Governments and Seasteads

Eric makes a good point in the comments:

The problem with meddlesome preferences on seasteads would be that Iran can always afford to spend more on punishing a Theo Van Gogh than a seastead can spend on protecting him.

I think if we consider the long-term dynamics of a world with both seasteads and land-based states, the problem may be more general and more serious.

If folks are able to choose between living on a seastead or on land, I can imagine an adverse selection-type dynamic causing currently liberalish countries becoming something like big illiberal sects, willing and able to intervene in the affairs of libertarian seasteaders.

If seasteading proves to be more attractive to the liberal-minded, the liberal-minded will disproportionately leave land-based states and the preferences of the median voter will shift in a more meddlesome direction. This will leave the remaining moderately liberal landlubbers dissatisfied, prompting them to leave, and so on. If seasteading became sufficiently popular, this could continue until the median voter of land-based states is significantly more meddlesome than is the case today.

Governments already have the institutions supporting coercive taxation, regulation and conscription, and will thus have higher cooperative efficacy – ability to overcome collective action problems in the production of public goods such as national defence and (widely-desired) aggression. Governments would presumably retain the military resources they have today, will have the ability extract resources from citizens to produce more, and will have the desire to use them.

Liberal seasteads will have trouble defending against aggression by foreign governments, since they will generally be smaller and will be less capable of collectively producing defence against aggression.   

3 Responses

  1. I can’t imagine that seasteads become sufficiently popular in the medium term for them to have a substantial effect on the identity of the median voter in the remaining states.

    The effects of seasteads on the preferences of the remaining median voter though are much harder to call. On the one side, they may serve as exemplars of the viability of all kinds of social orderings, so it might shut up some of the folks who’d cry the end of the world should regulation X be removed. On the other side, they can be demonized by remaining governments as ways terrorists get financed (with or without proof).

    • I was really talking about the long term – once seasteading technology has had time to mature.

      I guess it depends on how high the “ocean tax” remains. If it becomes just as pleasant and cheap to live on a seastead with the same level of economic opportunity, I’d say it would have a substantial effect.

      Being demonized as terrorist havens and the like would definitely be a problem. So would the perception that seasteaders are running away from their obligation to contribute to society, especially if there’s significant trade between people on seasteads and the state. I can imagine something like today’s anti-globalization protest movement complaining that evil capitalists are exploiting workers from their secret off-shore lairs.

  2. This comment will be considered from a strange angle for many… I love the ‘idea’ of expanding onto the sea. I can hope.

    As an yachtie & engineer, this option has some significant difficulties to overcome – not just engineering or cultural acceptance. As an economist/observer of our world, I see a different path.

    While I too think seasteaders are generally looking for some ‘freedom’ and/or alternative housing options, I don’t think they will have time to develop that avenue in the form of engineering marvels of floating cities. I believe that quite major social disruption from post-oil collapse will prevail (my economics training [& gut] makes me think this current $ meltdown is a pre-shock) – the crunch occurring within 2 decades (& I think earlier).

    The ensuing civil unrest will drive some offshore seeking defensible space (hopefully me included).

    Defence has been a strong consideration for me on the open seas but not from military/governments. The military will surely have the fuel access in the short term but I feel that it will be focussed (too busy) in maintaining rule over their landbound peoples (depending how far from land one ‘setttles’). Other sea roaming boats/groups of modern pirates seem more likely under the social collapse scenario.

    Which brings me to thinking that rafting communities (a collection of vessels) may be the seastead style that will naturally form. The vessels exist now; they just need designers to consider how to meld this disparate bunch together in a difficult environment. A thought!

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