for what he/she is: just another scared fool defending the deluded status quo at all costs.

  35. Martin woodhead says:

    The slightly bonkers living universe foundation has a version of seasteading that’s actually viable having a rationale and a way of being profitable.
    Seastead is built round a giant optec a turbine that works round the temprature diffrence between surface and deep water.
    This as a side effect produces an artifical upswelling so perfect place to do aquaculture that’s more effective than conventional fish farming which has been likened to raising tigers for meat.
    Optec produces excess energy that can be transported or converted into hydrogen
    or used to make seacrete to extend the seastead
    also lots and lots of food.

  36. Grayson says:

    To me seasteading is not about the opportunity to be able to constantly pick up and move from seastead to seastead, it would be about being able to leave the countrys we are now residing in to a seastead with a govornment that fits our own ideals. Oviously people and businesses won’t move from Wall Street or Silicone vally to another city for a slightly lower tax rate in the same doome country, but they will for a entirerly new system of government. Seasteads will not be competing with eachother having citizens constantly moving from one to another, they will be competing with the established and corrupt govornments of this world and this is were there citizens will come from. I see the seasteads of the future as large city’s with large scale infrastructure, these city’s will not be built to break apart from themselves as the author suggests, but to break apart from the already established country’s. The people living there would establish social and economical ties for life in their new seastead.

  37. Dan Dascalescu says:

    I can see how at a large scale, a seastead may seem like a utopian idea. Can anyone guarantee a seastead will actually work? Nope. Can most of the questions be answered theoretically? Yes, and The Seasteading Institute has a Seasteading FAQ that addresses pretty much every objection I’ve seen above, including the frivolous one of pirates.

    Anyway, what we can do is start small, for example by having a shipstead first, seeing how that fares out, and learning from the experience. A year after Tim posted this article, The Seasteading Institute has spun off a commercial entity, whose aim is the very realistic goal of creating a high tech visa-free entrepreneurship center based on an ocean vessel 24 miles off of Silicon Valley, in international waters. The name of this startup is BlueSeed.

  38. Max M says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post Timothy. A few comments:

    First, I think you’re confusing large-scale dynamic geography with small-scale dynamic geography. Like you says, it might not be a good idea if Long island decided to float away and end up in So.Carolina or whatever, and it’s tenants would be pretty pissed. However moving entities at a more granular level, for example as seen in this picture (http://seasteading.org/design-contest-winners#personality), is a fantastic idea. The more granular a level you can get dynamic geography to operate on the more likely you are to find that the benefits of moving outweigh the costs for any given entity (individual, family, neighborhood, and so on).

    So I’d pretty much disagree that you can’t make geography, and infrastructure, compatible with a dynamic environment. Our phones used to be tied to a specific location, soon those became tied to cities and states in the early days of the cell phone, now they are national or even international. Our lives are becoming far more dynamic as well, as we can “plug in” to our infrastructure from anywhere in the world and access what’s important to us. This isn’t quite the same as bridges and highways, but those are only necessary because we don’t build with the same kind of density on land as we are forced to do on water. Imagine a city of RVs or trailer homes that was actually the purview of the middle class and wealthy.

    Finally, I think the people of Long Island wouldn’t mind much moving if they expected that long island would float around. Sometimes it would be in NY, sometimes down in Miami Beach. It wouldn’t be used the way it is now of course, it would be used differently, but it wouldn’t be violating existing norms and expectations if it started that way – it would just be serving a different market segment.

  39. Ross C says:

    The seastead project is fascinating and provocative – that’s a Good Thing in itself. History is loaded with examples of communities forming and reforming, roaming, “escaping”. Like attracts like. The Monasteries. Toledo, the community of literature. Florence. The Pilgrims. The Amish. Jonestown. Salt Lake City. The kibbutz. Pol Pot and Year Zero. Las Vegas. The huge aircraft carriers. The UAE.

    We are nomads and migrants after all. If we fast forward to 2080: perhaps we see a utopian advertising campaign channelling ‘Blade Runner’ – “Come to the Offworlds…”

    BTW, I think beef and pork will become exotic foods one day. I like the idea of a seastead population eating sustainable seafood product… out there in the suntanned tropics.. having a BBQ on their astro-turf rec areas.

    More power to them.

  40. Ron says:

    The typical libertarian is not a social animal,would be more comfy in a valley in Idaho with a mile…or twenty between him and his neighbor.

    Sharing a Giant Raft with a hundred or a thousand other cranky individualists who want THEIR way….could get messy. People with a SOCIAL bent (implying liberal tendencies) a willingness to share,co-operate would fare better. You also run into complications if it costs a lot to be there. Then you got a lot of Alpha Dogs in close quarters, and some question of who does the dirty work,and what’s in it for them.

    I HAVE been in situations where for a time a LOT of people get along well,short term, in a limited space,such as campover bluegrass festivals,where there’s not much visible staff but people do right…on the honor system,a model that in the past has had some success. The thing though…it’s a different lot of folks in a different context,and temporary. The site…kind of suggests a libertarian refuge from rules…yet the population are well to do and in business in some way. It’s implied this island is or is not sort of connected at it’s convenience to the USA or some “mainland” yet ducks all responsibilities to wherever it’s base of support is?

    Aside from a tax dodge, how is this different from a compound,a “gated community” on land but distant from others? Buy a big parcel in N Dakota.

  41. Tyger says:

    2 major flaws I must point out, first, people don’t get along well in cramped quarters. Someone quoted “Lock 10 people in a room and they may or may not elect a leader but they will damn sure find someone to hate.” I have seen this play out in many places from the workplace to loose groups of “friends” vacationing together. Even family groups can become toxic, as someone who has spent 3 months on a sailboat with my own family I can tell you things get ugly, every little thing is magnified and escalated by the inability to get some space, distance and prespective! Add wealth into this powderkeg and it’s addictive counterpoint “power” and the pissing matches will evolve into death matches.

    The other problem is the assumption that there will be more “freedom” or less laws. Isolated living requires MORE rules, more sacrifice, more consideration of others! I can’t think of a faster way for things to go wrong than with drugs and drinking, don’t get me wrong, I love them both but the unavoidable truth is we do things that tend to offend others and it’s one thing if you never have to see the people again and quite another if they are unavoidable!

    Lastly, as others have pointed out, part of the fun of being wealthy is the ability to travel at will, dine out at the best restaurants and enjoy the finest the world has to offer so what could an isolated life offer? How could you possibily get emergency medical care? How would you educate your children? Even if you paid an absurd amount of money how many good teachers would be willing to join your colony?

    I wanted to like the idea but that is just what it is, an idea. It will never be more than a pipe dream and should probably never be attempted again. I’m reminded of the film “the beach” with Leonardo DeCapprio, it starts out like a eutopia and eventually disolves into hell…

  42. Frank Homann says:

    Problem is that we are all bound to democratic nation states, one way or the other, where the natural outcome over time is that the majority puts the minority to work for them AND imposes their moral dogmas. Perhaps it is still tolerable today, but over time Parkinson´s law will have it that governments grow and grow and need more and more (money and power). This is certainly what has happened in Europe over the past decades. The US seems to be going down the same route. With baby boomers retiring, and government expenses bound to explode, the clock is ticking.

    A libertarian party will never win an election. Two wolfes and a sheep vote on what to have for dinner. Persuading the wolfes to become vegetarians is a noble attempt, but a losing one.

    What would be a bomb under the nationstate and monopoly, violent state-governments is the idea behind Seasteading, i.e. that there is a free market for governments/states.

    Perhaps the vehicle, floating, converted oil-rigs in the middle of the ocean, is not a realistic or an attractive one. Per the many comments above, the vehicle has an inherent flaw in the concept. If you are rich, you have many options to flee and establish your own Yacht-based Seastead. If you are not so rich you are challenged with living together with a bunch of other individualists, in the middle of the ocean, with little access to the goods of civilization.

    So, let´s find another vehicle.

  43. Dan says:

    “people who live close together for long periods of time need a system of mechanisms for resolving disputes…” True

    “…which is to say they need a government.” False

    To resolve a dispute, people either resolve it on their own, or rely on services to help them. There’s no reason those services have to be provided by government. Like any service, consumers would be much better off if they could choose a service provider among freely competing service providers, rather than being forced, using threats of imprisonment, to pay for a single coercive government monopoly service.

  44. Starr says:

    If seasteading forms, I’d love to move onto one. And honest, I wouldn’t really care where in the world I was based as long as I can live the way I please. I think it really depends on the people who are really committed to this idea.

  45. John says:

    I agree. Seasteading is a ridiculuous construct at best. Why not just buy an uninhabited island out in the pacific somewhere, dig a well (if you can get drinkable water) and pitch a tent, and viola, you are Robinson Crusoe! The result is the same. Little to no government influence or control…

  46. Skeptical Empiricist says:

    Most of these comments are pretty sad. It’s easy to see why people would be inspired to invest millions of dollar on a far-fetched idea such as “seasteading”…the entrenched, cant-think-for-themselves sheep of the world desperately clinging and defending the status quo.

    All of the Theorycrafting about governments and economic models doesnt mean shit without being to empirically test (and therefore confirm/deny) it.

    The biggest potential advantage is not a “tax haven” (as mentioned, you can work business loopholes, move money offshore, etc), nor “modularity” (you can just move). The biggest potential advantage is being able to use these sea-states as a way to ACTUALLY TEST AND COMPARE differing political/economic social constructs in a comparative way.

    Instead of “Somalia is what a libertarian community looks like” or trying to compare communism vs [arguably more] laissez-faire with a case like China vs Hong Kong, we would have something much more valuable. You would have differing societal constructs with similar geographic (ie, middle of the ocean), with similar economic potential and resources (having to import/export a lot, rely on internet/service-industries and whatever local business can flourish).

    The advantageous of this should be obvious.

    …Or not… if you prefer to drone through life believing everything you see on cnn/fox/bbc/al jazeera, what your parents told you, what your politicians tell you, and what your equally drone-like friends tell you.

    “But what if it fails?!?”

    Oh F-ing well. Some money is lost. It beats millions of lives lost in a bloody revolution.

  47. And, yet, again, man needs to expand. When will we ever get it right? I see no discussion about the environmental impact on this idea. As an avid sailor, I can tell you that the cost of maintaining a structure in the ocean will be a black hole. Fine, if you have the money, do it. But, have not yet, again, learned our lessons? We have everything before us, and, yet, some men want to build more in the name of some glorious pursuit. Please done. LEAVE the ocean to its natural state. Use that money to TEACH people how to love what we have. As a nature teacher who uses nothing but wit and beautiful forest, that is still beautiful, we have a long way to go. Don’t continue to build and build and build. STOP.

  48. TJ says:

    I think that a lot of the critics are missing the point. If there are business that can increase their profits by moving to the sea they will. Its as simple as that. If a large seastead has an abundant power supply (think naval fission reactor), the self sustaining part becomes realistic. If you really wanted to make huge profits, producing mass amouts of drugs (leagal and non) would probably make the whole excersion pay for itself many times over. Another potential appliction is for a off shore space port. This is a proven application check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Launch.

  49. Mike says:

    I mentioned this blog post on my blog – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-b-fishbein/innovation-in-the-governm_b_1501654.html – thought you might like it

  50. Jeff Davis says:

    Timothy’s article seems a typically unfalsifiable example of “It’ll never work.” And most of the comments that agree are simply echoes of “It’ll never work.”

    If you had the opportunity, as a brash new graduate looking to make a life for yourself, to move to a modern coastal community, free of crime, unemployment, litter, pollution, and political corruption, with top-tier infrastructure and services and markedly lower taxes, and whose fellow citizens were bright well-educated, well-mannered and like-minded, wouldn’t you choose to go there to build a life? And if you were born and raised there would you not choose to stay? And if the folks in the community enjoyed all these benefits but were not of like mind to yourself, but a similar community of like-minded folks was available, wouldn’t you choose to visit that community with a mind to settling there?

    If the community drifted with the Pacific currents, taking you through the North Pacific at the height of summer, down the coast of the US, past Vancouver/Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA, in the autumn, then out across the Pacific to Hawaii through the winter, arriving at the East Coast of Asia in the spring and heading north past Manilla, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tokyo, and making this circuit once a year, never leaving home or good weather, yet visiting each year all the great cities of the Pacific rim, would you see that lifestyle as a hardship? I didn’t think so.

    There is something in human nature that doesn’t like other people’s ideas, or anything new or outside their own habits of experience. Something not valid and not at all agreeable. Sea-steading on the 70% of the Earth’s surface will be a paradigm-overthrowing innovation for human culture, allowing individual freedom as never before, freedom from any and all the rigged-system land-based states owned by sovereign mafias (ruling elites) and ruled by state violence.

    Show me how this wouldn’t be progress.

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