Seasteading fills the bill of a possible route to anarchy, but hardly an ideal one. In fact it is fraught with problems. Despite the fact that I love the idea, my realistic mindset calls for me to point out the following 5 large problems with seasteading:
The point of seasteading is to create an anarchic nation. Anarchy only functions positively as a political system in conjunction with a relatively pure free market economic system. The barrier to entry for seasteading, however, is huge. Barriers to entry destroy free markets. For a person to live on the water requires the purchase of a large yacht at a minimum. This issue can be addressed in part by people pooling money to buy larger ships and other accommodations. By creating a large pool of money to buy a larger ship the per person cost can be minimized. Here is one source of cruise ship prices. Factors influencing price include size, age, any damage and number of passengers accommodated. For ships built after 1980 and in good condition reasonable prices seem to begin around $15M for around 100 passengers and increase from there. Options for more than 1000 passengers seem to get as low as $50k per person. Technology will lower this price over time but at a presently unclear rate.
Let’s say we all live on a ship. Getting groceries and other such things will be dramatically more expensive due to the logistical costs of many kinds of goods. Many industries such as large-scale agriculture, energy, manufacture and others will be limited and consequently these kinds of societies will be import dependent in the near future. Importing can be costly. Other factors such as the deregulation of society may lead to an offsetting decrease to cost of living in other ways. The key is not that cost of living will certainly rise, but that cost of living will be uncertain. The uncertainty itself is a drawback.
Alternatives to seasteading such as cryptoanarchy exist and opportunity costs must be considered when evaluating costs. Cryptoanarchy, for example, presents a significantly lessened cost of failure. If a seasteading society collapses you and the rest of society are abandoned in the middle of the ocean. If a cryptoanarchic society collapses it is possible to have lead a double-life in the middle of traditional society and simply return to that society without need of relocation costs or many other costs.
4) Lack of Infrastructure and Other Transitional Costs
Developing infrastructure is a costly and time-consuming enterprise which will function as an economy-wide barrier to entry for seasteading. Other transitional costs will occur as well.
5) Legal and Diplomatic Issues
Seasteading hasn’t been tried before on a wide scale. Societies will of course need to develop internal legal systems, but that is the relatively easy part. The hard part will be development of foreign policies and diplomatic relationships and recognition including development of a precedent of international law for seasteading. This is one area where seasteading’s emphasis on anarchy and decentralization may come to haunt it as it may be the case that some people do not want to engage in an international discussion while others do. International law will develop with those who engage globally but may be applied to those who do not, create an unfortunate circumstance which is essentially another kind of transitional cost.
- Interview: Randolph Hencken, Executive Director of The Seasteading Institute (news.firedoglake.com)
- New feasibility study: Semi-submersible, “mini-modular” plaftform (seasteading.org)