Last week, I told you about the new project by a small group of monied Silicon Valley geeks to build autonomous countries out at sea. The project, called Seasteading, will consist of structures out at sea similar to oil derricks but built with living in mind. And you'll be able to make your own laws! No rules! You can't control me, mum and dad! In any case, Patri Friedman, Executive Director of The Seasteading Institute and a former Google software engineer, agreed to answer some of my questions about just how, exactly, this project will get off the ground.
Gizmodo: What types of people do you see gravitating towards seasteading? What would the day-to-day benefits be that would draw people to the idea?
Patri: Pioneers - A lot of people have that desire to build something new on the frontier, and there aren't a lot of other frontiers left in the modern world.
Utopians - I don't mean this literally (after all, the word means "No Place"). I just mean people who see problems with current social/political/economic/legal systems, have ideas about better ones, and are into them enough to want to actually try them out.
The exact day-to-day benefits would depend on individual motivation, and what you don't like about current countries. For many it will be low environmental footprint and sustainable practices. Personally, I'm a libertarian and I want more freedom. I hate having my money stolen to fund pointless wars and biofuel subsidies that make food more expensive worldwide. I hate having to worry about going to jail just because some of my hobbies involve altering my brain chemistry with substances that don't come from big pharma companies. I hate that my hot tub has been sitting empty for months because the zoning department wants us to jump through all sorts of hoops. I hate living in a society so big that my voice doesn't get heard. And a lot of people tell me they feel the same way.
Gizmodo: What are the basic steps a normal person would have to go through to become a seasteader?
Patri: We're not quite sure how it will work, but one path we picture is slow, steady, incremental transition from ordinary life to the new one:
A person would need to find a group of like-minded folk who all agree on the vision for their society. Ideally, they'd live in the same area, and it would be on the water. Over the course of years, they'd meet, organise, set up the rules for their society, and save up the money to buy the physical platform (or build it themselves using our designs). Once they had the platform (in their local waters), they'd move onto it (as their leases come up / they sell their houses). They'd also be transitioning from their land-based jobs to seastead-based ones, and possibly becoming more self-sufficient if that's a goal of the community. Eventually, they'd move the platform offshore, perhaps first in commuting distance, and eventually out to the high seas.
Of course, someone could also join an existing community, which would be much quicker. Each community can set its own standards, but I imagine you'd have to like the society and its rules, and be able to make a living there (have a job, be able to telecommute, or be independently wealthy). Some may have more stringent requirements, others will have open borders.
Another option would be to start out vacationing there, perhaps via a 2-week / year timeshare. Over time, you could add onto the timeshare, and eventually make the transition to living there full-time. I think the timeshare model is a good one for the beginning, because there are way more people who'd be willing to try seasteading a couple weeks a year, as a vacation, than who are ready & able to move there full-time.
Gizmodo: What would you do if, say, a 30-year-old guy wanted to vacation at a seastead with his 14-year-old girlfriend? How will basic rules be enforced and decided upon?
Patri: Each community will decide and enforce its own rules. More importantly, each community will decide its own procedures for deciding on its rules. The point is not just to create one political system or type of system, but to make a turnkey product for creating new countries, so that lots of different groups will try lots of different things, and we can all learn from it.
The one rule I think seasteads should enforce on each other is the right for individuals to choose their society. As long as people are freely choosing their society, then as far as I'm concerned the society can pick whatever rules it wants.
Personally, I want a society that's very libertarian for internal affairs, except for strong national security rules against doing anything that will piss off a military power (exporting drugs, laundering money, polluting). Basically the vision of "As much freedom as we can reasonably get away with."
Gizmodo Even using a flag of convenience, do you think you'd find yourselves a target for pirates?
Patri: It's possible, but I really doubt it. You never hear of cruise ships getting attacked by pirates, only cargo ships, because the ratio of "people defending" vs. "movable cargo" is so dramatically different in the two cases. There's a huge difference between attacking a container ship with 10 or 20 crew and a sea colony with hundreds of people who would be defending their homes.
Some people have suggested that if there are rich residents, pirates would attack to get ransom, but that's just not what you see out in the world. Residensea, the first condo cruise ship, has units that start at US$5M, so they have a very wealthy population, and they've had no problems. Ransom is dangerous—it's hard to hide from satellites on the ocean, so you can't easily kidnap someone, so basically you're stuck in a hostage situation with someone who has a lot more resources and power than you.
Also, the vast majority of piracy is restricted to a few areas, which we'd of course avoid.
That said, we wouldn't want to make ourselves an easy target, so having some weapons seems like a good idea, to defend against countries as well as pirates. There's nothing we can do to stop the US military, of course, but there are cost-effective defenses like ship-to-ship cruise missiles which we will want to investigate.
Gizmodo: What do you see as the biggest hurdle to this project becoming a reality?
Patri: Economics. The ocean is a harsh, resource-poor environment. Oil rigs can afford it because they are mining black gold. The price of low-end cruise lines makes me optimistic, but it's definitely going to be a challenge to make offshore real estate at a reasonable cost. Cost drives everything - if it's expensive, it'll just be for rich people, which might make a cool resort, but will fail at the goal of experimenting with new societies. If it's cheap enough, you'll get regular people just saying "screw normal life" and doing it. Or retiring there, like Americans who retire to Costa Rica. Also, there needs to be a seastead economy, or seasteads will be poor, and the cheaper the real estate, the less resources the ocean is draining, the more stuff will be profitable.
Governments are also a potential threat, but they're a bit of a wild card. I think we can live in a way which is new and different and doesn't bring down heat, but you never know when some politician will get pissed off. I think our strength will be in scale and diversity - it's easy to invade 1 sea-city, not so easy if there are hundreds and more springing up every day. That kind of success will bring govt. attention, but if it's decentralized it's going to be hard for them to do much about it. And eventually we'll be big enough to afford a military of our own. [Seasteading]