Mundane floating concrete

I attended Patri Friedman’s talk on seasteading last night. Basic idea: build floating platforms to allow for social experimentation not feasible within established jurisdictions. Many people have had variations on that particular crazy idea. Friedman distinguishes Seastead from the rest with a focus on incrementalism.

Fun quotes (from memory):

“Don’t get distracted by new technologies”

“A picture is worth a thousand words, a million pounds of concrete means you’re serious.”

“[lack of established jurisdiction, low moving cost] holds for 71% of the earth’s surface and 99.9999% of the universe.”

Back to earth, Friedman plans to start with Baystead, a scaled-down platform for 4-10 people in the San Francisco Bay. Even if his cost estimates ($200K-$500K) are off by a factor of ten (I wouldn’t be surprised), you still have what amounts to an expensive and unique floating home, of which there are many.

New houseboat design, model for dominant mode of living in the universe, or floating nursing home*, I have to admit that I’m intrigued. My wife mentioned the other day that a new coworker lives on an oceangoing houseboat, usually docked in Alameda, but just returned from a trip to Mexico. How cool — and I have zero interest in boats as boats. Plus the cost of joining the boring cult of renting a home from a bank (home “ownership”) is backbreaking in the bay area — why not do something interesting instead?

* I tend to agree with “Brock”, who comments:

Short Answer: Small, discrete economic units (cruise ships, islands) are just never going to be efficient as large, diverse economies.

As for cheap, high-quality care, don’t forget the medical outsourcing to India & Thailand. That will take off like a rocket-ship, and also sweep the rug out from the “wandering Medical Cruiseliner” idea. That particular mountain will not come to Muhammed.

While the comment concerns a tongue-in-cheek post about nursing home cruise ships (why not, nursing homes are so expensive) unrelated to seasteading, it probably applies to seasteads. Friedman said that opposition from governments will be the main obstacle to seasteading taking off. Economic viability might be a far tougher obstacle.

Addendum: Concerning defense of a large seastead in international waters, Friedman said that deterring pirates would be easy, but not giving governments a reason to attack and proving valuable to the same is the best defense against navies. But what if the ‘stead is hated for its freedom? Won’t the terrorists and evil states be impelled by a hateful illogical logic to attack unless the ‘steaders preemptively attack first?!

Joking. What I want to mention is something I overheard one student telling another as people left the lecture. From memory:

I was with him until he mentioned building a library. A patriot missile or something could stop an attack, but the media companies will never let him get away with that. Boom!

Friedman had said that one of many things a seastead community could do is host a digital library of all the works of humans free for the inhabitants. Kind of funny that someone thought that copyright violation is the one thing sure to provoke a violent response. I guess that’s the kind of image one obtains by persecuting one’s customers.

7 Responses

  1. Chris Rasch says:

    Short Answer: Small, discrete economic units (cruise ships, islands) are just never going to be efficient as large, diverse economies.

    Hmmm…I wonder what he means by “efficient”. Singapore and Hong Kong don’t seem to be hurting economically…

    I agree that copyright violation is the most likely behavior to evoke a government crackdown. Drugs and ho’s aren’t going to have much of an impact on anyone stateside, but a floating digital library could have potentially huge economic impacts on a broad range of industries: TV/film/software/music.

  2. “Efficient” in this case means “can take advantage of economies of scale and division of labor”. I should have qualified the Brock’s comment — tiny islands. Singapore and Hong Kong have populations in the millions and are just off the coast of much larger populations.

    However, perhaps my intuition is completely wrong. HK and Singapore are by no means the smallest successful islands. I just hate looking for “business models” to justify doing a cool idea. The other way around seems more tenable.

  3. Chris Rasch says:

    Well, I agree that seasteads are still going to be economically dependent on land based countries for a long time, and that many goods and services will be more expensive. However, I think that over time, as seasteads become more populous, the costs will drop, and eventually, seasteads will actually be a more economical way to live than via state-side. (Since you don’t have to pay all the taxes, tariffs, etc., and because you’re free to hire whomever you want from anywhere in the world. )

  4. […] Sounds like a reasonable idea, with passing resemblance to far more ambitious projects such as seasteading and the Free State Project. I hope Tribewanted succeeds and is copied by dozens of copycat projects catering to different groups. […]

  5. […] I’m attending the first Seasteading conference in Burlingame. I blogged about seasteading four years ago. Although the originators of the seastead idea are politically motivated, I’d assign a very […]

  6. […] Linksvayer (whose blog I ought to read more regularly) has a good summary of the talk. I’ll try to comment on this topic once I’ve read the online book on the […]

  7. […] Mundane floating concrete claimed that the biggest obstacle to seasteads would not be government opposition, but economic viability. While this might seem justified so far (there have been no seastead attempts), it is disingenuous in the long term. Seasteads do not have to become the dominant locus of production or even trading (generally outcompete land-based activity) in order to be “viable” — outcompeting land in even one medium-sized niche would be very exiciting, and could lead to more. But the post also fails to justify its critique of seasteading as “mundane” — not politically revolutionary. If seasteads did meet engineering and economic challenges, they would merely be used by states to stake exclusive claims to all of the planet’s surface (it turns out I have an unpublished draft from 2005 making this claim; I misremembered it being in the Mundane post, but I’m happy to not refute it now). […]

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