Don’t like the law? Leave.

There are people who don’t like the laws of the US. They come from Silicon Valley and they are into sea-steading. It’s like Sim-State or Wiki-Jurisdiction. But for real. They plan to make their own countries.

The plan is to start by building floating communities outside the 12-mile territorial waters of existing countries, and let rip. The first keen people are mad anarchists and libertarians who want to pay no tax, smoke everything they can get their hands on, and do it all in the nude.

But the promise of it all is broader. These communities could be petri dishes for experiments in better ways of organising society. The Islamists can start their caliphate on a sea-stead. The Mormons can polygamise their brains out with impunity. The radical Marxists can leave behind the dusty theory for the tantalising reality. The idea is that sea-steads could be modular, so the popular ones can grow.

The Executive Director at the Sea-Steading Institute is Patri Friedman. He attracts a well-heeled kind of right-wing supporter, because he is the grandson of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman. Friedman Junior is 32 and was able to quit his job at Google after the libertarian who invented Paypal and sold it to Ebay donated a quiet half a mil to the Sea-Steading Institute to further their mission.

Despite his establishment upbringing (or perhaps because of it), Patri wants out. He has been:

“…engaging in “radical self-expression” at Burning Man, experimenting with drugs, living in intentional communities with several other families, and maintaining a polyamorous relationship with his wife. His BMW 328i has a customized license plate: FRRREAK.” Wired Magazine, 19.01.09

The sea-steaders (the word comes from imagining a homestead on the sea) are sold on the ‘why’ and focussing on the ‘how’. There is a lot of activity on their website related to dispersing the power of ocean waves and electricity generation. A Marine technology consulting firm has been engaged to design a $50 million edifice that will house 270, and be able to move at a top-speed of 2 knots.

They make the technology possible. You provide the content. They “see their task not as a holy mission but as something like a start-up”. (Wired)

There’s going to be problems. To quote from Wired magazine again:

“The interesting issues are social and legal,” says Mikolaj Habryn, a site reliability engineer at Google. “You’ll get slavery. You’ll get drug dealing. … The first people involved will inevitably be those who want to do things they can’t do on land, and we have to deal with that.”

Oh. Slavery. Land-based Governments (or as they used to be called, ‘nation-states’) aren’t always too pleased about anarchic pockets within their zone of influence. Piracy in the waters off Somalia provides a neat example of ‘anarchy overflow’. Lawlessness is hard to contain geographically.

I can’t imagine the Government of the USA putting up with sea-steading if they begin to be a source of online casinos, tax havens, drugs and oversize duty-free toblerones. That’s what drives a lot of Australia’s aid work in the Pacific – preventing failed states and their consequences.

A great example of a failed sea-stead comes from the Pacific. The nation of Minerva rose above the sea as a Las Vegas real estate millionaire brought barges of sand from Australia and piled it onto some shallow reefs. A nation was founded with the Minervan Declaration of Independence on 19 January 1972. Six months passed without “taxation, welfare, subsidies, or any form of economic interventionism.”

Then, one sunny morning in June 1972, a Tongan naval vessel showed up, kicked off the interlopers, and that was the end of the nation of Minerva. Since then, the sand has more or less washed away.

But the sea-steaders have learned. Not to challenge an existing nation state (not even Tonga), and to build in adaptability. By proliferating sea-steads, the problems of one will feed into the success of others. As the US coast guard sinks the drug-dealing sea-steads with extreme prejudice, the remainder will learn a valuable lesson.

Surely, this can work. People will be keen. At least the Friedman line will be represented. Right?

Says Friedman: “I have got married and had a kid. I don’t think it will be suitable for family life for a while, but my wife is willing to go and live there … once it is big enough to be civilised and interesting.”(timesonline, 15.03.09)

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

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