A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[ISL] Ahoy, young libertarian! Seasteading could very well be the wave of the future”

Tyler Cowen’s Bloomberg View article about seasteading was picked up by the National Post. I think he’s correct in arguing that seasteading should not be seen as a way to escape from community, mainly, but that it should instead be seen as a way to escape to some other place. Whether or not it is viable is another question entirely.

Following the election of Donald Trump, some Americans are asking whether they should move to Canada. Yet a more radical idea is re-emerging as a vehicle for political liberty, namely seasteading. That’s the founding of new and separate governance units on previously unoccupied territory, possibly on the open seas.

Imagine, for instance, autonomously governed sea platforms, with a limited number of citizens selling health and financial services to the rest of the world. Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence might make the construction and settlement of such institutions more practical than it seemed 15 years ago.

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. 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.

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-per cent 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.

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Written by Randy McDonald

December 8, 2016 at 5:00 pm

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