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

The inevitability of libertarianism

George Will reviews The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch.  They argue that, what with our new technology and all, libertarianism will inevitably become  the dominant political and economic ideology:

“Confirmation bias” is the propensity to believe news that confirms our beliefs. Gillespie and Welch say that “existence bias” disposes us to believe that things that exist always will. The authors say that the most ossified, sclerotic sectors of American life — politics and government — are about to be blown up by new capabilities, especially the Internet, and the public’s wholesome impatience that is encouraged by them.

“Think of any customer experience that has made you wince or kick the cat. What jumps to mind? Waiting in multiple lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Observing the bureaucratic sloth and lowest-common-denominator performance of public schools, especially in big cities. Getting ritually humiliated going through airport security. Trying desperately to understand your doctor bills. Navigating the permitting process at your local city hall. Wasting a day at home while the gas man fails to show up. Whatever you come up with, chances are good that the culprit is either a direct government monopoly (as in the providers of K-12 education) or a heavily regulated industry or utility where the government is the largest player (as in health care).” . . .

A generation that has grown up with the Internet “has essentially been raised libertarian,” swimming in markets, which are choices among competing alternatives.

And the left weeps. Preaching what has been called nostalgianomics, liberals mourn the passing of the days when there was one phone company, three car companies, three television networks, and an airline cartel, and big labor and big business were cozy with big government.

via Declaration of independents – The Washington Post.

I tend to be suspicious of claims that the triumph of a certain ideology is inevitable.  The communists tried that.  But it does seem like libertarianism will have a shot, once it disentangles itself from the other parties.  Democrats tend to be libertarian when it comes to moral issues, but traditionalist big government advocates when it comes to economics.  Republicans tend to be libertarian when it comes to economics but traditionalists when it comes to moral issues.   A winning ticket in this culture would probably be libertarian when it comes to government, economics AND morality.  Not that I’m for that.  I’m waiting for a political movement to be traditional in government (that is, one with strength and authority but that knows its limits, like the traditional conservatives were always working for), economics (some attention to national interests)  AND morality.   But I wouldn’t count on that being ascendant any time soon.

I know some of you are libertarians, but Christian libertarians.  Does your Christianity keep you from believing in the progress towards a utopia that this book seems to herald?

If the book is right, what would a libertarian society and political order look like?   And what problems would it introduce?

How free is your state?

Check out this site from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which gives rankings and assessments of the level of “freedom” in each state in the union.   According to these findings, New Hampshire (“Live free or die!”) is the state with the most freedoms, while New York is the most oppressive.  See

Now what is interesting is the way the study factors in both “economic freedom”  (low taxes, minimal government regulations on business, limited government, etc.) and also “personal freedom.”  This category includes both things conservatives like, such as openness to homeschooling and minimal gun control, but it also puts a premium on gay marriage and lax drug law enforcement.   Nevada scores big (at #6) because of its legalized gambling and because it allows localities to legalize prostitution.

Freedom in the 50 States | Mercatus.

Today conservatives tend to want economic freedom but decry this version of “personal freedom.”   While liberals demand this version of “personal freedom” while decrying “economic freedom.”

My prediction:  The new political and cultural consensus will demand both, with libertarianism reigning supreme.   Right now, this kind of libertarianism is opposed by both the left and the right, but for different reasons.  But I suspect a realignment may be in the future.  It’s already happening among some in the Republican elite.

So if you are a “freedom loving American” opposing government intrusions into the economy, how can you also oppose “personal freedoms” such as the liberty to use drugs and go to prostitutes?

Conversely, if you are a liberal who believes that gays should have the freedom to marry and that women should have the freedom to get an abortion, on what grounds would you deny a business owner the freedom to make money without government interference?

Or are you willing to accept libertarianism if it would give you whichever kind of freedom you find most important, even at the cost of the kind that you do not approve of?

HT:  Jackie

Why government can’t get out of the marriage business

Political scientist Steven L. Taylor explains why the government can’t just get out of the marriage business (as Ron Paul called for in the GOP presidential debate and as some of you have called for on this blog):

Here’s the deal:  much of the significance of marriage is very much linked to civil-legal matters in a way that makes it impossible for government to extricate itself from its definition.  Marriage is many things that have nothing to do with government such as romance, love, friendship, lifelong companionship, and even sacred bonds.  There is  little doubt that those things can all be achieved without the government being involved (as is the case with friendship, for example).  However, marriage is also about certain mutual legal obligations regarding property, finances, children and whatnot, about which governmental intervention is sometimes necessary to resolve disputes (as is the case with any contractual relationship).  Further, marriage diminishes legal complexity in a variety issues (children, death [i.e., funeral arrangements], hospital visitations, medical decisions, etc.).  Now, we could utterly remove marriage as a legal institution, but then we would have to replace it with something else, and that something else would almost certainly be more cumbersome in terms of government entanglements that the current system.

To put it as simply as possible:  for government to truly get out of the marriage business it would have to stop recognizing the spousal relationship as having special legal standing.  This is because to recognize that relationship as having specific legal significances it would need a definition of “marriage” that could be held up to legal scrutiny (to, for example, stop people from arbitrarily claiming whatever privileges might exist for married couples).  Such a stand would have to exist whether the government issued the licenses or not.  Once the law has to define “marriage” then government is, by definition, in the “marriage business.”

To summarize the summary:  the only way to truly get government out of the marriage business would be to reduce marriage to the same status of friendship, i.e., a social relationship utterly defined by private interactions and that lacks legal significance.

As such, I just don’t see how government can get out of the marriage business, and this is why the same sex marriage issue has to be addressed.

Indeed, fundamentally, legal marriage can be seen as a means of safeguarding the property rights of both parties to the marriage, and therefore strikes me as something that a libertarian would see as a legitimate role for government to play.

There is also a sidebar to Paul’s response that raises other questions.  Stating that marriage should be “in the church” rather ignores the fact that there are people who want to get married, but who are not religious,  and given that a lot of libertarians are not religious, it seems odd for Paul to direct marriage to the church.  Granted, there is room in his answer for other private entities to operate, I suppose, but that might also create licensing issues, which could bring the government back into it (unless you want to say anybody can marry anyone at any time, but here we get back to that legal definition problem above).

via Can Government Get out of the Marriage Business?.

In addition, there are theological reasons why marriage is the business of the state and why the church cannot just take over that institution.  Can anyone explain why?

HT: Joe Carter

Libertarianism vs. Conservatism

I know some of you are libertarians and some of you are Ron Paul fans.  What do you think of Paul’s proposal at the Republican presidential candidate debate to legalize prostitution and drugs?  What do you think of Michael Gerson’s smackdown of Paul and his proposals?

Paul was the only candidate at the debate to make news, calling for the repeal of laws against prostitution, cocaine and heroin. The freedom to use drugs, he argued, is equivalent to the freedom of people to “practice their religion and say their prayers.” Liberty must be defended “across the board.” “It is amazing that we want freedom to pick our future in a spiritual way,” he said, “but not when it comes to our personal habits.”

This argument is strangely framed: If you tolerate Zoroastrianism, you must be able to buy heroin at the quickie mart. But it is an authentic application of libertarianism, which reduces the whole of political philosophy to a single slogan: Do what you will — pray or inject or turn a trick — as long as no one else gets hurt.

Even by this permissive standard, drug legalization fails. The de facto decriminalization of drugs in some neighborhoods — say, in Washington, D.C. — has encouraged widespread addiction. Children, freed from the care of their addicted parents, have the liberty to play in parks decorated by used needles. Addicts are liberated into lives of prostitution and homelessness. Welcome to Paulsville, where people are free to take soul-destroying substances and debase their bodies to support their “personal habits.”

But Paul had an answer to this criticism. “How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would,” he said to applause and laughter. Paul was claiming that good people — people like the Republicans in the room — would not abuse their freedom, unlike those others who don’t deserve our sympathy.

The problem, of course, is that even people in the room may have sons or daughters who have struggled with addiction. Or maybe even have personal experience with the freedom that comes from alcohol and drug abuse. One imagines they did not laugh or cheer.

Libertarians often cover their views with a powdered wig of 18th- and 19th-century philosophy. They cite Locke, Smith and Mill as advocates of a peaceable kingdom — a utopia of cooperation and spontaneous order. But the reality of libertarianism was on display in South Carolina. Paul concluded his answer by doing a jeering rendition of an addict’s voice: “Oh yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don’t want to use heroin, so I need these laws.” Paul is not content to condemn a portion of his fellow citizens to self-destruction; he must mock them in their decline. Such are the manners found in Paulsville.

This is not “The Wealth of Nations” or the “Second Treatise of Government.” It is Social Darwinism. It is the arrogance of the strong. It is contempt for the vulnerable and suffering.

The conservative alternative to libertarianism is necessarily more complex. It is the teaching of classical political philosophy and the Jewish and Christian traditions that true liberty must be appropriate to human nature. The freedom to enslave oneself with drugs is the freedom of the fish to live on land or the freedom of birds to inhabit the ocean — which is to say, it is not freedom at all. Responsible, self-governing citizens do not grow wild like blackberries. They are cultivated in institutions — families, religious communities and decent, orderly neighborhoods. And government has a limited but important role in reinforcing social norms and expectations — including laws against drugs and against the exploitation of men and women in the sex trade.

via Ron Paul’s land of second-rate values – The Washington Post.

What kind of libertarian are you?

Christianity is  not the only belief system that divides itself up according to fine nuances of theology.  Virtually all religions do that.  And so do secular ideologies.  For example, the Wikipedia article on “Libertarianism” cites six varieties.  So if you are a libertarian, are you a libertarian conservative, a left-libertarian, a minarchist, an anarcho-capitalist, a geolibertarian, or (my favorite) a libertarian transhumanist?

Go here to see what each of those means: Libertarianism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Three varieties of conservatism

Here are three different political ideologies that go by the name of “conservatism.”  The definitions and descriptions are taken from the first paragraph of their Wikipedia entries.  (You might want to read the rest of the entries.)  Which is better?  And how can advocates of these three possibly work together?

Paleoconservatism (sometimes shortened to paleo or paleocon when the context is clear) is a term for an anti-communist and anti-imperialist political philosophy in the United States stressing tradition, civil society and anti-federalism, along with religious, regional, national and Western identity.  Chilton Williamson, Jr. describes paleoconservatism as “the expression of rootedness: a sense of place and of history, a sense of self derived from forebears, kin, and culture—an identity that is both collective and personal.”  Paleoconservatism is not expressed as an ideology and its adherents do not necessarily subscribe to any one party line.

via Paleoconservatism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Neoconservatism is a political philosophy that emerged in the United States of America, and which supports using modern American economic and military power to bring liberalism, democracy, and human rights to other countries.[1][2][3] Consequently the term is chiefly applicable to certain Americans and their strong supporters. In economics, unlike paleoconservatives and libertarians, neoconservatives are generally comfortable with a welfare state; and, while rhetorically supportive of free markets, they are willing to interfere for overriding social purposes.

via Neoconservatism

Libertarianism is advocacy for individual liberty[1] with libertarians generally sharing a distinct regard for individual freedom of thought and action, as well as a strong suspicion of coercive authority, such as that of government. However, there are also broad areas of disagreement among libertarians. Broad distinctions such as left-libertarianism and right-libertarianism have been identified. Additionally, some distinguish between minarchist and varying anarchist views (such as the libertarian socialist and anarcho-capitalist views) of libertarianism.

via Libertarian

HT:  A comment from Cincinnatus gave me the idea for this