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Is this seasteading's moment?

Posted by Christopher Shea  May 6, 2009 10:25 AM

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The future of liberty? (An entrant in the Seasteading Institute's design contest)

Not long ago, seasteading, a movement to create new floating micro-nations beyond the reach of any Big Government, seemed just another quirky libertarian pipe dream (even though a nonprofit group dedicated to the cause has signficant financial backing from a founder of Paypal). But with discontent growing within the "Free Markets, Free Minds" crowd as more and more taxes and regulations flow out of Washington to combat the financial crisis, seasteading is attracting fresh attention. For some people, the temptation to take one's wealth and entrepreneurial brainpower to something that resembles a floating oil rig -- thumbing one's nose at Paul Krugman in the process -- is irresistible.

In an essay posted on the Cato Institute's Web site last month, Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer and now executive director of the Seasteading Institute, argued that it's past time for libertarians to stop beating their heads against the wall of democratic opposition:

[E]xpensive though ocean platforms are, they are still cheap compared to winning a war, an election, or a revolution. A lower barrier to entry means more small-scale experimentation. Also, the unique nature of the fluid ocean surface means that cities can be built in a modular fashion where entire buildings can be detached and floated away.

Apparently that last bit means that if a seasteading gadfly proposes allowing unionization or worker-safety laws, and disagreement ensues, the floating microstate might peacefully split -- avoiding the problem of factionalization that the American founders feared but could not stop.

Friedman counts himself as a fan of the libertarian movement to colonize New Hampshire, but suspects that success on that front would be Pyhrric, given how much regulatory and taxing power the federal government wields. Though the path to sovereignty is unclear at present, seasteading offers at least a chance of cutting ties to Leviathan.

The Seasteading Institute recently sponsored a design contest in which entrants were asked to present their vision of a floating Ayn Randian paradise. The deadline for submissions was May 1, but public voting on the entries continues through through May 13.

There is one noteworthy P.R. problem the group faces (beyond those that dog all social innovators): The plotline of the popular video game BioShock involves a project that has substantial parallels to seasteading --- but that goes horrifically, gorily awry. The institute finds it necessary to address the issue in its FAQ: "[I]f you are going to model us with a video game," the Web site says, "we prefer Civilization."

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