Seasteading Institute

A few people have noted the progression from moderate libertarian Milton Friedman to his anarcho-capitalist son David Friedman and have questioned where the next generation could go from there. The answer is seasteading.

A while ago I stumbled across the online world of Patri Friedman and swapped a few e-mails. Interesting chap. One of his big ideas was to create self-sustainable floating “countries” and he called this idea seasteading. It’s not a new idea, but Patri seems to have taken it further in terms of design and logistics… and now that he has $500,000 worth of sponsorship, the Seasteading Institute is up and running.

This morning I got an e-mail from Patri to tell me about the Institute. Their initial press release is below:

Organization Aims To Create New Societies On The Ocean

Mountain View, CA, April 15th, 2008. The Seasteading Institute today announced that it has been established in order to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems.  It will continue and expand on the work of Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich, authors of “Seasteading: A Practical Guide to Homesteading the High Seas”.

“The public sector is simultaneously the largest industry in the world and the least innovative, with a barrier to entry and lock-in on its customers that dwarfs any private monopoly”, says Patri Friedman, TSI’s Executive Director. “The world needs a new model of politics where a diverse ecosystem of providers offers a variety of institutions that evolve to serve their citizens. The open oceans, Earth’s last frontier, are the ideal place to nurture this vision of a better world. By making it safe and affordable to settle this frontier, we will give people the freedom to choose the government they want instead of being stuck with the government they get.”

To help launch the organization, entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter Thiel has pledged $500,000 to The Seasteading Institute, saying: “Accelerating innovation is rapidly transforming the world: the Seasteading Institute will help bring more of that innovation to the public sector, where it’s vitally needed. Decades from now, those looking back at the start of the century will understand that Seasteading was an obvious step towards encouraging the development of more efficient, practical public sector models around the world. We’re at a fascinating juncture: the nature of government is about to change at a very fundamental level.”

The Institute will initially focus on three major areas:

Community: Building a network of potential residents who are inspired by the possibilities of seasteading and have the skills and resources to establish vibrant new communities.

Research: Exploring the core requirements for seasteading to be safe and affordable, such as structure design, political feasibility, and infrastructure (power, heat, food) and advancing key seasteading technologies through independent research and partnerships.

Engineering: Proving that the mission is viable by building a safe, cost-effective, gorgeous seastead, based in the San Francisco Bay and able to travel in the open ocean.

Sure, it’s radical. It is still in the dream stage and it might not work. But I like dreams. I’ve offered to help where I can and am considering going over to California to take a more active involvement, insh’allah.

19 thoughts on “Seasteading Institute

  1. Here’s why they might have chosen floating cities:

    “The declaration of independence, however, was greeted with great suspicion by other countries in the area. A conference of the neighboring states (Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Nauru, Western Samoa, Cook Islands) met on 24 February 1972 at which Tonga made a claim over the Minerva Reefs.”

    …”A Tongan expedition was sent to enforce the claim. The Republic of Minerva flag was lowered. Tonga’s claim was recognized by the South Pacific Forum in September 1972. Meanwhile, Provisional President Davis was fired by founder Michael Oliver and the project collapsed in confusion. Nevertheless, Minerva was referred to in O.T. Nelson’s post-apocalyptic children’s novel The Girl Who Owned a City, published in 1975, as an example of an invented utopia that the book’s protagonists could try to emulate.

    In 1982, a group of Americans led again by Morris C. “Bud” Davis tried to occupy the reefs, but were forced off by Tongan troops after three weeks. In recent years several groups have allegedly sought to re-establish Minerva. No claimant group has to date made any attempt to take possession of the Minerva Reefs territory.”

  2. Mark, the above is why we need a complete deregulation of the nuclear weapons market. See those Tongans try and steal our libertopia when we’re packing nukes!

  3. I reckon legislating to allow seasteading as something like minimal associated territories under an Australian flag of convenience would be a big boom industry. They could potentially construct them here and have their independence gauranteed by Australian armed forces in exchange for a low annual fee, and be otherwise self governing. And it will finally give meaning to all the pro-government activists saying “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else”. Now we can. I like this idea very much.

  4. The Pacific is littered with ‘Seamounts’, mountains which almost reach the surface of the sea. Maybe someone could choose one of these in a rainfall zone (for fresh water), and build the island up from scrap, or sink lots of ships there, so that New Minerva rises from the waves! If it is far enough away from other islands, you might be free of claims. (Isn’t there an oilrig near Britain which claimed its independence when the rig was abandoned?)

  5. Nicholas, new land is eagerly claimed by neighbouring states, primarily because of all the international legal rights associated with it – fishing, oil & gas.

    They state that it would be based in the San Fransisco Bay, would that not mean that the USA has sovereignty over them?

    Something like a Nimitz class supercarrier would suit the purpose.

  6. this has pretty much been my dream since watching Waterworld where they go into that giant floating fortress.

  7. Brendan — yes, they would be under US jurisdiction initially. The initial plan is to build a smaller version of seastead, called “baystead” which will stay close to the US mainland and not claim any independence. When they have ironed out the bugs and gotten enough interest, they want to build a bigger & better version that can survive out in the deep blue sea… far away from any jurisdiction.

    And nicholas — yes, there is the “principality of sealand” which functioned independently for many years. The last I heard, it was for sale at some ridiculously high price.

  8. Oh FFS
    Do I care enough about the taxes I pay and the regulations I have to abide by currently to live on some floating piece of metal with a bunch of predominantly male geeks?err, no …:-)

  9. I guess the Seastead will be a big concrete city. Like a giant apartment block with levels of industry and commerce as well as residental, all high tech and wired for universal online access. With mainly wealthy well educated residents, and no pointless restrictions on individual liberties. Like some inner-city lifestyle on steroids. Sounds just about tailor made for Mr Soon to me.

  10. Tim
    Such places already exist, they’re called cities and if I really cared enough I could move to other cities like New York and London. And yes, the downside is they come with relatively high taxes and irrational regulations most libertarians dislike but the upside is that unlike these libertarian make believe schemes, they aren’t only going to attract hard core libertarians who tend to be a rather tilted demographic. I really don’t believe the ‘wealthy well educated’ will be attracted to them solely because of the amenities. That’s my point. How many people want to live in Brunei and Saudi Arabia where you pay virtually no taxes and behind the walls of foreign quarters everyone knows all sorts of illicit activities like boozing goes on anyway? You couldn’t pay me enough to live in any of those places (a stint for a couple of years to make a fortune perhaps).

  11. Well, yes, I probably won’t be moving with the first wave either. I share your concern about the hardcore libertarians. Then again, if they are wise they won’t try to turn the first one into Libertopia. Tourist resort offering otherwise illegal activities and tax haven probably, backed up with strong local rule of law. As the idea grows they can launch new ones with all sorts of variations.

    But in theory there is no reason these should be disfunctional societies. They should have everything the modern city dweller desires for their day to day lives, and a holiday or business trip to the mainland will only be a short journey away.

    Sure, I can see problems getting through the initial phases, but in the long run they should be viable. Also plenty of opportunity to create private distopias, but hey.

  12. Pingback: Life in Dahab « Chapter 5

  13. Here’s a thought- Ashmore reef is barely above sealevel, and is a drop-off point for refugees. Maybe Minerva could rise from there, with the island being built up by succeeding waves of (hardy) libertarian pioneers?

  14. Maybe we would need to make a pact with Canberra to not let refugees go to Australia?
    We would also need lots of desalination equipment, and the first settlers should be fishermen. If we had independence, it should be doable. Lockeston, to honour John Locke, could be the ‘capital’, meaning simply the place where libertarians debate issues. Any libertarian fishermen in our lot?

  15. Don’t bother! I just trawled the ‘net and found out how bad the area would be for colonisation purposes! Whilst it is called an island on maps (the Ashmore and Cartier Islands), it is all low-level, and the islands of Ashmore are very small individually.
    Also, Canberra has signed many International treaties to do with wildlife preservation, so it would be reluctant to just give it up to new colonials. The Islands are also close to Timor, and Canberra wouldn’t want to get into new discussions about redrawing borders.

  16. I must admit that when I first heard about this idea my reaction was much the same as Jason at comment #9. However the idea keeps doing the rounds and I’m pretty impressed by the pedigree of individuals behind this initiative:-

    There seem to be some big money people involved. And based on the following interview with Patri there is also a fair bit of thought going into how to make these things a commercial success.

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