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Seasteading Gets You Agorism (and whatever else you want to try)

January 18, 2010

Ineffabelle writes:

Thinking about seasteading and how it relates to agorism (I did a post that barely touched on this a while back, in response to Patri Friedman) again, I think what I see what my intuitive objection is to the current seasteading model. It seems to me that the current “seasteading” approach seems to be modeled on the currently existing nation state. And indeed, most seasteading proponents seem to be at least quasi-statist in their thinking. Certainly they don’t strike me as a bunch of hard core anarchists.

A more anarchist/agorist approach to seasteading to me would be a colony of small ships, essentially houseboats but maybe with a bit more range, who trade goods and services amongst each other outside of the purview of any sort of governing body at all. One of the major advantages of this approach, to me, outside of the obvious one that you don’t need millions and millions of dollars to get started, is that you also don’t provide an obvious, centralized target for government reprisal.

There are several different threads here.  One is about seasteading strategy.  I posted my thoughts on the reasons I prefer large-scale capital-intensive seasteading to the approach above on the seasteading blog last year, and it generated a ton of discussion, as it’s an area of great disagreement.  So while the “agorist” approach suggested is a good one, it is not new to the seasteading movement.  Rather, it is one that many seasteaders believe in – see Vince’s great Seasteading Manifesto to start.  It’s not my favored approach, but I would be delighted if agorists starting building single-family seasteads.

The next is about culture – are seasteaders quasi-statist?  Actually, in my experience, proponents of private polycentric law[1] are the people who most often understand the political theory behind seasteading.  I don’t know if they are a plurality of seasteaders, because such people are rare, but certainly many seasteaders believe in private polycentric law.

Lastly, if we’re going to compare seasteading and agorism, I think seasteading has two major advantages over agorism/polycentric law:

First, it is more meta.  Whatever your preferred political system, seasteading lets you try it.  If you are right that it’s a great system, it will be a great place to live and attract lots of people.  Seasteading gives you agorism.  And with a special extra bonus: if you find out that your favored political theory is actually not so great to live under, while you’ve been learning that, other people will have been testing other things – and maybe one of them will have found something that works.

Second, it has a realistic path to success.  It bypasses the state by using technology to open a frontier, instead of hopelessly fight to beat the state on its own territory.  The agorist idea that small grey markets will ever end the power of the state is sheer lunacy.  While both are rebellions against the status quo, seasteading cleverly avoids a direct challenge.  Dealing with waves may be hard, but beating the state at its own game – using violence to control territory – is much harder.

And these same two points apply to futarchy, Moldbuggian Monarchy, and much much more.  Whatever weird political system you like, whatever clever incentives for efficiency you have found, unless you have a fabulously clever way to make it in the interests of politicians to enact a policy that renders them less powerful[2], seasteading is probably your best bet.  It’s the meta-answer because it produces an ecosystem of competing governments, while each of these specific proposals is merely a hypothesis about a single form of government which might be superior if we could somehow enact it.

[1] For many reasons, I prefer this term to “anarchy”

[2] I’ve heard of exactly one such idea – Michael Strong’s Free Zones w/ equity for dictators “Georgist Endgame” strategy.

  1. January 19, 2010 2:12 am

    Agorism and seasteading have one thing in common though — they’d both be far easier with a big corporate (sovereign or otherwise) sponsor. 😛

  2. jeo permalink
    January 20, 2010 3:36 am

    What is “Michael Strong’s Free Zones w/ equity for dictators ‘Georgist Endgame’ strategy?” Sounds very interesting. I googled and got this page.

  3. January 21, 2010 6:02 am

    I think you nailed it: the reason that Seasteading will succeed, sooner or later, at allowing people to evade government monopoly somewhat, is because Neptune doesn’t evolve its adverse strategies, unlike the Leviathan. Waves may be hard to tame, but they won’t get harder once we get the knack of it. Armies, on the other hand, will evolve.

    On the other hand, the Leviathan can and will adapt to the competition by seasteads: governments will indeed extend their claims to currently international waters. They will launch their own subsidized Seasteads to “compete” with free Seasteads, and allow them to claim more waters as theirs, until there is no more “free” zone anywhere for a Seastead to be outside the control of an established oligopolist.

    And so the success of seasteading is guaranteed, but the eventual value of this success may well be zero. In between its initial success and eventual failure, it will provide a TAZ.

    • pcdls.ronin permalink
      January 21, 2010 7:35 am

      Fare, I believe that your prediction of seasteading efforts eventually being thwarted by government is very realistic. I suppose that life could eventually resemble that “Firefly” series: When the seas are used up, we’ll head for the stars. Assuming we (the human race) develop a respect for the open-source and free proliferation of technology, there will be hope in space. Spacesteading anyone?

      • September 16, 2011 12:55 am

        Superior thinking dmeonstrtaed above. Thanks!

    • January 22, 2010 5:01 am

      You seem to assume that seasteads will never develop military power to defend themselves from existing nations. Doing so may take decades, but eventually, seasteads will be able to defend their free zones. Thus those zones will still have value.

      And increasing the number of oligopolists still makes for a more competitive industry which will better serve its customers.

      • James permalink
        January 30, 2010 12:21 am

        haha…that sounds almost agorist

        In the end we’re all after the same thing and it’s good that many tactics will be tried: seasteading, counter-economics, crypto-anarchism

        The common thread is exerting more personal control over one’s activities and denying control to the state. There will be undoubtedly many synergies amongst these methods in achieving liberty.

  4. January 22, 2010 6:11 am

    Seasteads may or may not succeed in increasing the number of oligopolists. I don’t think history is written at this point. But they will quite possibly increase the pressure against monopoly, and though the existence of freesteads may only constitute a temporary autonomous zone until the forces of governance take over, it may well be that this zone lasts long enough to prepare for the opening an even large zone in Space. This is all a very optimistic scenario. But I indeed admit that I see no better plausible scenario, and it may still be time to positively affect the future.

    But even though Neptune won’t worsen its regulations and increase its taxes, the Leviathan is a sea monster that will adapt its adverse technology to new sea challenges.

  5. January 26, 2010 2:00 am

    Thanks, Patri, just getting to this post – and am suitably flattered. Looking forward to a 21st century with a race between our respective strategies, with both of us, and humanity, winning.

    That said, both Mark Frazier and Bob Haywood deserve partial credit for my strategy, which is a compound of their insights.

  6. February 3, 2010 1:48 am

    I am very pleased that you do seem to grok things on a much wider scale than I originally thought.
    I apologize if my post sounded a bit harsh, but I guess the seasteaders I’ve met IRL seem to be minarchistic micro-authoritarians and that colored my intuitive judgement. If there are only one or two “floating cities”, and they have repressive contracts of entry, well, how much better is that than a government? It is *better*, but I want all the marbles, not just a less intrusive ruler.

    I will say that I suspect that it is a combination of all sorts of pressures working at once against the current statist paradigm that will eventually “crack the egg” so to speak. If everyone on land who was fed up with government ran for the sea at once, right now, navies would mobilize to stop them almost immediately. (which is why I favor the approach to seasteading that I do)
    But if the state is already on the verge of collapse, then floating cities might be just what the doctor ordered to keep us happy/healthy/etc through the times of collapse.

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