The must-read book for libertarians, socialists, conservatives, progressives as well as the politically confused

Finally, a book showing the way to strike at the root of bad government is out.

419+ezZgFJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

In Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians Joe Quirk and Patri Friedman set out how creating permanent, autonomous communities on the ocean will create a vibrant start-up government sector – a Silicon Valley of the Sea – with many small groups experimenting with innovative ideas as they compete to serve their citizens’ needs better.

Disrupting the Largest Industry in the World

When viewed as an industry, governance is the largest in the world, representing about 30 percent of global GDP. And today, this industry exhibits a serious lack of competition. There are extremely high barriers to market entry because putting a new idea into practice means having to win either an election, a war or a revolution.

As a result, products (the bundle of rules and public goods provided by governments) are low-quality, prices (taxes) are high and customers (citizens) are generally unsatisfied.

The creation of ocean platforms constitutes a much lower barrier to entry for forming a new government than winning an election or a revolution – or a war. And with technology advancing, the barriers of entry to the market of governance will decline year by year.

A Silicon Valley of the Sea, where those who wish to experiment with building new societies can demonstrate their ideas in practice would apply the scientific principle of trial and error to governance.

Science Fiction Fact

The technology to create floating cities is basically already there. Take, for example, the Portunus Project, a plan to build six floating mega ports surrounding the United States, each four hundred acres in size and located twenty to forty miles offshore.

The Dutch architectural firm Waterstudio, on the other hand, has designed a floating stadium that could travel the world hosting the Olympic Games.

In 2014, India began installing a solar power plant on a 1.27-million-square-meter floating platform and by 2025, Shimizu Corporation, a Japanese construction giant, plans to have self-sufficient, carbon-negative botanical skyscrapers floating in Tokyo Bay.

A Technology rather than an Ideology

Seasteading is a technology for anybody to try their vision of society. Seasteaders are from all political spectrums – and some simply identify as politically confused. They share the conviction that experiments are the source of all progress and that humanity needs more experiments in governance. They have realised that arguing about politics is a waste of time and that trial and error is the way to go.

I recently argued that the most important book for every libertarian to read was The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman. Seasteading by Joe Quirk and Patri Friedman, on the other hand, is a must-read for anybody who believes that not all political systems are equally good. Seasteading, not arguing, is the way to find out what works best.

Competitive Governance, Seasteading and Free Private Cities For Dummies

If you are interested in economics and/or political thought, you may have come across the following three terms:

  • Competitive Governance
  • Seasteading
  • Free Private Cities

The purpose of this post is to explain in a clear and concise manner the economic and political thought behind each of these terms. Of particular importance is to understand how these terms, respectively, the ideas behind them relate to each other.

The Market for Governance

In contrast to other markets, the market for governance has been producing meagre results. Products (the bundle of rules and public goods provided by governments) are low-quality, prices (taxes) are high and the customers (the citizens) are generally unsatisfied.

The reason for this is lack of competition. In a competitive market producers of bad products are weeded out by natural selection. In the governance industry, producers (governments) are not subject to this selection mechanism. Instead, the market for governance is dominated by a series of large geographic monopolies.

There are two reasons for the lack of competition in the governance industry:

On the supply-side there are high barriers of entry. Imagine you have a new idea that would revolutionise the governance industry. In any other industry you would have to convince some investors to give you the necessary capital. Then you could start producing and selling to customers. As things stand today, market entry into the governance industry would be significantly more difficult. You would have to win either an election or a revolution.

On the demand-side there are high barriers of switching. Switching your internet provider means something like having to send an email to customer service. Switching governance providers means either emigration or the election of a new government within your current jurisdiction.

Obtaining permission to immigrate into a country can take years. On top of that, since today’s governments often cover a whole language area, emigration may well entail having to learn a new language. The problem with elections, on the other hand, is that neither you nor anybody else has an incentive to put any effort in making a good choice – as illustrated by David D. Friedman in The Machinery of Freedom:

Imagine buying cars the way we buy governments. Ten thousand people would get together and agree to vote, each for the car he preferred. Whichever car won, each of the ten thousand would have to buy it. It would not pay any of us to make any serious effort to find out which car was best; whatever I decide, my car is being picked for me by other members of the group. Under such institutions, the quality of cars would quickly decline.

If high barriers of entry for producers and high barriers of switching for consumers are causes for the dysfunctionality observed in the market for governance, then it becomes clear that there cannot exist a solution that does not tackle at least one of these causes.

Competitive Governance

The idea underlying Competitive Governance is to minimise the cost of switching governance providers by switching between geographic jurisdictions.

This is to be achieved by geographically decentralizing political power, i.e. increasing the number (decreasing the size) of units of governance among which people could move. Low barriers of exit would mean higher competitive pressure for governments and therefore better governance.

Seasteading

While the focus of Competitive Governance is on the demand-side of the market for governance (the high barriers of switching faced by consumers), the focus of Seasteading is on the high barriers of entry, i.e. on the supply-side of the market for governance.

In contrast to the earth’s land, the ocean is largely unclaimed by states. Seasteaders want to develop the technology to create permanent, autonomous communities on the ocean, arguing that the creation of ocean platforms constitutes a much lower barrier to entry for forming a new government than winning an election or a revolution – or a war. And with technology advancing, the barriers of entry to the market of governance will decline year by year.

By opening up the vast space of the ocean for experimentation with new institutions, an evolutionary process will be started that will led to new and better products in the market for governance.

Proponents of Competitive Governance have argued for more competition in the governance industry, but traditionally they did not provide an explanation for how to effectuate this change. Seasteading can be considered as a a route for getting from here to there, i.e. as a proposal for implementing Competitive Governance.

Free Private Cities

Competitive Governance and Seasteading refer to the level of the governance industry and are agnostic with respect to the shape and form of the units of governance within the governance industry. Put differently: the question of how governance is to be provided is out of scope.

Titus Gebel’s proposal for the foundation of so-called Free Private Cities, on the other hand, provides one answer to this question. Gebel, a German entrepreneur, argues for private, for-profit companies to act as governance providers in defined territories (Free Private Cities) and he has started such a company: Free Private Cities Ltd.

Citizens/customers in a Free Private City would pay a fee for the governance services provided by the company. Each customer’s rights and duties would be laid down in a written agreement between the customer and the governance provider of the respective Free Private City.

Free Private Cities may be established within the territory of an existing state, whereby the parent state (hoping to reap benefits from a potential hub of growth and prosperity) grants the operator the right to set its own rules within a defined territory. Most likely though, the first Free Private City is going to be established via Seasteading on the ocean.