Are you ready for floating libertarian city-states?

posted at 10:04 pm on August 16, 2011 by Allahpundit

Could be the start of a magical utopia where government is small, freedom is plentiful, and the only limit to the pursuit of happiness is your ability to swim. Or, it could be “Lord of the Flies.” Either way: Exciting.

Maybe there’ll be a “President Paul” somewhere after all.

It goes like this: Friedman wants to establish new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters—free from the regulation, laws, and moral suasion of any landlocked country. They’d be small city-states at first, although the aim is to have tens of millions of seasteading residents by 2050. Architectural plans for a prototype involve a movable, diesel-powered, 12,000-ton structure with room for 270 residents, with the idea that dozens—perhaps even hundreds—of these could be linked together. Friedman hopes to launch a flotilla of offices off the San Francisco coast next year; full-time settlement, he predicts, will follow in about seven years; and full diplomatic recognition by the United Nations, well, that’ll take some lawyers and time.

“The ultimate goal,” Friedman says, “is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government.” This translates into the founding of ideologically oriented micro-states on the high seas, a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.

It’s a vivid, wild-eyed dream—think Burning Man as reimagined by Ayn Rand’s John Galt and steered out to sea by Captain Nemo—but Friedman and Thiel, aware of the long and tragicomic history of failed libertarian utopias, believe that entrepreneurial zeal sets this scheme apart. One potential model is something Friedman calls Appletopia: A corporation, such as Apple, “starts a country as a business. The more desirable the country, the more valuable the real estate,” Friedman says. When I ask if this wouldn’t amount to a shareholder dictatorship, he doesn’t flinch. “The way most dictatorships work now, they’re enforced on people who aren’t allowed to leave.” Appletopia, or any seasteading colony, would entail a more benevolent variety of dictatorship, similar to your cell-phone contract: You don’t like it, you leave. Citizenship as free agency, you might say. Or as Ken Howery, one of Thiel’s partners at the Founders Fund, puts it, “It’s almost like there’s a cartel of governments, and this is a way to force governments to compete in a free-market way.”

Some experts have scoffed at the legal and logistical practicalities of seasteading. Margaret Crawford, an expert on urban planning and a professor of architecture at Berkeley, calls it “a silly idea without any urban-planning implications whatsoever.” Other observers have mocked it outright, such as Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, who deemed it perhaps “the most elaborate effort ever devised by a group of computer nerds to get invited to an orgy.” Despite the naysayers, Thiel appears firmly committed to the idea; he has so far funneled $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute.

An isolated community populated by people desperate enough to work for less than minimum wage with easy access to weapons of all sorts sounds like quite a ride. Although I’m more intrigued by the selling point about building codes. Are zoning laws so terribly frustrating to some people’s architectural dreams that they need to move to Waterworld to fulfill them? Wouldn’t the engineering requirements of life on the ocean prove to be way more restricttive than building codes anyway?

Three videos for you here; the guy in the second one is Patri Friedman, former Google engineer and grandson of the one and only Milton Friedman. Do note that the Seasteading Institute’s FAQ (which includes a section, “What about pirates?”) emphasizes that this venture isn’t limited to libertarians. At its most fundamental, it’s a Rawls-ian experiment in how newborn societies develop under a given set of political rules. If the last few Hopenchange dead-enders want to head out off the coast and make Obama king, presumably they could do it. However it shakes out, it’s the greatest game of Sim City ever. Exit question one: Can we learn something truly enlightening/useful about how societies develop from people who think it’s cool to live on a retrofitted oil rig? Exit question two: How long would it be before these seasteads produced a gambling mecca/vice den that put Vegas utterly to shame? Anything goes. Anything.

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“Hey, someone has to clean out the septic tank and paint the sides of the rig.”

-Eff you, we’re all equal here, you do it.

Bishop on August 16, 2011 at 10:42 PM

Winner for most retarded comment on this board. You have your ethos’ 100% reversed….

Man, this place has certainly become the haven for statist-conservative shills, eh? Perry ’12!!!!

DrRansom on August 16, 2011 at 11:24 PM

Soooo, these small island ‘paradises’ have no natural resources, and therefore must import everything. What are their exports?

DeoGratias on August 16, 2011 at 11:24 PM

I’d have to beat you senseless with the force of my reason,

Made me lol :)

golfmann on August 16, 2011 at 11:25 PM

What are their exports?

DeoGratias on August 16, 2011 at 11:24 PM

Garbage, sewage, and elitism.

Timothy S. Carlson on August 16, 2011 at 11:27 PM

I don’t see any defenses. A city/state in international waters? I predict a growing cottage industry in being a pirate.

Timothy S. Carlson on August 16, 2011 at 11:29 PM

Garbage, sewage, and elitism.

Timothy S. Carlson on August 16, 2011 at 11:27 PM

And glittery utopian propaganda…

And survivors.

Uncle Sams Nephew on August 16, 2011 at 11:30 PM

You know who they need for this? Walt Disney.
Isn’t this the next logical step beyond what he wanted with EPCOT?

Claiborne on August 16, 2011 at 11:33 PM

Soooo, these small island ‘paradises’ have no natural resources, and therefore must import everything. What are their exports?

Have them nuclear powered, use flash desalinization for drinking water and export salt/minerals. Also, mining of minerals from the sea floor. Lay claim to a 200 mile economic zone.

Another export could be fish and fish products.

Use excess nuclear power (any power generated that isn’t used at night) to split water with electrolysis and export the hydrogen.

If you have an ample supply of cheap energy and reasonably priced labor, you have an excellent location for manufacturing. Import raw materials from elsewhere and convert them to finished products for sale abroad.

Render hobos for oil.

crosspatch on August 16, 2011 at 11:41 PM

heh heh Wha?!? hmm ok kind of like a perpetual cruise to nowhere in a condo. Trust me there will be rules!!!

sonnyspats1 on August 16, 2011 at 11:55 PM

DrRansom on August 16, 2011 at 11:24 PM

Soooo, these small island ‘paradises’ have no natural resources, and therefore must import everything. What are their exports?

DeoGratias on August 16, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Poo and dead bodies

sonnyspats1 on August 16, 2011 at 11:57 PM

My first thought?

Pirates.

And don’t expect the U.S. to come to the rescue any time too soon as long as Obama’s in charge.

theotherone on August 17, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Never work. There is not enough room to grow all the weed they’ll need.

HellCat on August 17, 2011 at 12:06 AM

How long would it be before these seasteads produced a gambling mecca/vice den that put Vegas utterly to shame? Anything goes. Anything.

Let em try, the good old USA will consider it to be a tyranny that is repressing its people, and then start a kinetic action to bring the rulers down.

astonerii on August 17, 2011 at 12:14 AM

That sucker would have to have wall to wall 24/7 security with BIG guns. They need some former spec ops guys to square them away.

Mojave Mark on August 17, 2011 at 12:25 AM

I’m pretty certain this is a joke, like the Chinese aircraft carrier with twin hulls, created to see how many suckers would believe it.

If it’s really a floating platform conceived, designed, built, operated, and governed by Libertarians, we can only hope it manages to get outside our territorial waters before it sinks.

If all the Paulbots joined the effort and set sail on it, the demand for pot would plummet, bringing down the price, but the demand for soap and hygiene products would remain constant.

Adjoran on August 17, 2011 at 12:33 AM

Libertarian does not mean lawless, or immoral.

Slowburn on August 17, 2011 at 12:35 AM

I can hardly wait! Some former military friends and I are ready to be kings! I’ve always dreamed of this. I hope that there is a goodly number of pretty libertarian ladies on board. Zowie! My Zodiac is loaded, equipped and ready to go. Onward.

Mason on August 17, 2011 at 12:37 AM

The primary requirement of any soveriegn state is civil defense. Without that, you literally have nothing.

Everything about this smacks of social engineering. I know it’s asking a lot but stop for one second and think about this from the bottom up instead of from the top down: Why on earth would any person, let alone an entire family, WANT to live their lives on one of these things? Just to make some kind of political point?

That would make each one of these things a cross between a ship of fools and an island of lunatics.

logis on August 17, 2011 at 12:45 AM

Soooo, these small island ‘paradises’ have no natural resources, and therefore must import everything. What are their exports?

DeoGratias on August 16, 2011 at 11:24 PM

Several industrial chemicals can be economically extracted from seawater, including Portland Cement. mostly as a byproduct of fresh water production. Even without nuclear power there is abundant energy available from waves, wind, solar, and thermal differential. And what is on the bottom of the ocean.

Slowburn on August 17, 2011 at 12:48 AM

Would you kindly make this happen?

Rambotito on August 17, 2011 at 12:51 AM

Libertarian does not mean lawless, or immoral.

Slowburn on August 17, 2011 at 12:35 AM

No it means a society that is ill-equipped to handle lawlessness or immorality.

Gwillie on August 17, 2011 at 12:55 AM

Soooo, these small island ‘paradises’ have no natural resources, and therefore must import everything. What are their exports?

DeoGratias on August 16, 2011 at 11:24 PM

I’d open a bank.

trigon on August 17, 2011 at 12:58 AM

Texas and a few other states just needs to secede and install a back to basics conservative/Libertarian constitution.

esnap on August 17, 2011 at 1:02 AM

Finally!!! A place to send all the Libs to…

Gohawgs on August 17, 2011 at 1:05 AM

Libertarian does not mean lawless, or immoral.

Slowburn on August 17, 2011 at 12:35 AM

Thank you.

As for natural resources…The open sea (if the city is properly placed) can be used to grow Spirulina as both a livestock feed and for human consumption. OTEC power can avoid the hassle of nuclear hazards while providing both large quantities of fresh water and a source of nutrient rich fertilizer (for want of a better term)for Spirulina crops. Seacrete can be fabricated by immersing metal frames in sea water and applying an electric current so you don’t even have to import cement. As for exports think Hydrogen gas, fertilizers, farmed seafoods like crabs and lobster, and all the non-physical products of our economy like accounting, engineering, and banking. Also consider the possibilities of a citystate that caters to “medical tourists” where state of the art medicine is available without the FDA or civil court’s interference.

It can be done, and done well, it just needs a serious amount of start up cash.

Browncoatone on August 17, 2011 at 1:13 AM

Browncoatone on August 17, 2011 at 1:13 AM

The above is all feasible depending on the size of the city. My major concern would be city-state defense. There is no scale of economy to help defend from outside attack. These city-states would be ripe for protection rackets which would functionally render them useless in the long run.

chemman on August 17, 2011 at 1:31 AM

I’m an acquaintance of Thiel’s. First met him in the 5th grade, then friends in high school.

If he’s involved, there’s a good chance something will come of this.

BVM on August 17, 2011 at 2:04 AM

I see an awesome CSI Miami episode coming out of this… They export… Dead bodies. “What Happens at Sea, Doesn’t Always Stay at Sea.”
-

RalphyBoy on August 17, 2011 at 2:14 AM

Pirates? Barbarians in a small boat with AKs?

Meet solar death ray. Sorry about the brown out.

Slowburn on August 17, 2011 at 2:32 AM

No it means a society that is ill-equipped to handle lawlessness or immorality.

WHAT? This country was founded as a libertarian country. It would be well equipped to handle lawlessness and immorality. There would be churches, a police force, etc. Just that morality would not be legislated and enforced by the police. It would come from the culture itself. In fact each one of these platforms could have their own culture and one could choose the one that best fits their own values. The people would likely be armed, there would be a police and a defense force, probably a pretty darned strong one, too, to keep order.

I think people are getting pretty fed up with the notion political parties using government to shove their moral position down people’s throats no matter which side.

I know I am tired of government meddling in my household telling me and my kids what they can and can not do. I don’t want to see abortions outlawed at the federal level, for example but I am fine with them being outlawed at the state or even the county level. People should be able to find some place in this county that reflects their personal values. That goes for Conservatives, Liberals, Libertarians, whomever.

I am tired of the culture wars in DC.

crosspatch on August 17, 2011 at 2:52 AM

I’m getting more and more a sense that these city-states will be parasites, leeching off the military protection and consumer bases of the nations they give nothing to but the rigid digit.

Uncle Sams Nephew

It’s just a concept. Why the over the top pessimism? It’s almost as if Thiel shot your dog and pissed in your cornflakes. Lighten the cack up.

The amount of invective from you and others is indistinguishable from DailyKos.

chimney sweep on August 17, 2011 at 3:05 AM

The above is all feasible depending on the size of the city. My major concern would be city-state defense. There is no scale of economy to help defend from outside attack. These city-states would be ripe for protection rackets which would functionally render them useless in the long run.

chemman on August 17, 2011 at 1:31 AM

Defense against a power like China is a little different than defense against outlaws. Against outlaws a city on the sea is in much better position to defend it’s self than one on land. RADAR can be used to detect pirate forces before they’re even with in range of weaponry. If the city is equipped to cater to seaplanes then the RADAR early warning system will double as the civilian ATC. After detection at range the city has a number of weapon choices to dispatch the incoming attackers. Dealing with a threat like China will be no different for the fledgling citystate than it is for places like New Zealand, Monaco or Grenada.

The problem is the minimum investment is just so high that the idea is impractical. It’s like trying to build and operate a privately owned Supercarrier. Can it be done? Yes. Will it be done? No.

Browncoatone on August 17, 2011 at 3:10 AM

Brian1972 on August 16, 2011 at 10:40 PM

I have to agree. There is no physical force on Earth to match the brutality of the ocean. I have a photo of a rogue swell crashing over the bow of the U.S.S. John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier whose flight deck is 76 feet above the water line. That’s a ship with a hull designed to move greater than 45,000 tons in excess of 40 knots, slicing through most waves and skimming across most swells. I wouldn’t care to face heavy weather at sea, floating on a square plot of artificial land with flat edges all around.

Friedman’s Waterworld wet dream has no chance.

Freelancer on August 17, 2011 at 6:36 AM

If there is a ‘court’ of sorts isn’t that just a government? Contracts, aren’t those just laws? Dues? Isn’t that just taxes. Help me here.

Limerick on August 16, 2011 at 10:51 PM

Of course there would be courts, government, and taxes. Libertarianism is not about anarchy or the elimination of government, it’s about restricting government to a role that’s consistent with individual freedom.

It’s interesting that threads about libertarianism here always devolve into cartoonish mischaracterizations of what libertarianism is. (I’m not directing this at you Limerick–I’m assuming your question is a genuine one.) It seems that the very idea of having a government that’s consistent with freedom is so threatening to people that many can’t allow themselves to even give it serious consideration.

Bugler on August 17, 2011 at 6:39 AM

Can we just get some of these for Liberals and keep the Libertarians? Then I really couldn’t care less what happens to them. I’m sure we could find donations to help them out… Kieth Olberman and Rachel Madcow would have to be included, of course.

BadBrad on August 17, 2011 at 6:42 AM

…and the naive moniker stands.

Saltysam on August 17, 2011 at 6:48 AM

One word…hurricane

Alden Pyle on August 17, 2011 at 7:02 AM

Hey Allah the lack of building codes is no biggie, ask Houston, and when did you get such a soft spot for minimum wage and gun control? Jazz

snoopicus on August 17, 2011 at 7:49 AM

I met Patri and James Hogan on the Reason cruise. It was a friendly crowd, obviously, but we were surprised how serious and well-thought-out the concept was.

The most interesting aspect of the idea is that if you have a lot of these mini city-states, each with their own government, some will fail and some will succeed and we will learn some things empirically about how to organize societies.

TallDave on August 17, 2011 at 7:55 AM

SimCity geeks on steroids.

csdeven on August 17, 2011 at 8:03 AM

It could work but it would be crazy expensive to live there.

Big Orange on August 17, 2011 at 8:10 AM

I don’t see any defenses. A city/state in international waters? I predict a growing cottage industry in being a pirate.
Timothy S. Carlson on August 16, 2011 at 11:29 PM

Actually, I would predict growth in the private security contracting industry.

therambler on August 17, 2011 at 8:10 AM

I love the idea, except I hate the part about living on an “oil rig”. Can’t we just start buying islands? You start with one, start building something to export. Once you make money, you purchase another island. Because, let’s face it, a truly free nation would grow dramatically.

jeffn21 on August 17, 2011 at 8:31 AM

Sounds like “Waterworld.” That was a flop. too.

PJ Emeritus on August 17, 2011 at 8:38 AM

logis on August 17, 2011 at 12:45 AM

Well, they get away from the nanny-staters, and the greens. A lot of the early settlers in America just wanted to settle someplace where they’d be left alone. Americans have a long tradition of founding communities of like-minded individuals, this is just on a bigger scale (city vs small town). The big problem is that seasteading is going to be expensive.

They probably would need to go nuclear (uranium can be extracted from sea water, the Japanese have one technique developed), solar, wind, wave, and ocean thermal all are impractical.

Ordinary piracy can be deterred by the populace being well armed (rifles, assault rifles) and a few .50 MGs emplaced. Pirates want easy prey.

The biggest threat would be from politically placed looters who can control regular military forces. The rent-seekers in the UN, for instance, would be upset if seasteads started mining the sea bottom without paying the UN their tribute. The Greens would push for bringing seasteads to heel for any industrialization.

LarryD on August 17, 2011 at 9:12 AM

I think the point about the building codes is just an expression of the frustration of owning property and being told what you can and cannot do with it.

Building codes tend to stifle innovation and experiment.

They do have the benefit of known building methods and materials used, facilitating the secure sale/purchase of property (you know there was a basic standard followed).

This is where the Sea comes in; there are few environments as hostile as the Sea yet the danger comes not from extreme of temperature or decreased oxygen alone (from which most other hostile environments on earth and in space derive their danger to life)

The Sea is very unforgiving to those who are lazy, stupid, careless or intoxicated. Even if one ‘gets by’ for awhile, eventually ones bad habits will be revealed by the Sea.

jcw46 on August 17, 2011 at 9:32 AM

Lucky! Have you seen the dude who did a full-body Big Daddy?

Uncle Sams Nephew on August 16, 2011 at 10:59 PM

Yep and I was sufficiently impressed. You know he sold it on Ebay, right?

Would you kindly model that bunny splicer costume for us?

Kensington on August 16, 2011 at 11:07 PM

Gladly. Let me know where to send the photos. :) Or pack your bags and meet me at Dragon*Con! *grin*

Browncoatone on August 17, 2011 at 1:13 AM

I know I’m one-track minded because of the coming Con, but your moniker is referring to Firefly, isn’t it?

tickleddragon on August 17, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Uhm … the only way a floating city “works” is if it’s also a multiple-well drilling rig.

Otherwise – there are no natural resources to create wealth from. The people need to be engaged in productive work so they can earn a paycheck and buy things … things that are prolly going to be expensive since most all of it has to be flown or shipped in from the mainland.

I mean – it might work as a “one year playground” for wealthy people. Pay a few million, move on the barge … smoke all the dope you want, do all the hookers you want. But why? You can always visit a German FKK for that and it’s lot less expensive.

HondaV65 on August 17, 2011 at 10:23 AM

I love the idea, except I hate the part about living on an “oil rig”. Can’t we just start buying islands? You start with one, start building something to export. Once you make money, you purchase another island. Because, let’s face it, a truly free nation would grow dramatically.

jeffn21 on August 17, 2011 at 8:31 AM

I actually read up on this whole idea yesterday and they went through every idea (underwater buildings, building your own concrete supported island etc) and then tell what the pros and cons are of each. I believe the reason they were against an island was that pretty much every island is somewhat controlled or governed by some nation already and therefore they would not have true autonomy. Personally I found the idea of building an underwater colony like in BioShock to be the most entertaining.

NeverLiberal on August 17, 2011 at 10:39 AM

First major storm that tears these little ‘petri dishes’ apart, we’ll see how libertarian they REALLY are.

michaelo on August 17, 2011 at 10:41 AM

I’ve heard people who’ve spent time on islands complain about how small it feels after a couple of years. Imagine living on an oil rig.

RebeccaH on August 17, 2011 at 1:04 PM

I don’t see any defenses. A city/state in international waters? I predict a growing cottage industry in being a pirate.

Timothy S. Carlson on August 16, 2011 at 11:29 PM

Just because they claim to be Libertarian doesn’t mean that they’re defenseless. We won our Independence in no small measure due to the willingness of colonists to form militias to defend their lands.

dominigan on August 17, 2011 at 1:07 PM

Intriguing idea but not for me. I get island happy after a week on Maui.

Besides, wasn’t the idea of federalism to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government?

SukieTawdry on August 17, 2011 at 4:40 PM

Just because they claim to be Libertarian doesn’t mean that they’re defenseless. We won our Independence in no small measure due to the willingness of colonists to form militias to defend their lands.

dominigan on August 17, 2011 at 1:07 PM

China would call them spies and sink them. They aren’t sovereign to the US so they have no way to defend themselves from a super power.

csdeven on August 17, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Will they name it “Petoria”?

andycanuck on August 17, 2011 at 7:10 PM

Although I’m more intrigued by the selling point about building codes. Are zoning laws so terribly frustrating to some people’s architectural dreams that they need to move to Waterworld to fulfill them? Wouldn’t the engineering requirements of life on the ocean prove to be way more restricttive than building codes anyway?

I think it’s more about things like ADA–and in some areas, now enforced “green” standards, etc. The engineering will still be ruled by physics, but even there some of the standards are dumb–witness the 100 pounds per square foot required in assembly areas. It’s physically impossible to create 100 psf of floor loading with humans, unless you stack them like cordwood. Offices are required to be designed for 50 psf (which gets reduced to 30 for large areas) but again, typical office contents work out to about 8 psf. So we’re being required to build to a much higher capacity than is generally required.

TexasDan on August 17, 2011 at 10:37 PM

One word…hurricane

Alden Pyle on August 17, 2011 at 7:02 AM

Hurricanes move slowly, giving plenty of time to get out of the way.

Slowburn on August 18, 2011 at 6:03 AM

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