Silicon Valley is probably the most well known incubator for startup companies in the world. Facebook, Apple, HP, eBay, Google, Oracle, Electronic Arts, Etrade, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Netflix are just some of the well known companies that started there. If you want to start a successful company, there are fewer better places in the world to be than Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
But where do you go if you want to start your own country? That’s a bit harder. First of all, countries don’t start up very often. South Sudan was recognized as a country just last year, but that’s about it. Countries don’t start anew very often because there isn’t much habitable land that isn’t claimed. So if you want to start your own country you need to create your own land. This is where seasteading comes in.
Unsurprisingly, some of the very people that found success starting their own companies are interested in starting countries too. The ideas are vast and the motivations varied, but there are enough people wanting to do this that it may happen. A seasteaded country would exist in international waters and claim its own sovereignty. Their citizens and businesses would provide both a tax base and an economy.
The beauty of starting your own country is you get to make all the rules. Do you think François Hollande is soft for a socialist? Then start your own socialist country off the coast of Portugal. Hate the reelected president of the US but going to Canada is unappealing? Start your own Libertarian paradise just off the coast of liberal San Francisco. If you can build and sustain your little country, you might just win yourself a seat at the UN table.
Seasteaders are typically more interested in the latter option. By creating a country that extremely libertarian they won’t have a government to get in their way. Think about the challenge of quickly hiring people and dealing with government from filing tax paperwork to simply paying a mandated “fair wage”. This can be difficult and frustrating for small companies just trying to survive. Seasteaded countries could move much more nimbly in the international marketplace and the companies located there could keep more profits.
These folks aren’t just dreaming in science fiction. There are very real plans to get some countries off the ground in the next few years. Artists may envision islands constructed from trash, or fancy oil drilling platforms. But the start is simpler, just take an old cruise ship and drop anchor in international water. Use satellites to communicate and off you go. It sounds crazy, but we live in a world where some companies can’t hire enough talent in the domestic marketplace. They could import the talent from Asia and park them on a boat just a few miles away from San Francisco.
For students of economics, seasteading presents a fascinating situation. Not since colonialism have people had the opportunity to leave their world behind and start a new society with new rules. Seasteading could open up the entire ocean to people that want to try their own thing. Create their own governments, make their own rules. If seasteading became popular, economists would have many ways to watch an economy grow under different sets of rules. This is the controlled environment economists have never had.
Seasteaders will certainly have their skeptics. The most successful new societies were built around religions, not commerce. Likewise, a startup country would probably need to mooch off the resources of a country and be sucked into their rules. If a platform cracks because “North Atlantic” is still a developing startup nation, whose tax dollars will come and save them? Established countries and their taxpayers will have to save them. Unlike hundreds of years ago, the international community won’t just sit back and watch a society get destroyed because everyone was stupid.
But seasteading is intriguing beyond simply creating new economies and societies. The human population continues to grow and we will need lots of new technologies and ideas to support us into the future. Having more habitable space would be helpful. The seasteading folk would probably have some innovative methods of farming. Even transportation would change as more people need to lake air or sea to travel.
I’ll probably sticking to land loving myself. But if the human spirit of the last 10,000 years is any indication, there are enough adventurers willing to take a chance on something new.