Monday, January 17, 2011


"Aquaculture, in thirty years, is trying to do what agriculture did in six thousand."

I can't remember the name of the book but a friend loaned me one once that was all about how to get into space and start colonizing without government funds. It started with algae farms on floating oceanic platforms in deep blue where no one owns the territory and there are fewer major storms. These platforms could be largely self-sustaining and large enough to weather big storms while making money producing algae-based food, textiles, dyes, medicine and so on.

Whether the business side of the plan was feasible or not, the concept seems sound if used properly. Thanks to William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, we know of a business that's trying to start up a similar program for real. Whether they intend to use this to build cash for space colonization or not is unclear but they really are working toward homesteading on the water. Or as they call it, Seasteading.

They seem to want to build platform-based communities rather than anchored floating ones as the book suggested, and closer in to shore. Doing so would be less independent, but more accessible to tourists and supply carriers. One of the tricks gangsters used to use during prohibition is to put gambling and drinks on ships off the shore of Los Angeles, allowing people to go outside the international limits on boats and do whatever they wished. That could be an option for the less morally concerned as well.

Like the Times notes, this sounds more like a Bond Villain scheme than a real business, but there's some logic to it. While land isn't exactly impossible to find, the ocean is largely untapped and if you get out far enough, no nation claims you and you are utterly free to conduct business as you choose. The Caribbean is known for its banking hideaways for funds, so could these settlements. The main force behind Seasteading is Patri Friedman, a self-proclaimed libertarian, and if there ever was a chance for libertarians to try to implement their social and political ideas, this would be it.

Unlike some schemes you read about on the internet, this one appears to have real legs, as Forbes, CBS News, and the Times all attest to. There's real money behind this: the founder of Pay Pal and the co founder of Facebook are both big investors. They believe they can build their first structure off the coast of San Diego (where the weather tends to be fantastic) for about $300 bucks a square foot, which is cheaper than in San Diego its self. That seems incredibly low to me but even at triple that cost its still fairly cheap for new construction compared to some places.

The problem is, that's significantly higher, even adjusted by inflation, than land was for homesteading in Canada and the US (often, that land was free). That means your average person won't be able to set up their new homestead on the sea and build a new life like the olden days, you'll have to be not just a person of relative means but someone who has work they can do in such a location.

To provide work for people Seasteading besides fishing and gardening, the company held a contest and came up with a batch of winning concepts. Here's a quick summary:
  • Organic fish farming
  • Consulting and telemarketing without visa hassles
  • arbitration and mediation as well as government services without local laws
  • Adoption without national legal restrictions
  • Aquaculture research and development
Any business that is mostly (or all) internet based could work at a Seastead as well, with fiber optic lines eventually replacing less-reliable satellite internet connections. In fifty years or so I could see this actually take off and become something but I suspect that it will be less about green research and adoption than Las Vegas without those annoying taxes and restrictive laws. Still, it should be interesting to see.

1 comment:

alethiophile said...

The book sounds like The Millennial Project by Marshall Savage. It is quite an interesting read.