Painful Truth: New nations on the waves can be tricky

Have you ever wanted to be king? So have a lot of other people.

Sad news this spring for millionaires keen to start their own countries so they can avoid paying taxes.

French Polynesia has apparently scrapped a plan to host the world’s first “seasteading” project in a lagoon.

You may be asking yourself, what is seasteading? You may be saying, is this an idea that sounds kind of cool on the surface but is actually kind of stupid and malign?

Seasteading is not just one thing. It’s an overlapping series of ideas that have been sort of mushed together.

First, at it’s most basic, seasteading is the building of new permanent human habitat on the ocean, often on floating platforms bigger than an aircraft carrier or oil platform.

Seasteading advocates often push utopian visions. The subtitle of a book published by the Seasteading Institute is “How floating nations will restore the environment, enrich the poor, cure the sick, and liberate humanity from politicians.”

That last clause is significant, as the second face of seasteading is as a scheme in which rich egomaniacs can make themselves king or president-for-life of artificial tax-haven micronations. Many of today’s seasteaders are quasi-libertarians, like Peter Thiel, who has said women shouldn’t have the vote and that democracy is generally a bad idea.

Thirdly, it’s a money pit. Seasteading isn’t a new idea. Since the 1970s, folks have been trying to use barges, artificial sandbars, Second World War gun platforms, and various other structures to create their own countries just offshore. A couple actually managed to raise some money, only to see their barges sink in hurricanes or their islets blown up by nearby nations. Others have simply gone broke, sinking their investors’ hopes.

Seasteading is remarkably popular despite the fact that no one has actually managed to get a decent-sized project going. The French Polynesia lagoon plan was the most plausible in years, but locals worried it would simply be a tax dodge for rich Americans.

Can’t imagine where they got that idea.

I don’t know if seasteading will ever take off. It’s expensive and technically difficult – the ocean is not a kind environment. But our technology is getting better. Maybe someday, seasteading will make economic and practical sense.

But don’t worry, techno-utopians! While we wait for seasteading to get going, we can invest our time and hopes in… Asgardia!

It’s an artificial nation (founded by a Russian millionaire who is also to be its king) to be based in space stations.

It’s sure to be built very soon!

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