You may have played the mostly excellent BioShock in the last year or so, and must have found the premise to be a bit...far-fetched. A rich genius, Andrew Ryan, builds a secret underwater paradise based on Objectivist principles and fills it with the world's smartest and most creative people.
This way the cream of the human crop will live unfettered and uncontrolled by government, in a pure market economy where no man is held back from reaching and exercising his full abilities, thanks to not being dragged down by the weak and welfare-addicted masses.
Kind of attractive, actually, if you ask me, especially since I live in the most-opposite-place-on-Earth, San Francisco. But, alas, a pipe dream.
OR IS IT???
I was quite surprised to listen to a recent episode of the EconTalk podcast and discover that not only is a similar concept in the works, but the purveyors hope to get it up and running in the immediate future.
The concept is Seasteading, or setting up highly mobile living spaces on the sea to accomplish, as the Seasteading Institute's website says:
Because the world needs a new frontier, a place where those who are dissatisfied with our current civilization can go to build a different (and hopefully better) one.
Currently, it is very difficult to experiment with alternative social systems on a small scale. Countries are so enormous that it is hard for an individual to make much difference. Seasteaders believe that government shouldn't be like the cellphone or operating system industries, with few choices and high customer-lock-in. Instead, they envision something more like web 2.0, where many small governments serve many niche markets, a dynamic system where small groups experiment, and everyone copies what works, discards what doesn't, and remixes the remainder to try again.
Think about all the hot air and argumentation about a whole host of different political issues - freedom vs. security, absolute wealth vs. inequality, strong family vs. tolerance, open vs. closed borders, whatever the topic du jour is. Instead of deciding them through rhetoric, or voting on a few representatives to decide them for tens or hundreds of millions of people at once, imagine if we could try them each on a small scale and see what happens. If people could create societies with different priorities - the environment, civil liberties, economic freedom, religious values - we'd be able to see how well these ideas actually work in practice. In some cases, certain approaches will work so well (or terribly) that everyone (or no one) will use them too. In others, it will turn out to be a matter of preference, in which case we'll be giving people the choice to choose to live in whatever small society is closest to their ideal.
In short, we seasteaders are people who, whatever our ideals, want to stop arguing about them, stop proselytizing them, and start living them. And it looks like homesteading the oceans is our best opportunity.
One of the main proponents of Seasteading is Patri Friedman, grandson of Milton Friedman and son of David Friedman, so he's no stranger to economics and concepts of freedom. In fact, one of the things that made me pay more attention to the seemingly-wacky discussion than I might have otherwise is the fact that Patri, while clearly a Utopianist of sorts, would regularly make an intelligent economic statement, like realizing that producing all your own goods and "buying local" without external trade is another way of saying "very poor".
An image I found amusing from the discussion: Because individuals would be highly mobile in a sea-based community, if you don't like the tax policy of the local "city", you can just float away to another city.
Take that, San Francisco supervisors!
Fortunately for the Seasteading folks, thanks to Andrew Ryan of Bioshock, a promotional video has already been done: