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Homesteading was so 19th Century

Homesteading was so 19th Century

A few days ago, I saw the results from the Seasteading Institute’s business plan contest. Many of you are probably asking what Seasteading is and why it has an institute. Simply put, The Seasteading Institute (TSI) led by Patri Friedman (the grandson of Milton), is a libertarian movement for “creating permanent dwellings on the ocean – homesteading the high seas. A seastead is a structure meant for permanent occupation on the ocean.” As their website explains, “the world needs a new frontier, a place where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can go to test out their ideas. Unfortunately, all land is already claimed. Enabling the ocean to be the next frontier, allows for startup societies to bring experimentation and innovation to political, legal, and social systems.” In other words, a true experiment in societal public choice will be made possible on the ocean. The idea sounds far off, but the group cites innovations like modern cruise ships as indication that living off the high seas is quite possible with enough planning and infrastructure. They also believe in incremental approach to every area of seasteading or “breaking [their] ambitious visions down into small steps, and taking things one step at a time.” Patri and his team are constantly solving potential problems, finding funding, and devoting time to researching sustainable business models that can survive on the ocean. Though they can cite donors like Peter Thiel, the man behind PayPal, TSI is also intent on creating a substantive group of people interested in seasteading through social events in multiple cities. Regardless of its plausibility, I like the sentiment that Seasteading strives for – competitive, as opposed to omnipotent, government.

As for the contest, I think there were some fascinating, creative companies that could be established on the ocean. Does anyone else follow TSI? I’d like to hear your thoughts.


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sort of runic rhyme | January 14, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Wouldn't seasteading take atoll on land-based economies?

Professor, I know this will shock you, but you too can become a crass individual by purchasing the royal blue "Together We Thrive" t-shirt currently being offered on Ebay for $24.95. That does not include shipping, of course.

Obama's 2012 campaign slogan has just been created.

@Retire05, This is Kathleen.

@Strunked, good question, I'm not sure of the answer. Seasteading is an interesting idea, I would like to know everyone's reaction.

sort of runic rhyme | January 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I propose a major clinical opthamology platform called "Eyeland." Medical professionals at sea would almost have to stay more current.

sort of runic rhyme | January 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm

What trolling authority could handle the inevitable tsunami of shell corporations and loan sharking to come in waterworld– you know, any wave of crime, littorally speaking?

Seriously, Kathleen, this is an intriguing design contest. Have you some ideas for a floating society?

@strunked, TSI's first ideas are actually for things like "hip replacement boats" – sea-based centers for fairly uncontroversial procedures that will be much cheaper than the highly-regulated land alternatives. From there they want to move into small ocean colonies and the like. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to an uptick in competition from seasteads to improve the pricing and quality of government-monopolized industries. (I thought the arbitration idea was pretty interesting, as well as the orphanage on the sea…) I'm skeptical of the plausibility, but it's fun to think about.

1. I liked this post. At a time when the country is being deliberately misgoverned, it's good to see examples of the possibilities implicit in a free society. It's good to see that people are working toward those possibilities despite today's troubled conditions.

2. I suspect that some of that 19th century homesteading experience remains relevant to the issues that the seasteaders will face.

3. Similarly, I suspect that the seasteaders' experiences may be helpful to the future generations that someday will homestead in the solar system. Maybe in your children's or grandchildren's lifetimes.

From the POV of an old geezer, [and one not about to be outdone by whipper-snappers like strunked!]. it's a whale of an idea.

Great timing – as gs mentioned – for what could be a very important idea.

sort of runic rhyme | January 14, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Kathleen, there are all sorts of governing and commercial possibilities to conjure for an aquaterrestrial society. What first comes to mind for me is how any water surface or submerged human-friendly wilderness would almost have to be created by monied entities– wildcat billionaires, corporations, non-profits or government. Since top-down investment and development would also be required for any orbital or lunar scaping and settlement, seasteading might prove to be a good lab and model for how to survive and thrive in "hostile" environments.

Overcoming "hostile" logistics would return mankind to his earliest beginnings in the sea. It's beyond the scope of this design exercise, but one would almost have to wonder if bio-engineering could advance our re-adapting to terra infirma and give us fins and gills. (OK, THAT brings to mind the tentacle genre of Japanese art which is pretty wild…)

Absent human modification and on a nostalgic utopian note (or mind-altering substance), we can still all live in a yellow submarine, can't we?

There's a society called the Living Universe Foundation that advocates seasteading as a precursor to space colonization. The main book that defines the movement, while not so much into the political aspects, details quite a bit of the technology that would be required to live on the ocean long-term. (Book is The Millennial Project, in case anyone cares.) Of course, if it ever became really successful, it would attract the attention of unpleasant people with guns, but that's a problem that can probably be left until later.

I've never heard of this but my first take on this is that it won't happen. It's not that I don't believe that people can't conceive of workable models and develop the required technology they most certainly can. I just don't believe that land-based governments will allow new societies to develop offshore.

It's the legal issues that I see as the insurmountable problem. Those with navies and armies will insist on deciding who gets to do what and where while taxing profits. The law of the sea is generally defined as that which can be enforced. In other words, dem wit da guns make da rules.

I've been a big fan of TSI for a long time. They have a great blog at

Kathleen, I'm liking you more every day!

Strunked! Shorely you jest.

This whole thing smacks of social engineering and has a faint whiff of Malthusian doctrine. "all land is already claimed." is a slightly bizarre statement to make.

@JohnJ, Glad to hear it! I know, I love Michael Strong's writing at athousandnations!

>"all land is already claimed." is a slightly bizarre statement to make.

All land on earth, other than Antarctica, is claimed by a country under law, and Antarctica is divided up between countries that do not strictly have territorial rights to their portions, but certainly have the right to enforce law there. Hence, if you want to make your own rules in the most fundamental way, you need to leave land.

Where does LOST (Law of the Sea Treaty) fit into this? I'm reminded of Radio Caroline and other 'Clandestine' ('pirate') radio stations, how ruthlessly they are shutdown by offended governments. Gambling ships devoted solely to the trade, pay over and under the table to harbor nations. The key seems to become essential, not competitive, with the dry land governments. Think of some very lucrative activity essential skimming of which pads the pockets of repressive bureaucrats or "prepare to be boarded." The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 made signatory nations liable for the atmospheric departure and re-entry portion of its citizens' space travel, regardless of where this took place on Earth. LOST doesn't work that way, of course, because the sea is not beyond the long arm of any nation with a blue water navy.