“We Should Not Dismiss The Idea Too Quickly”

Libertarians, it seems to me, are perpetual adolescents when it comes to politics. They see idealism where I see immaturity. Laws and regulations will always be less than perfect, but I still trust those things a great deal more than corporations, Silicon Valley billionaires and those who get hard when reading about Dickensian boot-blacking factories.

Before forming a political alliance with far-right wingnuts and white nationalists, Peter Thiel, a rich man and a very, very poor one, had been out front among technologists in supporting the wet dream known as seasteading, hoping to swim away from those pesky regulations so that he could, I suppose, breathe as easily as the Chinese. Perhaps there would be no “soulless children” there expecting free lunches.

More specifically, Thiel and others in 2008 established the Seasteading Institute to build a floating nation in the ocean, many nautical miles beyond regulation, where Burning Man could walk on water. This planned “soaktopia” never worried me, except for revealing a scary mindset, a longing by some for a runaway free market here on solid ground. Thiel himself ultimately came back to earth and worked toward exactly that goal. For the non-superrich, the next four years may not go so well.

In a Bloomberg View piece, Tyler Cowen extols the virtues of seasteading, believing retired people could float away their golden years on endless cruises, which seems to ignore both human psychology and the immense number of seniors in the population. An excerpt:

Although seasteading is sometimes viewed as an extension of self-indulgent Silicon Valley utopianism, we should not dismiss the idea too quickly. Variants on seasteading led to the founding of the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with the caveat that conquest was involved, as these territories were not unsettled at the time. Circa 2016, there is a potential seasteading experiment due in French Polynesia (more information here). The melting of the Arctic ice may open up new areas for human settlement. Chinese construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea raises the prospect that the private sector, or a more liberty-oriented government, might someday do the same. Along more speculative lines, there is talk about someday colonizing Mars or even Titan, a moon of Saturn. On the intellectual front, a book about seasteading, by Joe Quirk and Patri Friedman, is due out in March of 2017.

Seasteading obviously faces significant obstacles. The eventual constraint is probably not technology in the absolute sense, but whether there is enough economic motive to forsake the benefits of densely populated human settlements and the protection of traditional nation-states. Many nations have effective corporate tax rates in the 10- to 20-percent range, which doesn’t seem confiscatory enough to take to the high seas for economic motives alone. Furthermore, current outposts such as Dubai, Singapore and the Cayman Islands offer varied legal and regulatory environments for doing business, in addition to the comforts of landlubber society. More and more foreign businesses are incorporating in Delaware to enjoy the benefits of American law. So, for all the inefficiencies and petty tyrannies of the modern world, seasteading faces pretty stiff competition.

Counterintuitively, I see the greatest promise for seasteading as a path toward more rather than less human companionship.•

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