Seasteading Part 1: A Vision of a New Society

By Chase Baker & Carter Bermingham

Exploring a New Frontier

For centuries, one of the great questions that has captured the human curiosity is what’s next? This question has been at the root of some of the most monumental moments of our recorded history. Whether it was American and Soviet astronauts pushing each other to explore further into the depths of space, or Lewis and Clark heading west along the Missouri River to find a passage for ships to the Pacific Ocean, our human desire to dive into the unknown is something that has allowed for continuous exploration, even in the face of tremendous risk.

As the 21st century continues, the notion of exploring new frontiers seems to be a thing of the past, as all available land on Earth has either been claimed by governments and private interests or is inhabited already, making options like the U.S. homesteading of the 19th and 20th centuries virtually impossible. Any type of space-related travel/exploration is incredibly expensive and specialized, not to mention that the planets in space most likely are not habitable for human beings. So, as is our human nature, we are left wondering what’s next?

Why Seasteading?

With no more available land remaining on Earth, it only makes sense to take to the high seas. Seasteading, generally has associations with self-sufficiency and the frontier lifestyle, much like the term homesteading it derives from. Seasteading is reminiscent of homesteading, but instead done at sea.[1] The idea of seasteading is literally to create a floating, self-sustaining city, complete with all the accommodations of the developed world, that would be situated in an otherwise uninhabitable place for human beings: the ocean. Imagine Waterworld meets Little House on the Prairie.

But why would anyone want to live out at sea? And who has even thought about this? The founder of The Seasteading Institute (TSI), a nonprofit think tank working to make this dream of seasteading a reality, Petri Friedman (grandson of famous economist Friedman) explains his position on the idea and why it would be beneficial for society. Seasteading would “allow the next generation of pioneers to peacefully test new ideas for government. The most successful can then inspire change in governments around the world.” [2] Essentially, the idea is to show people that small government works.

This vision of seasteading can be summarized as the dream of pursuing absolute personal freedom, particularly from government regulation: The freedom to pursue new legal policies on how a society is governed; the freedom to pursue new financial institutions and methods of banking that could revolutionize existing markets; the freedom to pursue new medical practices that could radically change the field as we know it.

It’s easy to see how this vision could be enticing, particularly for those who already have a Libertarian tilt to their political ideology. This explains why such prominent Libertarians, such as Peter Theil, have invested heavily in organizations like TSI (reportedly investing $1.7 million while also serving on the board). [3]

Seastead Designs:

According to a 2011 article published on The Economist’s website, “Seastead designs tend to fall into one of three categories: ship-shaped structures, barge-like structures based on floating pontoons, and platforms mounted on semi-submersible columns, like offshore oil installations.” [4]  This section provides a brief explanation of the three different platforms and how they work.

Ship-shaped structures essentially are floating ships in the ocean. For example, The Seasteading Institute could buy excess inventory from a cruise line, and convert the ship to apartment-style living and traditional office space aboard. Their model (like all of the three mentioned) focuses heavily on cost. Ship-shaped structures can be a cheaper option than others; due to the over-ordering by cruise lines, possible seasteaders, like those working at The Seasteading Institute (TSI), can access cheaper second-hand liners. Due to the large nature of these vessels, cities or seasteads would able to fit more apartment-style living and traditional office space aboard, thus making it more appealing to those looking to live out at sea without a major transformation from normal standards of living. However, ship-shaped structures tend to roll in choppy seas. Although cruise ships can sail around storms, their stabilizers do not work when stationary. As a result, these ship-shaped structures are not equipped with the capability to keep them upright when in a static position, causing major setbacks to this design option. [5]

A1
Ship-Shaped Structures[6]
Barge-like structures reside on massive pontoons, and although cost effective, they do not come without their hiccups. This design method is the cheapest and t also is the most dangerous–unfortunately, this style of structure is more susceptible to instability in choppy seas.  Hence, it would most likely would be effective, if at all, only in water that is so shallow it would more than likely be classified within the territory of another country, throwing another monkey wrench into this design option.[7]

A2
Barge-Like Structures[8]
Last, but not least, are platform structures. These platforms, which are modeled after offshore oil drilling structures, are the most expensive of the three categories. Their price, though, comes with the best overall durability rating out of the three. These structures are placed on floating columns that bob up and down, which can be tolerable to workers who are being compensated fairly. However, someone trying to live permanently on that structure could be seasick in their own home for a period of time. [9] 

A3
Platform Structures[10]
Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University and columnist for the Bloomberg View, asks consumers to use their imagination when considering seasteading. “Imagine, for instance, autonomously governed sea platforms, with a limited number of citizens selling health and financial services to the rest of the world. Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence might make construction and settlement more practical than it seemed 15 years ago.” [11]

In order for seasteading  to come to fruition, some hurdles need to be crossed, particularly the element of cost to the average consumer who might be interested in seasteading. As TSI’s website states, “We expect the first communities to attract mostly pioneers and innovators at first. Building on the ocean is not easy, nor is it cheap. Our first seastead in protected waters should be affordable to the middle class of developed nations, and we hope that new materials and improvements in manufacturing will help bring costs down further so anybody can move to a seastead eventually.”[12]

As expected with any breakthrough technologies, those interested in the nascent stages of development are innovators and visionaries who are able to shoulder the financial burden of being one of the first customers. This financial burden does not bode well for the “average” middle class families of developed nations, and presents a high barrier to consumers interested in the seasteading market. Unless engineers, manufacturers and investors can develop more cost-efficient solutions to seasteading, even Peter Thiel concedes that, “they’re not quite feasible from an engineering perspective. That’s still very far into the future.”[13]

In the next blog post we will be discussing the some of the potential applications and uses of seasteading.

Sources

[1] Frequently Asked Questions. (2017, March 14). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.seasteading.org/frequently-asked-questions/

[2] Mandow, D. (2012, July 30). Getting Around Big Government: The Seastead Revolution Begins to Take Shape. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2012/07/30/getting-around-big-government-the-seastead-revolution-begins-to-take-shape/#3abc8c4e43f4

[3] Robinson, M. (2017, January 11). Tech billionaire Peter Thiel no longer thinks his dream of a floating libertarian utopia is realistic. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/peter-thiel-seastead-dream-floating-city-2017-1

[4]  Cities on the ocean. (2011, December 03). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.economist.com/node/21540395

[5] ibid

[6] Glasner, J. (2011, December 14). Seastead Startup Looking for a Good Cruise Ship. Retrieved December 8, 2017, from https://www.pehub.com/2011/12/seasteading-startup-looking-for-a-good-cruise-ship/

[7] Cities on the ocean. (2011, December 03). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.economist.com/node/21540395

[8]  Beyman, A. (2016). The Current State of Seasteading: Building Permanent Oceanic Colonies. Retrieved December 8, 2017, from https://steemit.com/libertarianism/@alexbeyman/the-current-state-of-seasteading-building-permanent-oceanic-colonies

[9] Cities on the ocean. (2011, December 03). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.economist.com/node/21540395

[10]  Caril, J. (2016, December 10). Oceantop Living in a Seastead – Realistic, Sustainable, and Coming Soon. Retrieved December 8, 2017, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/oceantop-living-in-a-seastead-realistic-sustainable_us_584c595ae4b0016e50430490

[11]  Cowen, T. (2016, December 7). Go Wet, Young Man. Retrieved November 14, 2017, from https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-12-07/seasteading-isn-t-such-a-crazy-idea

[5] Cities on the ocean. (2011, December 03). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.economist.com/node/21540395

[12] Frequently Asked Questions. (2017, March 14). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.seasteading.org/frequently-asked-questions/

[13] Robinson, M. (2017, January 11). Tech billionaire Peter Thiel no longer thinks his dream of a floating libertarian utopia is realistic. Retrieved November 13, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/peter-thiel-seastead-dream-floating-city-2017-1

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