An interview with Joe Quirk, President of the Seasteading Institute
Please introduce us to Seasteading, what is the vision?
Seasteading is homesteading the high sea. In 2008, Robert Ballard, the famous oceanographer who discovered The Titanic, gave a famous TED talk where he concluded:
“Why are we not looking at moving out onto the sea? Why do we have programs to build habitation on Mars … but we do *not* have a program looking at how we colonize our own planet? And the technology is at hand!”
That same year, Patri Friedman and Peter Thiel co-founded The Seasteading Institute. Nearly half the Earth’s surface is unclaimed by any state. That means each seastead would essentially be its own nano-nation. We’d like to create thousands.
What are common misconceptions about Seasteading?
Seasteading is not a plan for society. Seasteading is a technology for anybody to try their own society. The Seasteading Institute takes no position on what kind of societies should be formed. We foster the research and technology for individuals to try their own societies. As long as people can leave seasteads voluntarily, and join them voluntarily, we think exciting governance solutions will emerge.
Why do you think we need autonomous countries? Why existing governments are not sufficient?
I often use Steve Wozniak as an example. He loved working for Hewlett-Packard and was loyal. He proposed his design for the personal computer to his company bosses five times and was rejected each time. His superiors at Hewlett-Packard couldn’t imagine how personal computers could solve problems that Hewlett-Packard’s giant computers couldn’t. In order to show the world what was possible with personal computers, Steve Wozniak had to leave Hewlett-Packard and start his own company with Steve Jobs, who named the new company Apple.
I think of seasteads as platforms where the Wozniaks of governance can demonstrate startling innovations we can’t imagine because we all work for the Hewlett-Packards of governance.
Can you share an episode of how you first became interested in the idea of creating seasteads?
I learned from Milton Friedman that monopolies are bad for the consumer and good for the provider who holds a monopoly. I met Patri Friedman, Milton Friedman’s grandson, at Burning Man, a festival of social experimentation in an American desert that produces remarkably positive results in multiple domains simultaneously.
Patri explained that governance is the most important service in the world, and countries essentially hold a monopoly on this service. If we could create a technology for floating societies in international waters, we would essentially have a startup sector for governance, a Silicon Valley of the Sea.
I had just been on a cruise ship six weeks before, when I realized floating cities were possible. I had already attended Burning Man ten times and witnessed first-hand how rules can evolve in unpredictably positive ways when societies can start from scratch and permit decentralized organization. Burning Man essentially starts over every year, throwing away bad rules and incorporating new rules that work.
Patri explained that this would work even better on the ocean, because floating neighborhoods could disassemble and move about like a jigsaw puzzle, increasing the power of governance consumers to choose new societies, and creating the incentives for governance providers to innovate to please residents. This would rapidly accelerate the rate of peaceful innovation in governance, the most important service in the world.
Humanity urgently needs to solve the problem of sea level rise, and we urgently need to innovate peacefully to discover better technologies for governance. Seasteading is an affordable technology to begin to solve both problems, and the company Blue Frontiers plans to start immediately.
What are main challenges that need to be overcome to realize autonomous floating cities? Are they mainly technical or political?
The technical challenges for this project have been largely solved by Dutch engineers at Blue21, who designed and built the Floating Pavilion in Rotterdam and have partnered with Blue Frontiers to build seasteads. The governance challenges have been largely explored by over 4000 Special Economic Zones around the world, which have been studied by Blue Frontiers’ legal counsel, Tom W. Bell, author of Your Next Government? From Nation-States to Stateless Nations. Tom W. Bell has studied the best practices of these Special Economic Zones and designed the SeaZone specifically for first seastead.
The remaining challenge to inform the public that the way to participate in Blue Frontiers, the first seasteading company, is by buying Varyon, a token that will be used for the exchange of goods and services in the Blue Frontiers ecosystem. You can use Varyon to stake residence on a seastead, and thus participate in governance. Owners and renters can veto based on vesting in the floating society. You can read more about it by reading the Varyon white paper.
How are you thinking about governance and what do you envision the Seazone looking like?
We hope to establish a private “SeaZone Authority,” through which Blue Frontiers will manage the project. As Tom W. Bell specifics, Instead of asking for *no* regulations, we’re going to ask for the *best* regulations. The world’s greatest hits. We and future host countries will define a Peer Group of countries from among the most peaceful, prosperous, and well-run nations on earth. Those Peer countries will provide the regulations for the SeaZone.
How much freedom will we have? If an activity is illegal everywhere in the Peer Group, it won’t be legal in the SeaZone. If one member of the Peer Group dissents, and has demonstrated that a certain freedom works out fine in their country, it will be legal in the SeaZone. That way the SeaZone will be maximally inclined toward business and personal freedom.
Thus the SeaZone will be the freest place in the world, but it won’t be too radical. It will be the first incremental step toward freedom on the high seas, and seasteaders will absorb the cost of failure. It The SeaZone succeeds in bringing prosperity to the local community, Blue Frontiers can return to the host country and say, “Are you happy with what we created together? How about a little more autonomy, a little further out to sea?”
Instead of arguing for freedom, we demonstrate it works step by step, and we don’t ask anyone else to pay the price, but we share in the prosperity. We call this strategic incrementalism.
Peter Thiel last donated to the Institute in 2014. What is relationship with him? Is he still involved in the project?
Peter Thiel co-founded The Seasteading Institute with Patri Friedman in 2008 and has been the most generous donor to the nonprofit. Peter Thiel is not involved with the startup company Blue Frontiers, but we hope our first seastead makes him proud.