We first wrote about the idea of seasteading (building new countries offshore on oil platforms) in 2009.

At the time, I had this to offer…

No doubt it’s an interesting notion, but is this practical? Living on the sea? Just think of how much risk that could entail. Of course you’d do the research to make sure you’re settling in a place that isn’t prone to natural disaster, but it’s still THE SEA. Talk about a wildcard if there every was one.

Commenter Tully had this to say…

Yeah, […] a small settlement of massive egos all working together in perfect harmony! What could possibly go wrong? 🙂

Could be fun to watch, though. From a distance. Like a too-full cage of fight-trained angry pit bulls.

Well, guess what…

Pay Pal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create floating libertarian countries in international waters, according to a profile of the billionaire in Details magazine.

Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. The idea is for these countries to start from scratch–free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details says the experiment would be “a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.”

“There are quite a lot of people who think it’s not possible,” Thiel said at a Seasteading Institute Conference in 2009, according to Details. (His first donation was in 2008, for $500,000.) “That’s a good thing. We don’t need to really worry about those people very much, because since they don’t think it’s possible they won’t take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it’s too late.”

Here’s the thing…even if it is possible…why would anybody want to live there? What are the benefits? Fewer taxes? Legal prostitution and drugs? Also, can you really be free if you can’t enjoy all that America has to offer?

Sorry, I still don’t get it. But if you do, tell me how this would work.

  • mdgeorge

    It’s a chance to live out your fantasy of going Galt.

  • WHQ

    And they will not actually try to stop us until it’s too late.

    Count me among those who thinks it’s not possible, but who wouldn’t try to stop them at any point if it were. Too late for what? Who cares?

    I like the no welfare or minimum wage parts, as though those things would be relevant on man-made islands for the wealthy. The guns, too. What’s that about? Are they going to shoot each other? Why? Over the best prostitutes?

  • kranky kritter

    I totally get it. They care about their principles enough to use their deep pockets to test them. Presumedly, they’ll be able to enjoy America and the rest of their world to their heart’s content in the interim.

    I expect them to fail, but don’t mind them trying. Not a bit. They’re indulging what you believe to be a fantasy. If they prove it’s not a fantasy, then we’ll all stand corrected, right? So really, they’re doing us all a favor, on their own dime, with no victims in sight so far.

  • WHQ

    They care about their principles enough to use their deep pockets to test them.

    Test them? Under realistic conditions that apply to nations of diverse millions of people?

    It would be like my testing my principle that I don’t have to talk to anyone as I go through life by staying at home by myself during the test.

    I’d give them a little more credit if they started a colony in the wilderness and lived off the land rather than showing up with a bunch of resources they got in the real world to build an island, continually importing additional such resources to suit their desires by using the money they made in the real world – you know, the one with all the laws that keep them from living the way they want, but where they’ll have to get all the crap that will make their little paradise livable. Or they could give Somalia a try.

  • WHQ

    They care about their principles enough to use their deep pockets to test them.

    Test them? Under realistic conditions that apply to nations of diverse millions of people? It’s a hedonism resort for the super-rich, supported with resources gotten in the overly regulated world, not a test of principle.

  • kranky kritter

    Gimmee a break. Scientists use labs so that they can isolate variables. They overtly avoid what you call “realistic conditions” for astonishingly obvious reasons. That’s where you start.

    But to some extent, I agree with a broader and less testy version of your point. If they succeed, they’ll have shown that they can grow their fantasy orchid in a customized greenhouse. Which won’t speak to its ability to survive in the wild.

    Doesn’t mean that the greenhouse is an invalid lab. It means it’s a custom greenhouse, with everything that implies.

  • WHQ

    Testy? First panties, now testy?

  • Denots

    Huh? Really? You think that there is freedom in America? Have you ever been outside of North America and tasted REAL freedom?

    The freedom in the US is a very basic, highly limited type of freedom.

    Try going to Africa, South America, Asia or even Europe. You might not be able to start up a business easily, but you would have SO many more rights and the freedom to do so much more….

  • I’m not sure I get what you folks mean by fail. If a guy builds this thing for himself and some other fringe libertarians… good for them and good riddance. What’s to fail? Not much different from some guy buying a cabin a hundred miles from the nearest civilization and only coming to town every once in a long while to get some supplies really.

  • WHQ

    Seriously, though, kk – what they aren’t doing properly is eliminating variables, because they are allowing massive wealth gained outside the system to enter, so the success of these islands does not properly test their policies for political and economic robustness. They’re showing up rich in an otherwise closed environment created with resources attained from a place they say does not conform to their libertarian principles. They get to select the nature of the system’s closedness and the nature of its openness and are doing so in such a way that makes the experiment invalid, if it’s an experiment in testing the model of a libertarian society as opposed to an experiment in hedonism.

    As I see it, they can only lose, because any success they would acheive would be of indeterminate empirical value, but failure would really damage their policy proposals – as in, if they can’t work there, of all places, where the he11 could they work?

  • kranky kritter

    Even more seriously though, who really cares, as you suggested before. It’s a vanity project because there’s no way to succeed. And I say that not because of any strong feelings about political ideologies.

    I mean, what’s the history of all small utopian movements? They all fail, because elegant theory collides with complicated real world practice and the realities of human nature. Human nature is that committed people will follow and heed firmly held moral and intellectual principles. Up until these conflict with what they really want and really need. Ambivalence creeps in. And then it goes to shit.

    After all, the essence of utopia is that it’s unrealistic, right? Truism, or super-truth?

  • WHQ

    Well, I only care in an academic sort of way. It’s something interesting to think about and discuss, but I don’t care if they do it or don’t do it or if they succeed or fail.

  • Lee Mahor


    I don’t agree with your post, and this is why: “After all, the essence of utopia is that it’s unrealistic, right? Truism, or super-truth?”

    Utopia is not unrealistic, it is a state of your mind. Don’t you believe that your mind creates your reality? In a lot of ways our reality is inseperable from our existence, you create what you think about…

    I think your conflicted statement ended with the essence of your comment, that utopia is indeed the super truth….you seem to already know that….so don’t seek validation….go with your gut!

    I would be interested to hear your response, and to see if your perspective has become clearer.
    Let me know


  • kranky kritter

    Oh yeah, I agree its interesting, I only don’t care about the outcome.

    I really do think that repeating utopia pattern is funny though. You start with a group of people who fantasize “if only the world worked the way we wanted it to, instead of the way it does.” Then some genius says, “what if we start our own mini-world for right-thinking people, that’ll work for sure.”

    And then that mini-world works like a real world with real people instead of like a fantasy world. It’s a great punchline.

  • kranky kritter

    Lee, I’m pretty settled on a tangible and knowable difference between what is only in your mind, and that which also exists independent of it. In the context of this discussion,I’m not talking about a utopia that exists only in the mind. I’m talking about the effort to establish an actual concrete [in this case libertarian] utopia, by a group of people.

    So even if utopia is, as you claim, no more than a state of mind, that loses relevance once we start talking about a collective effort to establish something. And THAT is the problem.

    Of course if you believe that any given mental state truly is utopia for you, then you are correct under the rubric of declaring to yourself that you are the only measuring stick that matters. But that sounds like Huxley’s soma holiday to me, whether it’s achieved by chemistry or sheer force of will.

  • Even more seriously though, who really cares, as you suggested before. It’s a vanity project because there’s no way to succeed. And I say that not because of any strong feelings about political ideologies.

    The problem with this argument is two-fold.

    First, as far it’s backers are concerned, this will be a success if they have a couple houses with people living on them and they can get away with not obeying any foreign government. Nobody else will take them seriously, but they’ll do it anyway.

    Remember: these guys are probably driven largely by the “success” of Sealand, which hasn’t really done anything since it was founded but get press and let it’s owners dodge the UK’s gun-ban.

    Second, these places are likely to be tax shelters. Why do I say this? Because the whole point is to have a near-zero tax rate.

    Which means the single most likely scenario is this:
    Libertarians buy old oil platform, build a few houses on it, declare victory. International system notices they exist, and cuts them off because the tolerance for tax havens has dropped markedly in recent years. Nearest nation-state conquers Libertarians on the basis they’re messing with it’s Exclusive Economic Zone (happened to the Republic of Minerva). Unless said nation is Italy, in which case they offer no legal justification whatsoever, and dynamite the platform just to be dicks (Republic of Rose Island).

  • The first paragraph of that post was supposed to be a quote from KrankyKritter.

    Donklephant has the weirdest quote behavior of any site I have ever tried to use.

  • kranky kritter

    Nick, not sure why you’re calling out my argument for having problems given that I explicitly stated there was no way for the effort to succeed

    It’s crashingly obvious to me that there will be no way they’ll be able to establish sovereignty and diplomatic relations. So obvious that I didn’t bother touching on the political implications. Governments won’t just “go along” and grant them passports, etc. Most nations that matter will look at this as no more than a scheme. These folks will have to try to “take it to the mat.” That means things like being willing to be a permanent expatriate or else keep paying those taxes.

    Relevant world governments are not going to just play along. I’d call it a given that they won’t. I don’t see any reason why any legitimate government would intervene directly via say an invasion. There are always pirates, though.

  • Sydney Debtson

    Its been a great debate, really.

    My point of view on this is simple and a bit shortsighted, but here it goes: the promoters of those Utopian islands are, basically, the “young guns” that got rich with web 2.0., and on the stock market; and the ones that gave us the opportunity to embrace our own virtual Utopia (virtual worlds like second life and IMVU).

    But these guys know better, and don’t fall for a virtual cloud or a virtual paradise, no. They want the real thing, they want to get away from a world that is transformed on a supplier of services, a world that as become a global work field greasy and smelly. On a another hand, although bound to mortality like us, they aim to attain immortality by writing down their names on the worlds memory. They just don’t want to be forgotten by the future, and to be remembered by History its the only way to obtain immortality and they know it. These Utopian projects are part of these desire and effort.

    So here it is, I warned you it was down to earth.

    Sydney Debtson