I listened to the Agora I/O talk today on seasteading. It was delivered by Patri Friedman, founder of The Seasteading Institute. In it he made some comments about the problems of numbers and of secrecy in agorism—it’s simply hard to form vibrant markets when activities are underground and market players (agorists) are few in number and scattered around the world. He then claims that creating communities in “unclaimed territories” (“Frontierism”) by taking advantage of legal loopholes in international law (i.e. seasteading) is the solution to these problems. Is it?

Putting aside the fact that playing by someone else’s rules is no way to attain freedom, and ignoring the real possibility that such legal loopholes are likely to be filled as soon as they are taken advantage of, let’s note that there are no unclaimed territories on Earth. Every part of the world we live in comes under the jurisdiction of either some state or some collaboration of states (i.e. International Law). Unless Mr. Friedman chooses to plant his flag on Mars, then he will have to admit that his seasteading pseudo-anarcho-capitalist society will have to contend with foreign powers attempting to regulate, police, or otherwise interfere. To his credit, he does make a marginal concession in this regard.

However, Friedman claims that the U.S. will maintain a hands-off policy towards his anarcho-capitalist seastead so long as no one is “harboring terrorists, laundering money, working on weapons of mass distruction, or exporting drugs to the United States”. He then amends this to include “anonymous banking”. Even if we naively accept this, he fails to note the motives and policies of other foreign governments. He also says that, otherwise, anyone on the seastead would be free to “use drugs locally, have prostitution locally, … have very low barriers to entry for entreprenuers, … have the rights to your own genome, have different regions with different copyright laws and patent laws.”

Firstly, I suspect his list of what is verboten is a little short. What about so called “Intellectual Property”? What about small-arms manufacture? What about the acquisition of and rights to natural resources? What about the right to associate and trade with anyone who would voluntarily do so? If you think about it for a moment you will realize that there is a huge litany of activites that foreign powers will either be desirous to control or find threatening.

Despite his heritage, Friedman seems wholly unfamiliar with the beast, Leviathan. Institutions—and government is one of humanity’s oldest—are self-serving; desirous, first and foremost, of maintaining their existence and strengthening their power. Governments take or control what they believe they need for their survival. The U.S. has not been entangled in the Middle-East for nearly a century because of “terrorism”. It has been so because of the region’s strategic oil reserves. Friedman also fails to learn the lessons of Cuba, a half-dozen South American countries, and much of south and east Asia. Governments are also notoriously paranoid—especially in this age of preemption. To suppose for a moment that they will not try to influence or interfere with a seasteading community is to ignore the entire history of U.S. interference with nearly every nation on earth.

But suppose for a moment that he is right—that members of his society will be free of foreign intrusion so long as they do not engage in any of the activities he lists. What prohibits anyone from doing so? And what are the consequences to individuals who do?

Suppose his fellow seasteaders are violating copyrights and patents, perhaps only within their community. Something like this goes on in Russia and China, much to the dismay of U.S. lawmakers and the industries which profit from such artificial scarcity. Economic and political means are brought to bear to “correct” this problem, to little effect. More direct means of coercion are not utilized because these are heavily armed states. Mr. Friedman’s seasteading society is not.

Now suppose, for instance, that I, a seasteader, manufacture weapons (nothing fancy or WMD-like) and one of my clients is in the small country of, Yoyotania, which does not object to the sale. A neighboring state, Meanistan, is at odds with Yoyotania and is not happy about this. Does Mr. Friedman still think that obeying his off-limits list will keep us safe? Will he try to set up laws, courts and police to restrict this and other market activities which might antagonize someone,… somewhere. Or will he defy all the states of the world … from his little boat? The first destroys the freedom he is seeking, the second invites its destruction.

And even if he and his fellow floaters obey every edict of international law, does he think he’ll be free from intrusive inspection and regulation? Does he think that governments like the U.S. with powerful corporate interests at the helm will not act to contain or limit an econonomic competitor?

There is a serious flaw in this exogenous strategy of founding an anarcho-capitalist society, and that is that you can never really be out of reach of foreign powers that want to control you. To simply bow to them is to be a subject again—not truly free. This was the essence of a comment I made, which Mr. Friedman so flippantly dismissed.

What Friedman really wants is another American Revolution, without all the fighting and other such unpleasantries. He wants “98% of the grab-bag of rights”. He wants more freedom than the founding documents gave us, to be sure; but his solution is yet another half-measure—one which will ultimately follow the same path so long as a founding-flaw, those 2% of rights, are missing. Humanity has spent far too much time, energy and blood reinventing the square-wheel. No, Mr. Friedman, I would not rather “…never have freedom than get a certain limited amount of freedom”. What I would rather do is invest my time, energy and blood in a strategy that doesn’t require compromise; a strategy that will actually deliver us a genuine anarcho-capitalist society; a strategy that will end statism and free humanity, without strings attached; a strategy that doesn’t free us from one state only to enslave us to the whims of a hundred other states; a strategy that isn’t self-defeating from the outset.

If I was unwilling to live with “a certain limited amount of freedom” as he claims, I wouldn’t be an agorist. As agorists, we enjoy some of the freedoms of an anarcho-capitalist society now, but are still limited in many ways by the existing statist system. However, agorism is a path to complete freedom from the state. It has an endgame strategy for the dissolution of the state that seasteading seems to lack.

I see only 2 probable endgames to Friedman’s seasteading venture, depending on one’s choice to remain subject to foreign powers or reject them:

1. The seasteads attempt to obey International Law and conform to the desires of neighboring states.
1.a They restrict the freedoms of their members in order to enforce these foreign laws so as not to raise the ire of a foreign power. They degenerate into mini-states, which gradually decay to the statist nightmares we have today.
1.b They fail to police their own and so become policed by foreign powers. They essentially degenerate into satellite states or simply dissolve.

2. The seasteads oppose foreign restrictions and intervention. Because they are doing so out in the open, unlike agorist black-marketeers, they must continually fight for their survival, both economically and physically. They ultimately lose to the superior forces arrayed against them.

Granted, the failure of #2 is not a sure thing. With a sufficient number of skilled people and resources, a private defense force could be mustered to protect seasteads from foreign intervention; but again, this mirrors the numbers problem Friedman was so critical of in regards to agorism. The failure of #1, however, is guaranteed from the get-go. Taking this route surrenders all sovereignty to foreign powers, and errodes the freedoms enjoyed in this now anarcho-capitalist-society-in-name-only.

Mr. Friedman raises a lot of good criticisms of the agorist approach which need to be answered, but his seasteading solution is no solution at all—not yet anyway. He makes an analogy about being obsequious to a cop so as to be treated like a well-behaved serf,  instead of a badly-behaved serf. Well, I want a world without statist cops; and I intend to work toward one. If he wants to play nice (and subservient) so that neighboring governments don’t burst the little bubble-society he wants to live in, then I wish him all the best in his oceanic folly. But like many others, I don’t want to live in a bubble at the mercy of every statist breeze, so I’m staking my future and my fight against statism here on terra firma.