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Seasteading And The Wall Of Dirt

November 9, 2009

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, and it’s worth reflecting on the connections between the famous event and the topics we cover here.  After all, Letting A Thousand Nations Bloom is, like communism, a political experiment (or rather a meta-experiment).  However, it is one of a profoundly different character.

Berlin WallThe Wall was a deep symbol of the inferiority of communism.  A successful political system does not need walls to keep people in[1].  The Wall was necessary, not because half of Berlin was prettier, had better resources, or better people than the other, but because one half had better rules.  And over time, the half with the better rules flourished compared to the half with worse rules.  That difference in quality, as with any product, created consumer pressure to switch.

The Wall thus represented the brute force attempt of the USSR, purveyor of an inferior product, to lock-in its customers.  It was literally, directly, physically a means of increasing the cost of switching government.  Which makes seasteading, in a very real sense, the anti-Wall.

In most cases there is no literal wall stopping people from expatriating, but our buildings and territory are locked into place by a Wall of Dirt.  One of the benefits of seasteading is that on the ocean, very large objects can move around relatively cheaply.  Hence seasteading reduces customer lock-in, because you can vote with your house, your factory, or your office building.  With countries competing for existing capital (in the form of buildings and platforms), not just new capital, the pressure on them to provide good services will increase[2].  And good old-fashioned competitive pressure, which broke down the Berlin Wall, will break down the current government oligopoly.

You can slow down competition, but it is an inexorable force.  It may take another twenty years, but eventually we’ll be able to celebrate the fall of the Wall of Dirt, and the creation of a world where even the foundations of our cities are free to move between competing political systems.

[1] A truly successful political system does not even need walls to keep people out, although perhaps a moderately successful one like modern western social democracies does.

[2] In another sense, however, seasteading will bring about the opposite effect from the fall of the Wall.  The lowered barrier to entry of allowing any small group to form a new country will lead to de-unification, rather than re-unification.

  1. danb permalink
    November 14, 2009 2:36 pm

    It’s worth critiquing the whole “unification” concept. Everyone has always assumed unification is good, but why?

    The old slogan “United we stand, divided we fall” needs to be reversed: “United we sink, divided we swim”.

  2. November 12, 2009 8:04 am

    It is often annoying to find that people, even writing about the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, don’t seem to make the connection the USA border wall. A wall strong enough to keep foreigners out is more than strong enough to keep Americans in. A strong border policy is dangerous, and the lessons of Eastern Europe have not been learned.

    In addition to being easy to move about, large structures on the ocean are extremely vulnerable. A sub launched ballistic missile, even non-nuclear, could take out nearly any structure you imagine. A single amphibious task force could land on and take over nearly any structure you imagine. Dirt and granite have their advantages.

    • November 12, 2009 3:21 pm

      This is true — strong borders cut both ways.

      I think we’re a long way from a time when anyone with the capability is going to think about torpedoing seasteads. I can’t honestly imagine the US getting away with torpedoing a seastead flying the flag of a sovereign nation unless it was producing nuclear weapons. I can’t honestly imagine the US getting away with boarding a seastead in international waters unless it was producing and exporting psychoactives.

      Hopefully, by the time seasteads want/need to do either of those things, they’ll be better placed to defend themselves.

  3. November 10, 2009 6:08 am

    You state that competition of ideas is an inexorable force. Yet, I checked the big faq again, and the statement about agorism stands. Incremental progress my friend, that is how seasteads will be accomplished, and that is how agorism will flourish.

    The largest military in the world will be defeated by the fiat currency that funds it. No fiat currency has stood the test of time.

  4. Dan permalink
    November 9, 2009 10:58 pm

    Watching videos of the night of the fall on youtube I’ve noticed that most of the East Berliners leaving were planning on returning. They weren’t planning on returning because the rules were better on the east side but because their homes were stuck there. if they could have moved their homes to the west side i’m sure some of them would have left for good that very night. i think thinking about this helps illustrate how seasteading would allow people to take their homes with them and thereby reduce the cost of voting with one’s feet.


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