To their credit libertarians often present fascinating thought experiments for us to ponder. What would you do if you were trapped in the freezing cold and had to break into someone else’s house to save your own life? If you fell off a building and found yourself dangling from a flagpole – a privately owned flagpole – would you continue to hang waiting for help or would you refuse to violate the flag owner’s property rights and plunge to your death? Most respondents answer the same way a non-libertarian would, but that these kinds of questions are even up for debate tells us a lot about the libertarian mindset, which brings me to one of their more audacious experiments that could be coming to fruition: seasteading.
Freedom Ship International, a (for now at least) Florida based company, is building the “Freedom Ship” – a 25 story high, floating vessel with an airport, ball fields, and schools. Large enough to accommodate 50,000 inhabitants, the ship will cost 10.7 billion to complete, and is currently attempting to raise 1 billion to begin construction. At first glance this all sounds like just another stage in the evolution of the cruise ship, the largest of which was about 46,000 tons in 1985, and are today 225,000 tons, but the details tell a different story.
The ‘Freedom Ship’ is intended to be a permanent residence for its passengers beyond the boundaries of any nation, allowing the John or Jane Galts of the world to become global citizens without the taxes, regulations, or social safety nets that prevent them from fulfilling their true potential. As a self-selecting group of the educated and well to do, the problems that plague other societies will be minimized or eliminated. Success will no longer be ‘punished’ through higher taxes. Property rights will no longer be left to the whims of government bureaucrats. Free loaders and free riders will be conquered once and for all by the free market.
Lots of questions come to mind of course. The Seasteading Institute, a not-for-profit working to ‘enable’ seasteading communities addresses many of the challenges to the autonomy or sovereignty of the seastead posed by governments, but says little about the internal conflicts that arise when people live around other people. If we grant, for argument’s sake, that the kind of violence that has been endemic in stateless societies throughout most of recorded history will be avoided due to the affluence of the average seasteader, we still must acknowledge that the well-to-do are at least if not more litigious than the population at large. So, if one guy leaves his sink running and it ruins his neighbor’s rare book collection, on what grounds does he sue? What’s the jurisdiction? Does the seastead now introduce regulations to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future? Fifty thousand residents will have at least as many opinions about their individual worths and freedoms and government will become a necessity.
The irony of utopian schemes is that they often affirm the principles and institutions that they were created to discredit. The people of Jonestown found themselves victims of far worse intolerance and abuse at the People’s Temple than they had stateside. The inhabitants of Elisabeth Nietzsche’s racially ‘pure’ utopia in Paraguay found themselves stranded and later intermarrying with the local population. Henry Ford’s dream of an industrial free market utopia (Fordlandia), ended with his having wasted hundreds of millions trying to extract rubber from the Brazilian Amazon and in need of the innovation that many “great men” discover in times of crisis – the same innovation that our seafaring libertarians will likely come to rely upon: the government bailout.