Thursday, 29 May 2008

Seasteading: a practical guide to bailing out

Rich American Libertarians are planning to live on huge metal platforms out on the ocean. Which is good news. Now if only all of our problems could be got rid of so easily.

Executives from Google and Paypal are financing the creation of new independent 'seastead' states which will be anchored out in international waters. Once built, anti-social millionaires fed up with those tiresome duties of having to obey laws and pay tax, can sink their millions into the project and rust their days out on the high seas.

Of course founders Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich don't quite put it like that. In their manifesto Seasteading: A Practical Guide to Homesteading the High Seas they write of new sustainable communities that will serve as models of 'open source' government. 

Each Seastead will have it's own rules and when one community fails, then you can just pull up anchor and join another. For Friedman and Granlich this is the Web 2.0 approach to governance, where the wisdom of crowds inevitably works for the benefit of all. 

And for these internet millionaires, the seastead project will prove once and for all the power and righteousness of the market. In the inspiring language of the international executive Friedman writes:

"This dramatically lower cost of switching providers promotes market feedback. If the government announces an unpopular policy on Monday, by Tuesday there may be nothing left but the capital building. This is true for any pet topic - libertarians and taxes, drug users and drug prohibition, pacifists and military expansion, environmentalists and pollution."

However, quite what will happen to those people left lingering on the failed seasteads, isn't made clear. 

But for these founding fathers, such details are irrelevant and as far as they are concerned will undoubtedly be solved by the users themselves. More important to them is the big idea itself. And like any new world, it's creators need a big mythology, and like any religious work, their bible needs it's parables too. First up we have the parable of Judy the Environmentalist:

"Judy felt frustrated as she left the city council meeting. Her proposal to levy fines on recyclables left in ordinary trash seemed to her like such a reasonable idea, why did it ignite so much argument? Americans generated such sickening amounts of trash - all she wanted was to help cut down on it a little bit. “For a town that was supposedly environmentally conscious, they are awfully close-minded around here”, she thought. She remembered that article she’d read about a Costa Rican ecovillage. It would be so relaxing and inspiring to live somewhere where everyone was of the same mind about not polluting the Earth. They could serve as an example to the rest of the world that you didn’t have to damage the environment to live. If only there was a place that was sustainable and civilized…"

So what's Judy's answer to cutting down the city's waste for the good of her fellow citizens? That's right, she's going to leave them all to wallow in it. And how is she going to set an example to these litter louts? That's right, she's going to make sure she never has deal with any of them ever again.

Next we have the parable of Glen the pacifist:

"Glen clicked off the news angrily. Another day, another half-dozen deaths from that quagmire in Iraq. And that was just US soldiers - who knew how many innocent Iraqi citizens had died? What he hated most was that he was paying for those bullets, paying for those bombs. Sure, he hadn’t voted for Bush, but the IRS took his tax dollars anyway. And not like the damn Democrats were doing much about all that military spending. It seemed like everyone in DC was on the take. One person just couldn’t make a difference in a country this size, not unless he was a billionaire or some kind of internet-activism genius. If only he could live somewhere where he only paid for things he approved of, or at least got to choose where his money went, he’d be so much happier…"

So what's Glen's solution to the problems in Iraq? That's right, to no longer have anything to do with them. And how is Glen going to ensure that the country is restored to a safe and peaceful state? That's right, by refusing to pay a cent.

And so, like the British conscientious objectors in WW2 who preached pacifism from the safety of their fortified island, Glen and his fellow seasteaders want to prove their righteousness from the platform of their million dollar buoys. 

And while the afflicted of Iraq and America will continue to suffer unheeded from their governments, Glen will be insulated by the warmth of his own smugness, and consoled by the thought of no longer having to pay for a dime.


Chris said...

I understand that for many libertarians there is a carefully thought out philosophy, but for many others it is just selfishness with an intellectual argument tacked on. See Guido Fawkes for an example of the type. "I shall not be stopped from doing what I like but I will castigate anyone else who does the same." That kind of libertarianism is probably the most common form I would say.

Anonymous said...

Stick the whole sodding lot of them out there and let's play target practice.

Anonymous said...

Time to take up piracy methinks.