Editor’s Note: Joe Quirk, president of The Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, is co-author of “Seasteading: How Floating Nations with Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity From Politicians” with Patri Friedman, chairman of the board of The Seasteading Institute. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Joe Quirk: More and more Americans are dissatisfied with their government
So now is the perfect time to innovate and create self-governing artificial islands
If you’d like to live in a country that caters to your values and lifestyle, why not build your own?
Nearly half the earth’s surface is a blue frontier over which no country holds sovereignty, and startup cities that float permanently in international waters will soon be economically feasible as construction materials get cheaper, greener and printable in 3D form. These will be homesteads on the high seas – or seasteads.
By 2020, Blue Frontiers, our for-profit spinoff from The Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, plans to provide fresh jurisdictions on floating sustainable islands designed to adapt organically to sea level change. These will be privately financed and built by local maritime construction firms employing the latest in sustainable blue tech.
We’ve already raised our seed round of investments to perform research and secure legislation, so get ready for the next wave of nations.
Of course, the need for seasteads could not be greater. Americans are fed up with their government – in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans reported that they trust neither the Democratic or Republican establishment to represent them.
But this isn’t a new sentiment. America’s founders were also fed up with their government. The New World served as a platform where political innovators could experiment with unconventional ideas. As new states and territories were established piecemeal across the frontier, they became incubators for novel ideas of governance – eventually shaping the country we have today.
Fast-forward over two hundred years, and most land has been claimed by governments established in previous centuries – leaving the high seas to serve as the latest frontier for innovation.
“Why are we not looking at moving out onto the sea?” asked famed ocean explorer Robert Ballard, who discovered The RMS Titanic, as he concluded his 2008 TED talk with a clarion call: “Why do we have programs to build habitation on Mars … but we do not have a program looking at how we colonize our own planet? And the technology is at hand!”
That same year, two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman, co-founded The Seasteading Institute to bring a startup sensibility to the problem of government monopolies that are too big to succeed.
Venture capitalist Peter Thiel announced that our outdated state could not adapt to dynamic modern technologies. In fact, vital departments of the US government still use floppy disks. Political economic theorist Patri Friedman, a Google engineer and Milton Friedman’s grandson, observed that Steve Wozniak didn’t change Hewlett-Packard from within. After his design for the personal computer was rejected five times, he left and founded Apple with Steve Jobs.
So where will the Wozniaks of governance go?
Gather your kindred spirits, forge a business plan to sell a unique service to the world and entice people to choose your floating island. If immigrants arrive and create a thriving community, your floating town could expand and grow into a city. If your floating island goes bankrupt, it will be disassembled and sold off to competing seasteads.
There’s no shortage of innovators who believe they can create better societies, and no shortage of funders who want to invest in the New Blue World. Since people will be able to select and reject seasteads voluntarily, an evolutionary market process that will discover better ways of living together will naturally emerge.
Residents will have more direct influence over their floating society of a few hundred than they would have over an old nation of hundreds of millions. Also, unlike present governments, floating islands are no threat to other nations.
Small floating cities already proliferate on our oceans. Oil rig workers typically work two weeks out of every four in floating accommodations that meet hotel standards, where they enjoy saunas, gyms, maid and laundry services and satellite TV. Their platforms, each the size of one or two football fields, are frequently stable enough to play ping pong.
And floating private governance is a rapidly growing industry. This year, more than 20 million people will vote to float when they board cruise ships for jobs and vacations, where they enjoy private security guards and health care. Disney World has been hailed as a marvel of private governance. If only Walt Disney had lived to see his majestic fleet of Disney Magic, Disney Wonder, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. The cruise industry provides seasonal jobs for people in the developing world, and seasteads could create permanent jobs as well as homes.
Meanwhile, French Polynesia has offered to host the first pilot seastead. This ancient culture of navigators has been choosing among islands and founding new societies for millennia. Leaders in French Polynesia reached out to The Seasteading Institute to let us know they possess all the features seasteading needs to get started: calm warm waters, natural wave breakers and a youth culture eager to work in incubation hubs for blue tech.
On January 13, 2017, French Polynesia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The Seasteading Institute, agreeing to work together on legislation for a “special governing framework,” so pioneers can offer innovative societies in a protected Tahitian lagoon.
The prototype for their floating islands has already been built in the Netherlands by our Dutch engineers at DeltaSync in partnership with Public Domain Architects. The Floating Pavilion in Rotterdam is sustainable, solar-powered and mobile, a sterling example of what the Dutch call “climate-proof architecture.”
So let’s let a thousand nations bloom.