Libertarian micro-nations

Some libertarian venture-capitalists are planning to build new nations on ocean platforms–they are calling it “seasteading” (get it–from homesteading?)–as libertarian mini-utopias:

[Patri] Friedman [grandson of free market economist Milton 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 [Facebook funder Peter] 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.”

via The Billionaire King of Techtopia: Critical Eye : Details.

Do you think this would work?  Can a nation really be run like a business to this extent?  Since an oil platform without the oil would have no natural resources, Appletopia would presumably rely on “intellectual” resources for its economy.   Wouldn’t all of the other countries you would depend on for your commodities and your  trade  have laws and regulations that would prevent you from having a completely free economy? And what if a ground-based country decided to send a ship to conquer you?  What would be some other problems with this kind of nation-state?

Would you be willing to emigrate to–or colonize–a country like this?

HT: Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    By ground-based country you mean the United States, right?

  • SKPeterson

    By ground-based country you mean the United States, right?

  • SKPeterson

    Here’s an alternative. What if Liechtenstein decided to expand and put some platforms in the Atlantic? Each would be a self-governing municipality under the flag of the Duke.

  • SKPeterson

    Here’s an alternative. What if Liechtenstein decided to expand and put some platforms in the Atlantic? Each would be a self-governing municipality under the flag of the Duke.

  • Kenneth Bomberger

    They ought to reconsider linking these things together, learning from Cao Cao’s epic defeat at Chibi.

  • Kenneth Bomberger

    They ought to reconsider linking these things together, learning from Cao Cao’s epic defeat at Chibi.

  • Eric Brown

    I’d worry about defense… I’d also think I’d prefer simply buying a small island in a nice, temperate climate, one that perhaps had a water spring.

  • Eric Brown

    I’d worry about defense… I’d also think I’d prefer simply buying a small island in a nice, temperate climate, one that perhaps had a water spring.

  • WebMonk

    “aware of the long and tragicomic history of failed libertarian utopias”

    There have already been multiple attempts at this sort of thing, but to no avail. However, virtually all of those attempts were riddled by what were essentially scams. I’m not sure there has ever been an attempt to do this without trying to set up some sort of financial fraud at the same time.

    If it weren’t for my family and stuff, I would give it a shot. For lots of single people working in the tech industry, this could be a viable experiment.

    It’s a horribly more complex thing to attempt than can be adequately explained in an article like this, but I don’t see any fundamental reasons that it couldn’t work to at least some extent. Far enough to make it a really good experiment, if nothing else.

  • WebMonk

    “aware of the long and tragicomic history of failed libertarian utopias”

    There have already been multiple attempts at this sort of thing, but to no avail. However, virtually all of those attempts were riddled by what were essentially scams. I’m not sure there has ever been an attempt to do this without trying to set up some sort of financial fraud at the same time.

    If it weren’t for my family and stuff, I would give it a shot. For lots of single people working in the tech industry, this could be a viable experiment.

    It’s a horribly more complex thing to attempt than can be adequately explained in an article like this, but I don’t see any fundamental reasons that it couldn’t work to at least some extent. Far enough to make it a really good experiment, if nothing else.

  • Tom Hering

    Hey, what happened to the oft-repeated claim that Libertarians aren’t utopians?

    Living on a platform out in the ocean? The concept sounds more confining than freeing. And given the small-town size of these nations, I predict they’ll be places where everybody knows everybody else’s business. You can’t escape the flaws of human nature, so you can’t escape the flaws of human society, so you can’t escape … and so on.

    I expect to see a lot of “vacancy” signs after a decade or so.

  • Tom Hering

    Hey, what happened to the oft-repeated claim that Libertarians aren’t utopians?

    Living on a platform out in the ocean? The concept sounds more confining than freeing. And given the small-town size of these nations, I predict they’ll be places where everybody knows everybody else’s business. You can’t escape the flaws of human nature, so you can’t escape the flaws of human society, so you can’t escape … and so on.

    I expect to see a lot of “vacancy” signs after a decade or so.

  • WebMonk

    Tom, the general concept for most of these is that the mid-sea platform is more of an official place of residence. Most of the “citizens” wouldn’t actually work and live there. Instead, it would be an official “home office” for companies and individuals.

    Sort of like New Jersey and North Dakota tend to draw different companies to be officially based in those states because of the favorable state laws, but in reality have little more than a small office there.

  • WebMonk

    Tom, the general concept for most of these is that the mid-sea platform is more of an official place of residence. Most of the “citizens” wouldn’t actually work and live there. Instead, it would be an official “home office” for companies and individuals.

    Sort of like New Jersey and North Dakota tend to draw different companies to be officially based in those states because of the favorable state laws, but in reality have little more than a small office there.

  • WebMonk

    Actually, I suspect it would be much simpler to take an underwater atoll and base the platform on that. Instead of having an “oil platform” based 3000′ down, it would be based closer to 100′ down on an atoll.

    There are several dozen independent, privately owned islands, too. However, to get one of those, you have to cough up giga-bucks.

    An underwater atoll won’t be claimed (assuming it’s outside territorial waters of an existing nation) so they won’t need to spend a billion dollars to gain ownership from the existing private owner.

    Frankly, if I ever get that rich, I might go for something like that, but more as a private resort than setting up a new nation. Roughly a quarter billion should be enough to set up an atoll-based resort of a dozen acres in size.

    Anyone interested in joining the guest list? I’m over a hundred thousandth of the way there already!

  • WebMonk

    Actually, I suspect it would be much simpler to take an underwater atoll and base the platform on that. Instead of having an “oil platform” based 3000′ down, it would be based closer to 100′ down on an atoll.

    There are several dozen independent, privately owned islands, too. However, to get one of those, you have to cough up giga-bucks.

    An underwater atoll won’t be claimed (assuming it’s outside territorial waters of an existing nation) so they won’t need to spend a billion dollars to gain ownership from the existing private owner.

    Frankly, if I ever get that rich, I might go for something like that, but more as a private resort than setting up a new nation. Roughly a quarter billion should be enough to set up an atoll-based resort of a dozen acres in size.

    Anyone interested in joining the guest list? I’m over a hundred thousandth of the way there already!

  • Jonathan

    Somehow, “WaterWorld” (you know, “Mad Max” on the ocean) comes to mind with this.

  • Jonathan

    Somehow, “WaterWorld” (you know, “Mad Max” on the ocean) comes to mind with this.

  • Tom Hering

    “… 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.”

    “No welfare.” As if the people who can afford to buy space there would need it.

    “Looser building codes.” Really? Where space is at a premium, and the environment is technically challenging?

    “No minimum wage.” As if the people who can afford to buy space there would need one.

    “Few restrictions on weapons.” So all those waiters wearing nothing but aprons can defend themselves, I guess.

    In short, utopia will be achieved by leaving everyone who’s not rich back on shore.

  • Tom Hering

    “… 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.”

    “No welfare.” As if the people who can afford to buy space there would need it.

    “Looser building codes.” Really? Where space is at a premium, and the environment is technically challenging?

    “No minimum wage.” As if the people who can afford to buy space there would need one.

    “Few restrictions on weapons.” So all those waiters wearing nothing but aprons can defend themselves, I guess.

    In short, utopia will be achieved by leaving everyone who’s not rich back on shore.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Sounds like Massachusetts Bay around 1636.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Sounds like Massachusetts Bay around 1636.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Libertarians, behold, your utopia: the Principality of Sealand!

    Things have gone so swimmingly with Sealand, why not try to duplicate all the successes?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Libertarians, behold, your utopia: the Principality of Sealand!

    Things have gone so swimmingly with Sealand, why not try to duplicate all the successes?

  • kerner

    Once again, sg takes the lead by noticing that this idea is just colonization under another name. Leaving one’s country to build a freer society elsewhere is pretty much how the the existing countries that evolved from European colonies got started.

    So never mind all this build platforms on stilts ver the ocean stuff. Try this. We need maybe 5-10 million libertarians to emmigrate to New Zealand. Once there, everybody settle on the South Island, the biggest, but least populous island, with only 1.1 million current residents. Get New Zealand citizenship. Then (outnumbering the original inhabitants by 5 to 1) vote to secede from New Zealand, draft Declaration of Independence, etc. The current population of New Zealand is a pretty pacifist group, so what would they do about it? Especially in the face of a population that would by then outnumber the original New Zealanders.

    Isn’t this pretty much how Texas and California got started?

  • kerner

    Once again, sg takes the lead by noticing that this idea is just colonization under another name. Leaving one’s country to build a freer society elsewhere is pretty much how the the existing countries that evolved from European colonies got started.

    So never mind all this build platforms on stilts ver the ocean stuff. Try this. We need maybe 5-10 million libertarians to emmigrate to New Zealand. Once there, everybody settle on the South Island, the biggest, but least populous island, with only 1.1 million current residents. Get New Zealand citizenship. Then (outnumbering the original inhabitants by 5 to 1) vote to secede from New Zealand, draft Declaration of Independence, etc. The current population of New Zealand is a pretty pacifist group, so what would they do about it? Especially in the face of a population that would by then outnumber the original New Zealanders.

    Isn’t this pretty much how Texas and California got started?

  • Tom Hering

    kerner, don’t miss the point that these Libertarian lily pads are a “stay rich” scheme. The wealthy buy offices and legal residences offshore, so they can protect their riches from the nations where they make their money. And as a big plus, avoid contributing anything to the societies of those nations. The last thing they want is an actual country filled with tens of thousands of non-rich types.

  • Tom Hering

    kerner, don’t miss the point that these Libertarian lily pads are a “stay rich” scheme. The wealthy buy offices and legal residences offshore, so they can protect their riches from the nations where they make their money. And as a big plus, avoid contributing anything to the societies of those nations. The last thing they want is an actual country filled with tens of thousands of non-rich types.

  • kerner

    Or…plan B.

    1. Develop religious belief that God wants you and your fellow Libertarians to live in some particular place (it can be on the South Island of New Zealand, but for some of the possible variants of this plan, you might want to find a place that is thinly populated by people that Americans are afraid of).

    2. As many as possible Libertarians emigrate to the target area. Buy up as much real estate as you can; be willing to pay premium prices for this.

    3. Start large farm/business operations on the land you now own. Bring in as many Libertarian immigrants as you can legally, but if the flow is cut off by existing Immigration Laws, ignore them and bring in your people illegally, always settling them on land owned by legal Libertarians. Use profit, plus outside funding to buy up more land, always bringing in more people to populate it. It is very important to create at least pockets where your people are in the majority.

    4. Lobby UN. It will help if you can generate sympathy for some real history of persecution, but failing that there will be plenty of UN officials, general assembly members, etc., who can be bribed. If the occasional UN official really stands in your way, do not be afraid to assassinate him (but keep that on the qt if at all possible). Also get as much support in the USA as you can. It will help if you can present yourself as a distinct culture that has no homeland, or as a minority culture that should be allowed to operate under its own rules in the name of tolerance. Public relations is key to this approach. It is very important to posture the original inhabitants negatively and yourselves positively.

    If the locals are scarey and swarthy, proclaim yourself the only US ally in the region. Hype the similarities of your people to certain elenents in the USA. Spread money around. Talk Radio will decide you are the good guys. This has worked fabulously well for Israel. If you can get Americans to forget that the locals had nothing against the USA until the USA supported you, you will be in clover.

    If however, the locals have too much in common with Euro-American culture, posture yourselves as an oppressed underclass (an oppressed minority if you must, but numbers count; being an oppressed majority, at least in certain places, is best). In this variant, your pr target is the left wing establishment. This might be difficult in New Zealand, where the locals are pretty sold on socialism, but it has worked out ok for the middle easterners in Europe, and Europeans are pretty sold on socialism too. Don’t forget to spread money around.

    Now the problem here is finding enough Libertarians with a sufficient attention span to pull this off. But it could be done.

  • kerner

    Or…plan B.

    1. Develop religious belief that God wants you and your fellow Libertarians to live in some particular place (it can be on the South Island of New Zealand, but for some of the possible variants of this plan, you might want to find a place that is thinly populated by people that Americans are afraid of).

    2. As many as possible Libertarians emigrate to the target area. Buy up as much real estate as you can; be willing to pay premium prices for this.

    3. Start large farm/business operations on the land you now own. Bring in as many Libertarian immigrants as you can legally, but if the flow is cut off by existing Immigration Laws, ignore them and bring in your people illegally, always settling them on land owned by legal Libertarians. Use profit, plus outside funding to buy up more land, always bringing in more people to populate it. It is very important to create at least pockets where your people are in the majority.

    4. Lobby UN. It will help if you can generate sympathy for some real history of persecution, but failing that there will be plenty of UN officials, general assembly members, etc., who can be bribed. If the occasional UN official really stands in your way, do not be afraid to assassinate him (but keep that on the qt if at all possible). Also get as much support in the USA as you can. It will help if you can present yourself as a distinct culture that has no homeland, or as a minority culture that should be allowed to operate under its own rules in the name of tolerance. Public relations is key to this approach. It is very important to posture the original inhabitants negatively and yourselves positively.

    If the locals are scarey and swarthy, proclaim yourself the only US ally in the region. Hype the similarities of your people to certain elenents in the USA. Spread money around. Talk Radio will decide you are the good guys. This has worked fabulously well for Israel. If you can get Americans to forget that the locals had nothing against the USA until the USA supported you, you will be in clover.

    If however, the locals have too much in common with Euro-American culture, posture yourselves as an oppressed underclass (an oppressed minority if you must, but numbers count; being an oppressed majority, at least in certain places, is best). In this variant, your pr target is the left wing establishment. This might be difficult in New Zealand, where the locals are pretty sold on socialism, but it has worked out ok for the middle easterners in Europe, and Europeans are pretty sold on socialism too. Don’t forget to spread money around.

    Now the problem here is finding enough Libertarians with a sufficient attention span to pull this off. But it could be done.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    kerner, I think there is a name for plan B. It’s called Hawaii. Except that it wasn’t the Libertarian party that pulled it off. I think they were Republicans.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    kerner, I think there is a name for plan B. It’s called Hawaii. Except that it wasn’t the Libertarian party that pulled it off. I think they were Republicans.

  • kerner

    Rick:

    According to James Michener they were Congregationalists, which at the time, I suppose, may have been pretty much the same thing.

  • kerner

    Rick:

    According to James Michener they were Congregationalists, which at the time, I suppose, may have been pretty much the same thing.

  • Tom Hering

    Or rich Libertarians could just wait til they get old, and retire en masse in Florida. Dig a wide channel across the top of the peninsula, secede from the Union, and it’s instant island nation! (More economical from an engineering point of view, I would think.)

  • Tom Hering

    Or rich Libertarians could just wait til they get old, and retire en masse in Florida. Dig a wide channel across the top of the peninsula, secede from the Union, and it’s instant island nation! (More economical from an engineering point of view, I would think.)

  • WebMonk

    Yeah, we all know how well the last secession from the USA turned out. :-)

    I’m imagining the Civil War playing out again, but this time the secessionist forces are really old people on walkers and riding electric wheelchairs. Little old grannies who can’t see over the steering wheel driving tanks!! Blue hair!!!!

    Take your favorite Civil War battle painting, then substitute octogenarians for the Southern side!

  • WebMonk

    Yeah, we all know how well the last secession from the USA turned out. :-)

    I’m imagining the Civil War playing out again, but this time the secessionist forces are really old people on walkers and riding electric wheelchairs. Little old grannies who can’t see over the steering wheel driving tanks!! Blue hair!!!!

    Take your favorite Civil War battle painting, then substitute octogenarians for the Southern side!

  • Tom Hering

    “Free Florida” bumper sticker: “You can have my income when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. Any minute now.”

  • Tom Hering

    “Free Florida” bumper sticker: “You can have my income when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. Any minute now.”

  • The Jungle Cat

    I wrote a blog post about this awhile ago: (http://www.amconmag.com/postright/2011/01/11/the-limits-of-libertarianism/). The gist of it was that concepts are difficult to realize because the average person feels nowhere near as oppressed as libertarian entrepreneurs. Libertarians confuse their own concerns with mainstream concerns. In reality, apolitical liberties–like the ability to drive from New York City to Washington in a day–are more attractive to the average human being than low income taxes. Nonetheless, I wish Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman well. Nothing erodes bureaucracy like some good, wholesome competition.

  • The Jungle Cat

    I wrote a blog post about this awhile ago: (http://www.amconmag.com/postright/2011/01/11/the-limits-of-libertarianism/). The gist of it was that concepts are difficult to realize because the average person feels nowhere near as oppressed as libertarian entrepreneurs. Libertarians confuse their own concerns with mainstream concerns. In reality, apolitical liberties–like the ability to drive from New York City to Washington in a day–are more attractive to the average human being than low income taxes. Nonetheless, I wish Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman well. Nothing erodes bureaucracy like some good, wholesome competition.

  • steve

    Probably the area I depart the most from true libertarians: they would not be able to defend themselves from invaders. They would have to pay for defense from a land-based, non-libertarian country and, thus, negate the whole basis of their experiment.

  • steve

    Probably the area I depart the most from true libertarians: they would not be able to defend themselves from invaders. They would have to pay for defense from a land-based, non-libertarian country and, thus, negate the whole basis of their experiment.

  • WebMonk

    steve, you need to get into some conversations with some really hard-core libertarians. They do have answers for that. It goes something like this:

    People will act rationally and defend themselves, working together as a citizen army. That tends to fall in line with the principle that people should be able to arm themselves however they want, so lots of RPGs, artillery, SAMs and stuff would be present. Stuff sufficient to defend again the threats a micro-nation would be likely to face from pirates and their like.

    It’s not like a traditional country of their size (say Liechtenstein) would be able to fight off an attack from Austria, so it’s not a mark against a fully libertarian country that they couldn’t either.

    For large libertarian countries, let’s say something like Syria defending against Iraq, their idea is that a larger-scale citizen army would be formed, supported by voluntary contributions from voluntary payments by the citizenry.

    As long as people act rationally and ‘intelligently’, you can generate some pretty good methods for a fully libertarian country to defend itself.

    In my opinion, it’s that “rationally and intelligently” that is a pipe-dream. People do not behave in such a manner, at least not sufficiently to operate a libertarian country.

    Short-sightedness, miscalculation of risks, skewed view of returns, egos, pride, greed, etc. All those things work together and make it very obvious that people do not really act rationally on the scale and consistency that would be needed for a truly libertarian country to operate.

  • WebMonk

    steve, you need to get into some conversations with some really hard-core libertarians. They do have answers for that. It goes something like this:

    People will act rationally and defend themselves, working together as a citizen army. That tends to fall in line with the principle that people should be able to arm themselves however they want, so lots of RPGs, artillery, SAMs and stuff would be present. Stuff sufficient to defend again the threats a micro-nation would be likely to face from pirates and their like.

    It’s not like a traditional country of their size (say Liechtenstein) would be able to fight off an attack from Austria, so it’s not a mark against a fully libertarian country that they couldn’t either.

    For large libertarian countries, let’s say something like Syria defending against Iraq, their idea is that a larger-scale citizen army would be formed, supported by voluntary contributions from voluntary payments by the citizenry.

    As long as people act rationally and ‘intelligently’, you can generate some pretty good methods for a fully libertarian country to defend itself.

    In my opinion, it’s that “rationally and intelligently” that is a pipe-dream. People do not behave in such a manner, at least not sufficiently to operate a libertarian country.

    Short-sightedness, miscalculation of risks, skewed view of returns, egos, pride, greed, etc. All those things work together and make it very obvious that people do not really act rationally on the scale and consistency that would be needed for a truly libertarian country to operate.

  • Lutheran

    Oh, how sweet this sounds.

    Don’t have to worry there about the poor or those with weaknesses of any sort — since they wouldn’t qualify to live there,

    Christians should be immune to this type of stupidity and foolishness.

    We seek an eternal City, not a this-world utopia. There are none.

  • Lutheran

    Oh, how sweet this sounds.

    Don’t have to worry there about the poor or those with weaknesses of any sort — since they wouldn’t qualify to live there,

    Christians should be immune to this type of stupidity and foolishness.

    We seek an eternal City, not a this-world utopia. There are none.

  • Dan Kempin

    As an epilogue of this discussion, everyone should really watch the half-episode of Phineas and Ferb called “Hail, Doofania.”

  • Dan Kempin

    As an epilogue of this discussion, everyone should really watch the half-episode of Phineas and Ferb called “Hail, Doofania.”

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