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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All at Sea

Ruling, little bits, of the waves:

Some libertarians, though, are concerned with neither standard politics nor educational missions. The larger libertarian movement has always had members who just want to create as free a life for themselves as they can in a statist world, whether through such expedients as black market countereconomics, survivalist escapism, or, in the most recent and best publicized example of what is sometimes called “libertarian Zionism,” heading for the high seas in artificial floating countries. That’s the goal of the Seasteading Institute, which I profiled in Reason magazine back in July 2009.

Not really a practical solution for the sea-sick prone freedom lover. Seasteading is one of those zany ideas which very creative people, who often live mostly with other very creative people, find immensely attractive. It has a kind of salt tinged romanticism about it. There is not a libertarian, or classical liberal, alive who has not a one point wished he could leave the statist drudgery of modern life behind, imagined getting on a ship and sailing to some deserted isle, inhabited only by Adam Smith quoting, Ayn Rand reading, natives in grass skirts. Sunshine and freedom, baby. 

Dreams die hard. Particularly the sunshine and tanned goddess variety. The dreamers forget that their very comfortable material existences, from lattes to laptops, are the product of a globalized division of labour. Much of that supply chain snakes its way through countries governed by nasty men, as well as the blow-dried statist mediocrities of our own societies. 

Being as free as Robinson Crusoe, would mean living like Robinson Crusoe, albeit with a satellite connection. It's not a trade-off most of the market minded are willing to make. Oliver Wendell Holmes was certainly right, though not in the sense he imagined, that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Putting it in another way, taxes are what we have to put up with to live in this civilization. They are the price of admittance, though an arbitrary one.

Even if seasteading was able to, within reasonable limits, replicate a land-based standard of living - which is doubtful - what would the reaction of the world's governments be? A few eccentrics living on converted oil platforms is one thing, but should these statelets become threats to the powers that be, their leaders could wind up like Marc Emery. To obtain a standard of living above basic subsistence these statelets would have to trade with the rest of the world. Whether free banking, or innovative software, or marijuana cultivation, that trade would undermine the power and authority of the world's major nation states. These seasteading states would be too small to defend themselves military, but if they thrive, too dangerous to be left alone. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 10, 2010 | Permalink


Publius writes: "These seasteading states would be too small to defend themselves military..."

Not necessarily so. Military might depends, less and less, upon having at ones disposal lot of men in boots. The development of a single weapon of sufficient efficacy could render the inhabitants of Shangri-la secure.

Given the way society is moving, so quickly, the greatest weapon of all will belong to the "enemy". The "enemy", these days, is any person who chooses to think rationally. The weapon is his mind. And when all of his oppressors iPod and blackberry and Xbox and eat and drink and smoke to the point that they end up illiterate, fat, lazy, and ignorant, they will be lambs for the slaughter.

Give it a week. ;-)

Posted by: Paul McKeever | 2010-08-10 5:30:42 AM

I think we can forget about libertarian communes. Libertarians are not suited to a spirit of mutual cooperation and welfare. Living in any community requires compromise, and they've made quite clear that compromise is not only not their preference, but that it is not even considered.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-10 6:28:24 AM

On the other hand, Paul, all the libertarians will be perpetually stoned, and will probably not be able to remember who the enemy is, so it'll probably work out even.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-10 6:29:45 AM

Shane: I wasn't defending libertarians. I'm not one. I was speaking of those committed to reason, not about those who want "less government" in some sense or another.

Posted by: Paul McKeever | 2010-08-10 6:44:00 AM

"Libertarians are not suited to a spirit of mutual cooperation and welfare."

"On the other hand, Paul, all the libertarians will be perpetually stoned, and will probably not be able to remember who the enemy is, so it'll probably work out even."

Do you have to work at being an asshole or does it just come naturally to you?

Posted by: Charles | 2010-08-10 6:51:00 AM

First, Charles, I'm not the only one to notice the uncommonly broad and ugly streak of egoism that runs through many libertarians. They openly sneer at "collectivism," making them less than ideal candidates to found a new collective. Second, I was responding tongue-in-cheek to Paul's equally tongue-in-cheek remark about iPods and XBoxes.

As for being an asshole: Who's trolling who? Now read two books on the Austrian school of economics and call me in the morning.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-10 7:05:58 AM

I remember an episode of the great show, Traders, where a company wants to build a cruise ship that makes its money on the condo model. Rather than booking a room for a week, or whatever, the customer would buy their suite, pay condo fees for expenses like staff, food, fuel, etc, and then live full-time on the ship. I wonder if any company has actually tried it in the real-world, or if it only exists in the world of fiction.

Posted by: Anonymouse | 2010-08-10 9:56:47 AM

I disagree with Publius. These floating Raptures could be tolerated if they were valuable enough to the people of statist nations, such that they provided them with stuff they wanted that they couldn't normally get (ie hard drugs).

Posted by: Cytotoxic | 2010-08-10 6:00:37 PM

Those maintenance fees would be something else, Anonymouse, I'll tell you that. Then there's the fact that a cruise ship costs about a billion bucks. Oh, you'll love this: one more thing. According to the International Law of the Sea, someone who commits a crime on the high seas is generally considered subject to the laws of their home country. Another option is to have the person prosecuted in the ship's port of registry.

There is at least one case of an abandoned sea station litigating itself into de facto nationhood, but that seems like a risky route at best, and involved a stationary structure, not a ship.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-10 8:11:21 PM

Hard drugs are not that hard for a national government to find, Cyto. And let's not forget that every vessel has to put in to port eventually, for maintenance if nothing else. Part swaps can be done at sea, but some thing require a dry dock.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-08-10 8:14:15 PM

Even simpler, if they piss the government off, a single Destroyer could set up a blockade that would starve them out even if they were outside the 12 mile limit. Governments do not tolerate tax evaders. Except Somalia maybe.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-08-10 11:31:28 PM

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