The Seasteading Institute aims to explore new ideas in governance by ultimately setting up micronations in international waters. Outside the bounds of the the 193 countries in the United Nations, a seastead would be free to operate its own government any way its population sees fit. With such radical ambitions, the seasteading concept inspires some polarising responses. Where some see it as an opportunity for a fresh start, others decry it as a too-lofty Libertarian daydream.
I spoke to Randolph Hencken, Executive Director at The Seasteading Institute, who told me that while “the founders of The Seasteading Institute come from a Libertarian persuasion, the seasteading movement is much broader than that.”
Hencken and other would-be seasteaders (superstar investor Peter Thiel is a major proponent) don’t like the “one size fits all” approach at work in a country’s government. For them, seasteading is about being able to choose which rules you want to live by instead of living somewhere “where the average citizen is committing three felonies a day without realising it.”
“We want to return to ‘the experiment,'” said Hencken. “Experimenting has historically made [humanity] better. Our only political motivation is improvement.”
Before taking the experiment to the high seas, however, Hencken wants to try it in a shallower, protected bay. The Seasteading Institute aims to collaborate with an independent nation to set up a standalone startup city within that nation’s territorial waters. In exchange for political autonomy from the host country, the city-state would provide it with social and economic benefits, hiring its citizens for work and the like.
Hencken disclosed that there are already “four or five countries that we’re really engaged in talks with” to bring these plans to fruition. If all goes to plan, we could see an operational seastead by the end of this decade.
So let’s quickly clear up some common misconceptions about seasteading:
1. Peter Thiel isn’t trying to create his own private country. Thiel is outspoken on his Libertarian views and he’s a major supporter of seasteading, but it’s because it allows for new kinds of freedom for anyone who wants it, not because he wants to rule over a private island.
2. Seasteading is not about creating tax havens. It’s about experimenting with new ways to live. Sure, taxes would probably work much differently, but by no means is this the focus.
3. A seastead would not be some sort of lawless Wild West town on water. Hencken offered the example criticism of building codes — they’re fairly niche rules that all would agree matter for safety’s sake. While a seastead might not have explicit building codes written on paper somewhere, no one would be allowed to build something deemed unsafe.
Seasteading disrupts politics the same way that tech startups disrupt larger companies that aren’t nimble enough to stay innovative. It’s clear to see why Patri Friedman, co-founder of the The Seasteading institute, calls the idea “an apolitical solution to politics.”