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Rebuttals to Folk Activism

April 7, 2009

Ilya Somin has his doubts about some elements in Patri’s opening salvo at Cato Unbound. Somin writes

In sum, Patri Friedman understates the utility of political action within existing states and perhaps underrates the likelihood that those same existing states might foil his attempt to establish a new one. But it is too early to conclude that his proposal is unworthy of support. I, for one, would like to see more analysis and evidence.

Arnold Kling expresses his reservations about seasteading as well: 

I think there is a fundamental problem that once a political entity achieves a scale that makes it economically and socially viable, it is difficult to keep government from breaking out. If you can solve that problem at sea, then I would think you could solve it on land. And if you cannot solve it on land, I am not convinced that you can solve it at sea.

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10 Comments
  1. Peter Twieg permalink
    April 7, 2009 5:30 pm

    It seems to me that Arnold’s concerns simply ignore the major arguments in favor of seasteading and other forms of dynamic geography. It suffices to simply quote Patri from the Cato article:

    Government is just another industry, where countries offer services to citizens, but it has some unfortunate features. It is a geographically segmented monopoly, and since all land is taken, the industry has an enormous barrier to entry. To start a new government you have to beat an old one, which means winning a war, an election, or a revolution. And it has very high customer lock-in: there are barriers to emigration and immigration, and switching countries involves both high financial and emotional costs. These characteristics result in a horribly uncompetitive industry, so it is no surprise that existing firms tend to exploit customers instead of innovating to attract them.

    Making governments competitive would be precisely what prevents rent-seeking. It has nothing to do with some mystical essential libertarian properties of the sea, simply the fact that dynamic geography could serve to break the cartelization of inhabitable land by modern governments.

    (Hopefully HTML works properly here… could we get a preview option?)

  2. Brad Taylor permalink*
    April 8, 2009 4:14 am

    I have some thoughts here.

    I’m basically on board with the seasteading idea, but think ideology is always going to be important in determining the level of freedom people enjoy and disagree with Patri’s dismissal of the advocacy approach.

  3. Paula Zipkis permalink
    April 8, 2009 2:37 pm

    I agree with Arnold Kling. No matter what myths you’ve heard to the contrary, size does matter. What is left out of this argument is scale. Beauracracy and large scale catering to individual needs, defeats freedom of enterprise. My rights, my beliefs are libertarian in nature but none the less idividualist and biased. It can’t all be about me, but at some point consensus, no matter how altruist, annoys the minority and destroys the freedom of all.

    Lets also not forget about who is ultimately in charge. Politics eventually fail due to human nature. “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely”, an observation that a person’s sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases. The statement was made by Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Though he was a liberal by standards of that time period, Lord Acton gets the perspective right that eventually those in charge, destroy whatever fundamentals exist. History shows us that every society inevitably declines.

    The simple republic format is great, until scale overwhelms it. Bar stools may be a starting point, but a tipping point may well be in our future. I do believe or at least hope that reform can still help our society! Advocacy does make a voice heard.

  4. April 8, 2009 7:23 pm

    I’m not sure I understand Kling’s criticism. As I see it, seasteads are little governments. The goal is systemic–to create many, many governments that compete, not specifically to create a libertarian seastead.

  5. April 8, 2009 7:38 pm

    Actually, I take it back. I think I misinterpreted Kling’s comment. I think he’s saying that seasteads won’t be able to stay independent of land-based govts for long.

    • April 9, 2009 2:40 am

      Sounds to me like Kling is talking about government breaking out at sea, rather than land-based government taking over seasteads. I guess he might mean that the sort of uncompetitive government that exists today might emerge at sea once seasteading is a mature technology. A large seasteading community might claim sovereignty over some area of the ocean, with others claiming other areas until there is no unclaimed space left. This would lead back to something fairly close to the geographical monopoly situation we have today. It may be cheaper to move between seasteads, but it would be impossible to start your own.

      I’m not sure how realistic that scenario is, but it’s worth thinking about.

      • Carl Pålsson permalink
        April 10, 2009 12:10 am

        Clearly seasteads will sprout governments. That is the whole point of the exercise.

        We won´t run out of ocean for a very long time, if ever. But if we do, seasteading likely will have had a tremendous impact on the rest of the world.

      • April 10, 2009 5:06 pm

        Makes sense (your interpretation of his comments).

      • Brad Taylor permalink*
        April 11, 2009 5:04 am

        “We won´t run out of ocean for a very long time, if ever.”

        It’s not simply a matter of running out of space for useful purposes, but governments claiming sovereignty over unused space. The land of America was all claimed by governments well before all of it was in use. I don’t know how one would go about estimating how long seasteads would exist before this became a possibility.

      • Carl Pålsson permalink
        April 11, 2009 12:47 pm

        Agreed. There is always a possibility of governments ending seasteading (at any stage, really).

        I guess it depends on what they (governments) think they can get away with in the face of public opinion.

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