Seasteading startup plans to treat micronations as a viable business

Paul Raven @ 29-01-2009

This Wired piece on the Seasteading Institute doesn’t even attempt to conceal its withering contempt for the possibility of success, and pulls out a big list of previous failed experiments in ocean-borne libertarian havens to support its position. You can’t blame them, really – a lot of people have had a lot of crazy ideas about micronations in the past, and they’ve rarely worked out well.

Technologically, there’s no problem with the Seasteading Institute‘s plan; indeed, what sets them aside from the previous attempts is the input of engineers as well as political visionaries, and the current design [see image below, credit Kate Francis, borrowed from linked article] looks eminently practical.

platform plan from Seasteading Institute

The stumbling block, as the article points out, is political. No nation-state worth its reputation is going to let a cluster of platforms assemble in its offshore waters for the purpose of circumventing legal restrictions, after all.

But then the nation-state is a much shakier concept than it was, and the corporation a much stronger one. And there are a number of countries which don’t have the resources or (in some cases) the will to deal with something like this. Hell, some countries might even actively encourage it; GDP is GDP, after all.

Now factor in projected sea level rises producing a population retraction from many low-lying coastal areas, climate change wrecking land-based agriculture, and the resulting political instability weakening nation-states further still… and maybe the Seasteaders aren’t so much crazy as a little ahead of their time.

All at sea – libertarians and the market for governance

JustinP @ 20-05-2008

artist\'s impression large seastead

Last month, PayPal mastermind Peter Thiel pledged $500,000 to The Seasteading Institute. Co-founded by Patri Friedman (grandson of Milton), the Institute‘s official mission is to

Establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems.

In an article for the Wired website, Alexis Madrigal zooms in on the original motivations of the Institute‘s founders;

True to his libertarian leanings, Friedman looks at the situation in market terms: the institute’s modular spar platforms, he argues, would allow for the creation of far cheaper new countries out on the high-seas, driving innovation.

“Government is an industry with a really high barrier to entry,” he said. “You basically need to win an election or a revolution to try a new one. That’s a ridiculous barrier to entry. And it’s got enormous customer lock-in. People complain about their cellphone plans that are like two years, but think of the effort that it takes to change your citizenship.”

While over at the excellent BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh has turned his mind to the potential implications of “seasteading”;

What interests me here, aside from the architectural challenge of erecting a durable, ocean-going metropolis, is the fact that this act of construction – this act of building something – has constitutional implications. That is, architecture here proactively expands the political bounds of recognized sovereignty; architecture becomes declarative.

Sovereignty for sale? Whether you see this as a laudable quest for self-government or – as China Mieville arguesa morally bankrupt flight from responsibility, there are definite echoes of a certain late-80s paperback. But who knows? $500,000 might just be enough to give this scheme some real momentum.

[Image by Valdemar Duran, via Wired]