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Seasteading: Libertarians Set to Launch a (Wet) Dream of 'Freedom' in International Waters

A fringe brand of libertarians have been planning to escape the iron fist of democracy by founding a new country in the middle of the ocean.

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Fear not, though, because the seasteaders have come up with a brilliant solution to these issues: They're going to base their economies on illegal activities. In the "business models" section of their book, the seasteaders sketch out a variety of plans to bring money into their oceanic platforms, many of which involve using seasteads as havens for activities banned by most countries. 

Drug addicts, for instance, can benefit from an offshore facility that "offers a wide variety of high-quality drugs in a legal setting with available medical care in case of an emergency." Companies that don't want to obey patent laws, meanwhile, can use the platforms to "implement some portion of a patented process on a seastead" to sell cheap goods without paying royalties. 

The best idea, though, is to have a seastead dedicated to experimental medical research where companies will be free from the iron fist of the Food and Drug Administration, which "has historically been slow to approve new medical treatments." One presumes that this platform will be distinct from the other seasteads in that it will be populated mainly by children who have five eyes and no knees.

At this point, some practical concerns arise. First, any offshore facility that specializes in narcotics trade is going to become the world's No. 1 target for pirates. The seasteaders briefly address the threat of piracy by explaining that "most pirate attacks are either very small-scale, preying on unarmed ships, or very large-scale, with organized groups stealing entire cargo ships. A seastead will be too tough for small pirates and not financially worthwhile for big ones." 

Really! An entire sea platform filled with highly profitable illegal drugs would not be financially worthwhile for pirates to attack! Good luck with that.

The second big problem that seasteaders face is that most governments will be none-too-thrilled to have platforms located just off their coasts that pay no taxes and that profit directly from undermining their own legal systems. 

In the best-case scenario, governments will enact heavy tariffs on any goods imported from a seastead, thus negating whatever competitive advantage is gained from erecting "patent-free zones." In the worst-case scenario, they'll send out their navies to shut down the whole operation.

The seastead manifesto keenly observes that ocean platforms would be "quite vulnerable to larger weapons" from navies since "concrete is tough but far from indestructible." But even these limitations shouldn't keep a good seasteader down, because "sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles like the Chinese Silkworm are fairly cheap and quite effective," and "a rocket engineer in New Zealand has set out to prove that you can build a small cruise missile for $5,000." 

The manifesto concludes that while seasteads will initially be militarily weak and thus dependent on diplomacy for their survival, their eventual success could make them "large and rich enough to join the ranks of dangerous nations."

Although seasteading is very clearly a pie-in-the-sea project, it has amazingly attracted a $500,000 donation from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, whose enthusiasm for seasteads derives from his belief that freedom and democracy are "no longer … compatible." 

Indeed, Thiel thinks democracy in the United States has been a dead end since the 1920s, when "the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women -- two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians -- have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy' into an oxymoron." 

While Thiel never explicitly states that women would not be allowed to vote on his seastead, you can surmise from his attitude that their chances for achieving equality on his concrete platform are very slim. Why Thiel expects any woman would willingly give up her right to vote to join him on his oceanic dorktopia is puzzling -- perhaps he'll take a page from North Korea's Kim Jong Il and start kidnapping famous actresses.

 
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