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Patri Friedman on "Seasteading" and the Supposed Failure of Libertarian Political Activism:

In the current Cato Unbound, Patri Friedman (grandson of Milton Friedman), argues that libertarians have failed in their efforts to promote a libertarian society through political activism, in large part because the system is stacked in favor of statism. Instead of seeking to reform existing states, he claims that libertarians should establish new states of their own. Such efforts have failed miserably in the past, but Friedman argues that the new technology of "seasteading" (establishing large, habitable platforms in the ocean) might make this strategy more viable. At the very least he claims that it's better than what he considers the hopeless task of trying to promote libertarianism within existing states:

I deeply yearn to live in an actual free society, not just to imagine a theoretical future utopia or achieve small incremental gains in freedom. For many years, I enthusiastically advocated for liberty under the vague assumption that advocacy would help our cause. However, I recently began trying to create free societies as my full-time job, and this has given me a dramatic perspective shift from my days of armchair philosophizing. My new perspective is that the advocacy approach which many libertarian individuals, groups, and think tanks follow (including me sometimes, sadly) is an utter waste of time.

Argument has refined our principles, and academic research has enlarged our understanding, but they have gotten us no closer to an actual libertarian state. Our debating springs not from calculated strategy, but from an intuitive "folk activism": an instinct to seek political change through personal interaction, born in our hunter-gatherer days when all politics was personal. In the modern world, however, bad policies are the result of human action, not human design. To change them we must understand how they emerge from human interaction, and then alter the web of incentives that drives behavior. Attempts to directly influence people or ideas without changing incentives, such as the U.S. Libertarian Party, the Ron Paul campaign, and academic research, are thus useless for achieving real-world liberty.

I question Friedman's key assumption that promoting libertarianism in existing societies through research and activism is "an utter waste of time." It certainly has not been as effective as he and I would like. But it has nonetheless led to important victories for freedom. For example, as I discuss in my recent debate with Sandy Levinson, there were important reductions in the size and scope of government in the 1980s and 1990s, many of them traceable in part to advocacy by libertarian scholars and movements. Even more impressive reductions in government power were achieved in nations such as Ireland and New Zealand during the same period.

Ironically, Patri Friedman's grandfather Milton Friedman was one of the best examples of the impact of libertarian advocacy on policy. Among other things, Milton Friedman's efforts, combined with those of other libertarians, played a key role in ending the draft, one of the greatest infringements on individual liberty in modern American history. Friedman also helped influence many governments around the world in the direction of adopting relatively more free market economic policies.

To say this is in no way denies that we are still very far from achieving a truly libertarian society. And at the moment, we are obviously moving in the wrong direction. It does, however, suggest that libertarian political action can be effective, even in spite of the many ways in which the system is biased against it.

Does that mean that libertarians should reject Patri Friedman's "seasteading" proposal out of hand? I don't think so. If the technology is viable, the idea may deserve support. Although we can and should work to reform existing governments, Friedman is right to point out that we need more competition in the market for government. If seasteading begins to attract productive citizens away from existing states, it might pressure the latter to allow greater freedom.

A countervailing factor is that a libertarian "seasteading" state might not be as free of the power of existing governments as Friedman supposes. He claims that the latter cannot be reformed in a libertarian direction because of poor incentive structures. But those same perverse incentives might lead them to use force to eliminate seasteading projects - especially if the seasteads appear to be potential rivals. Existing states might suppress seasteads if the latter start attracting too many productive citizens and investment capital away from them. The Law of the Sea Treaty defines the ocean as a "common heritage of mankind" that cannot be claimed by any one nation or group. Existing governments or the United Nations could easily use this clause of the treaty to justify suppressing attempts to establish a libertarian state on the high seas. Friedman and his Seasteading Institute try to answer this objection on their website.They make some good points, but I am not entirely convinced. And they themselves concede that seasteads will be extremely vulnerable to naval attack, especially in their earlier stages.

In sum, Patri Friedman understates the utility of political action within existing states and perhaps underrates the likelihood that those same existing states might foil his attempt to establish a new one. But it is too early to conclude that his proposal is unworthy of support. I, for one, would like to see more analysis and evidence.

Rod Blaine (mail):
"You know who I am?"

"They hire you to keep the peace here".
4.6.2009 11:25pm
GatoRat:
Even assuming that libertarianism is actually viable in reality, you aren't going to get there from here in any direct way. Moreover, since libertarianism holds that less governmental interference is generally better, the goal should be to reduce that by working at this goal first. My preference would be to start with the 17th amendment, narrowing the commerce clause, perhaps eliminating federal income tax; in other words, at least moving back to a more federalist model.
4.6.2009 11:26pm
Bradley Martin (mail):
Frankly it sounds like Patri has been playing too much Bioshock on his Xbox 360.
4.6.2009 11:39pm
Larrya (mail) (www):
I think this is a case of "we won't know until it gets tried."

Too bad we can't try a little further away, like the far side of the moon.
4.6.2009 11:49pm
OrinKerr:
The problem with radical libertarianism is that most people don't like it. Get rid of people, and it would totally work.
4.6.2009 11:53pm
Constitutional Crisis (mail):
This just highlights how detached from reality is libertarian thought. When mainstream advocates of an ideology are giving serious thought to building large platforms on the sea as an alternative to living in society, well, the future doesn't look so bright for the viability of your ideas.
4.6.2009 11:57pm
David Schwartz (mail):
This has been tried, and it has always failed miserably.

One of the big problems is that a group of Libertarians tend to be much less "like minded" than one would think. They differ over issues like the relationship between children and adults, the legal status of incest, whether abortion is murder or not, and so on. One group incests on what they consider reasonable moral norms and other is upset that they are being coerced.

Although most groups don't even get to the point where that problem kills them.
4.6.2009 11:57pm
Ricardo (mail):
Regarding "seasteading" it was in the so-called Spratly islands that a U.S. vessel was recently harassed by Chinese naval forces. These uninhabited islands in the South China Sea are variously claimed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and probably another country I am forgetting.

If the seastead is built anywhere near any country's economic zone, there will almost certainly be territorial claims made and attempts at enforcing those claims. If it's not near any economic zone, I don't see how it can be economically viable. I can't think of any isolated islands out in the middle of nowhere that can support a developed economy without being subsidized.

If they can convince the U.S. government to offer military protection and recognize the sovereignty of the seastead, then that's another story entirely...
4.6.2009 11:58pm
Richard A. (mail):
The theory may be a bit off, but as a likelong surfer, I have to say there's a kernel of reality here. It happens that waves are a scarce resource that are greatly prized. If you can imagine the whole population of Los Angeles trying to catch the few perfect waves at Malibu, you get an idea of the competitive pressure. But monitoring by the state is essentially impossible. So a system of rules for wave possession has evolved. This system is enforced quite rigorously through social norms. There's some fighting now and then, but in general the system works quite well and since there is no realistic possibility of government action, it is the only system out there.

A natural elite arises and governs. I don't think you could find this anywhere else, however, but it does show that such a system is at least theoretically possible.
4.6.2009 11:58pm
Ilya Somin:
The problem with radical libertarianism is that most people don't like it. Get rid of people, and it would totally work.

It depends on how you define "radical libertarianism." But the history of people with voting with their feet suggests that many do like the benefits of living in states with relatively minimal governments. Consider Hong Kong and Singapore in recent years, and the nineteenth century US (which had a fairly minimal government by modern and even contemporary standards), all of which are or were magnets for immigrants.

It is true that most people won't vote for strongly libertarian policies in an election. However, as I discuss in this post, this is partly attributable to widespread political ignorance. On average, increasing political knowledge while holding other variables constant makes opinion on most issues much more libertarian.
4.7.2009 12:00am
My Middle Name Is Ralph:
Seastead?? Seastead?! You have got to be f****** kidding me! I'm imagining a cross between Water World and Lord of the Flies.
4.7.2009 12:06am
OrinKerr:
Ilya,

So if people weren't ignorant, they would think like you?
4.7.2009 12:09am
OrinKerr:
Oh, and on a more constructive and less snarky level, the difficulty is that even if people recognize the benefits of living in relatively more libertarian states -- which I should hope -- that has nothing to do with whether people would like living on a platform in the ocean to experiment with a new anarchist society.

Perhaps we can get the point across with a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 a nonexistent state and 10 a completely statist regime. It may be that most people prefer living in a 5 to living in a 6 or a 7. But my sense is that Friedman (and perhaps you) theorize about the existence of a 2.
4.7.2009 12:16am
Bama 1L:
Existing sea-based societies aren't exactly libertarian; there's a lot of saluting and order-following in the more successful ones.
4.7.2009 12:17am
CDU (mail) (www):

Frankly it sounds like Patri has been playing too much Bioshock on his Xbox 360.

Bioshock was exactly what I thought of when I read this.
4.7.2009 12:17am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
I seem to recall in college, that there were groups were promoting basically the same idea except they called it "Oceana" or maybe it was "Sealand" and tried to get people to invest in their project.

I thought that it was a dumb idea then and as I'm no longer in college, even more so today.
4.7.2009 12:28am
Desiderius:
Seems to me I recall a certain stead on this side of the sea that was significantly more libertarian than the alternatives on offer on the other side. It can be argued that the viability demonstrated by the American experiment inspired like-minded forces in, say, Paris, for instance, with notably mixed results, but tending libertarian in the long run.
4.7.2009 12:48am
John Moore (www):
This reminds me of the sort of thinking going around in the late '60s and early '70s that led to various experimental communities - usually populated by varieties of hippies. Substitute libertarian for hippie (not a significant shift in viewpoint, as it turns out) and you get the same result.
4.7.2009 12:49am
green-grizzly (mail):
Seasteding. A typically practical libertarian idea.
4.7.2009 12:59am
Guestie:
NERDS!!!!
/Ogre
4.7.2009 1:03am
Ilya Somin:
So if people weren't ignorant, they would think like you?

That's a silly distortion of what I wrote. To repeat, I said that increasing political knowledge while controlling other variables makes people, on average, more libertarian than they were before. That's not the same as saying they would hold exactly the same views as I do.
4.7.2009 1:13am
Curt Fischer:
At 17:40 in this inspiring and generally awesome presentation, noted oceanographer Robert Ballard asks why we aren't doing more research on colonizing the ocean. So it seems like a pretty fun thing to try.

I think the disconnect is that the people who are most likely to succeed at seasteading are the ones motivated by a love of the ocean or of building things. These types would likely be willing to move forward with the project of building a floating house even if (heaven forbid!) it means sacrificing some abstract political ideal.

People for whom seasteading is an essentially political activity are less likely to succeed, in my estimation. Maybe its because they have a harder time shaking down money from rich donors. Who among our society's rich would-be benefactors wants to be associated with a fringe political movement?
4.7.2009 1:14am
Ilya Somin:
the difficulty is that even if people recognize the benefits of living in relatively more libertarian states -- which I should hope -- that has nothing to do with whether people would like living on a platform in the ocean to experiment with a new anarchist society.

Friedman isn't advocating an "anarchist society." His seasteading proposals include government, just a government with much more limited functions than currently existing states.

Perhaps we can get the point across with a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 a nonexistent state and 10 a completely statist regime. It may be that most people prefer living in a 5 to living in a 6 or a 7. But my sense is that Friedman (and perhaps you) theorize about the existence of a 2.

Maybe the majority of people wouldn't want to live in what you call a 2. Friedman actually notes this in his essay that I linked. That, however, says little about the viability of Friedman's proposal - which presumably would be populated by self-selected people whose views are much more libertarian than those of the median voter.

I would also note that, relative to most existing states, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the 19th century US were closer to being a 2 on the 10 point scale than a 5 or 6. Yet they attracted numerous immigrants.
4.7.2009 1:17am
flawed skull (mail):
All these criticisms in comments are lacking. Yeah generally blog comments read off the quoted bit and the poster's commentary, and comment on that, mostly ignoring the source material and thats fine most of the time.
However, I suggest people read the FAQs on the seasteading website for more info. I
n the case of Seasteading, though there's massive practical problems with the idea, the theoretical idea is completely sound by economic theory.
People are thinking of idealistic communes and what not. While certain seasteads may certainly be those, infact most might be, that is the CONTENT and SPECIFICITY of one seastead. The institution (if i can call it that) of seasteading is basically like a "Small Business Administration" helping you launch your own seastead to try your model of society or government. Its a model that tries to directly affect the COST OF ENTRY into government. You can have your very own voluntary socialist seastead, a communist seastead, a stoner seastead, and an anarcho-capitalist seastead.

The model is to provide competition, and again, reduce massively the cost of entry into government and social experimentation by extending the frontier possibly to infinity.

And i believe, understood this way, it would be criminal for libertarians NOT to support this idea unless they can think of better ones.
4.7.2009 1:19am
flawed skull (mail):
Also I view this like a massively positive Black Swan. Huge payoffs, low unknown probabilities. As Taleb says, be exposed to positive black swans, and protect yourself from negative black swans.
4.7.2009 1:19am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

So if people weren't ignorant, they would think like you?


Or at least wouldn't suspect that Patri somehow represents "mainstream" libertarian thought.
4.7.2009 1:55am
RPT (mail):
RichardA:

Have I run into you (figuratively, of course) at First Point on a good south swell?

To others:

Isn't this a description of L. Ron Hubbard's Sea org?
4.7.2009 1:57am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

This reminds me of the sort of thinking going around in the late '60s and early '70s that led to various experimental communities - usually populated by varieties of hippies. Substitute libertarian for hippie (not a significant shift in viewpoint, as it turns out) and you get the same result.


That was hardly peculiar to the '60s. Early American history is filled with utopian communes like Oneida. Some managed to last for quite a long time, but they didn't have much effect on outside society.
4.7.2009 1:59am
Guesty McGuesterson:
Milton Friedman had about as much to do with ending the draft as Miami Cubans had to do with Castro stepping down. Just because you want something really badly and it happens doesn't mean that you're responsible - the draft was ended for pretty obvious reasons.

And Ilya, looking at 19th Century America, it appears to be the most protectionist country of its era when it comes to tariffs and infant industry protection, hardly libertarian mainstays. 19th c US was hardly a free trader.
4.7.2009 2:07am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
The real issue with these things is that there are, in any group, pressures both toward greater liberty and greater coercion. Ron Paul thinks "libertarian" means no federal reserve and no abortion. Harry Browne was thoroughly pro-choice. Either of them would have (would have had) great arguments on why their position was the "true" libertarian one, and the opposing one was more coercive. In either case, though, if one policy or another is implemented, someone is going to think the result less "free".

Of course, on the other side of the coin, a sufficiently coercive state becomes oppressive and people try to make it freer. Prohibition is followed by lawbreaking; eventually the situation isn't tolerable, and Prohibition is repealed. Conventional church-on-Sunday Christianity is codified, blue laws and all -- until its replaced as people realize they really do want to buy liquor on Sunday.

It ends up as a somewhat random, equilibrating process. Like other equilibria, the states that are least probable, and have the shortest durations, are extreme states.
4.7.2009 2:09am
OrinKerr:
Black Swan writes, "though there's massive practical problems with the idea, the theoretical idea is completely sound by economic theory."

As I said, if you can just get rid of the people, the idea can work. Of course, if you assume that human nature remains human nature, then you have problems. Cf. Federalist 51 ("If men were angels, no government would be necessary.").
4.7.2009 2:10am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Existing sea-based societies aren't exactly libertarian; there's a lot of saluting and order-following in the more successful ones.


And very little sex, reproduction, or child-rearing (with the exception of new Ensigns.)

While the Navy may be a "society" in a technical sense, it's not what we're talking about.
4.7.2009 2:11am
D.R.M.:
Hmm.

The "common heritage of mankind" provisions of UNCLOS really only apply only to extraction of mineral resources (Part XI, section 2). UNCLOS specifically permits both the construction of artificial islands on the high seas by any state (Part VII, Article 87) and the right for any state to sail ships under its flags on the high seas (Part VII, Article 90). So if there is a country willing to let you fly its flag over it, you can have your floating platform or artificial island. And you can fish from it all you like, though you can't gather polymetallic nodules.

You are subject of the sovereignty of the flag state, of course . . . but said sovereignty is explicitly exclusive under UNCLOS (Part VII, Article 92). Since you can shop around for a flag of convenience, you have a reasonable chance of finding one that's going to be reasonably cooperative.

As a practical matter, anybody willing to commit an act of war against your flag state, or able to pressure your flag state into giving them permission to go after you, can mess you up. So you're going to have to balance your libertarianism with avoiding pissing off powerful countries too much.
4.7.2009 2:21am
wooga:
The people you would want in your seastead are 'productive' people -- and they are the kind of people who develop major financial and emotional ties to old societies (e.g., jobs and property). A seastead has to have something very special to get such 'productive' people to leave their home country. Unless things get much much worse in all current countries, the cost/benefit is just not going to work in seasteading's favor. A seastead filled with a bunch of broke loners is not going to work.

You have to have a hook, and that means appealing to baser instincts. With food and shelter being subpar on a seastead, you are stuck with sex. So the key to commercial success on a seastead is to do things like prohibit citizenship to anyone with a communicable disease or more than 25% body fat. Unfortunately, that probably excludes a fair percentage of libertarians...
4.7.2009 2:21am
Ilya Somin:
Milton Friedman had about as much to do with ending the draft as Miami Cubans had to do with Castro stepping down.

Actually, Milton Friedman had a great deal to do with ending the draft, as the linked article on this subject makes clear.
4.7.2009 2:22am
Ilya Somin:
looking at 19th Century America, it appears to be the most protectionist country of its era when it comes to tariffs and infant industry protection, hardly libertarian mainstays. 19th c US was hardly a free trader.

Singling out one policy does not give a complete picture of a country's general libertarianism. The 19th century US also had no federal income tax, very little regulation, and government spending at all levels that was well under 10% of GDP. Nor is it true that it was the most protectionist nation of its era. Prussia and a number of other European states were more protectionist, to say nothing of various Latin American states.
4.7.2009 2:24am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

So if there is a country willing to let you fly its flag over it, you can have your floating platform or artificial island. And you can fish from it all you like, though you can't gather polymetallic nodules.

You are subject of the sovereignty of the flag state, of course . . . but said sovereignty is explicitly exclusive under UNCLOS (Part VII, Article 92). Since you can shop around for a flag of convenience, you have a reasonable chance of finding one that's going to be reasonably cooperative.


So, "Welcome to New Mogadishu, capital of Antipodal Somalia."
4.7.2009 2:38am
Avatar (mail):
Part of the problem with this idea is that, while you'd like the government to be limited in many ways, the existence of the mini-society is completely and totally dependent on the continued function of certain key elements. A floating colony has to, HAS to maintain hull integrity, or everyone dies. There can't be tolerance for "a little" drilling through the hull for your private project, or even for "your important privacy" if there's a leak in your area.

Space colonies would be similar. You think cities are smoker-unfriendly NOW...

Any organization attempting to colonize a marginal area is going to tend to be more statist, simply because there are important areas that the government simply can't afford to let go of, and the harsher the environment, the larger those areas are. A moon colony couldn't allow a rogue group of investors to take over all the hydroponics enterprises and jack up food prices, or start blocking off air cleaners to enhance sales of their own O2 rigs.

On top of that, in a harsh environment, a smaller number of "muckers" can really ruin everything. How many disaffected, unemployed moon-buggy tire repairmen does it take to stave in the dome wall? In a normal environment, we can afford to let people own things that blow up or go smash, because so long as it doesn't hurt anyone, who cares? And even if it does hurt someone, it probably doesn't hurt a lot of people, and so we can balance the freedom involved with the costs. But in a marginal environment, the first mucker can kill everyone. It's too late to say "gee, maybe we should have regulated ammonium nitrate more carefully" when the whole sea colony is beginning an unplanned ocean trench exploration.

One of the keys of libertarian government has to be spreading out; if a small number of individuals can wreck the whole system, the government really is obliged to stop them, which means in good conscience it can't turn over the freedoms that could lead to the death of everybody. Even our government won't let you go too far - just try building a nuclear bomb in your backyard and see how far you get. ;p

If you want to colonize an area for truly libertarian government, why not move to Wyoming? Big open spaces, relatively cheap, and it wouldn't take all that many libertarians to make a difference. Alaska could work too, if you're more cold-resistant than I am. (Houston native...)
4.7.2009 3:59am
David Schwartz (mail):
Avatar: I think the solution to that problem is to focus on the freedoms that really matter, rather than the theoretical freedoms that only matter to a fringe group. Accept that you won't be able to create the perfect society and that there will have to be a good deal of "unethical coercion" simply to survive.

Hope that in the future you can find a way to eliminate that. But be practical about risks/benefits in the meantime.

It has been, largely, the inability to do just that that has been the publicly visible failures with past projects. Of course, that's far from the only reason they've failed -- it's just the most obvious and visible.

The other possible problem is Tonga stealing your country.
4.7.2009 5:02am
David M. Nieporent (www):
As a practical matter, anybody willing to commit an act of war against your flag state, or able to pressure your flag state into giving them permission to go after you, can mess you up. So you're going to have to balance your libertarianism with avoiding pissing off powerful countries too much.
As an example of the problem, look at the current concerted effort by the EU to go after so-called "tax havens." The good news is that, the UK and France aside, the EU doesn't have enough military prowess to invade Grenada. The bad news is that, while the EU will tolerate genocide with nothing more than a little whining, they won't tolerate their citizens avoiding their Duty to the State to finance bureaucrats and the welfare state. So far the efforts are diplomatic rather than military, but one can anticipate economic sanctions against the havens if they refuse to comply, and few havens are self-sufficient.
4.7.2009 5:14am
Brett Bellmore:
I think the chief problem with this is that, if you allowed the liberty to do anything which seriously annoyed an existing government with a navy, you're going to get invaded. And if you're not going to allow the liberty to do something that annoys an existing government with a navy, you might as well stay at home.

I don't see libertarian colonization working until we have access to space, and the sort of self-reproducing technology which would enable every small group to be self-sufficient. So that you could dig into an outward bound comet, and just disappear from the notice of existing governments.
4.7.2009 7:07am
Fact Checker:
Singling out one policy does not give a complete picture of a country's general libertarianism. The 19th century US also had no federal income tax, very little regulation, and government spending at all levels that was well under 10% of GDP.

In the nineteenth century the U.S. government also provided massive subsidies to immigrants and anyone willing to move out west in the form of land grants. It also forcibly removed the previous residents of those lands, stealing their property and forcibly confining them to reservations while illegally and serially breaking treaties. Additionally, it encouraged the building of the transcontinental and lesser railroads through direct subsidy and land grants to railroad companies as well as directly undertaking massive flood control and navigation projects. They also granted the states ten percent of the land within their borders so they could create a public education system (probably the most brilliant move the Federal government ever made). Just because giving away most of the land that was bought in the Louisiana purchase was not booked as "government spending" doesn't mean it wasn't. To claim that these actions were libertarian in any way, shape or form is patently absurd.

Also, to claim that Singapore, a country that while it may be friendly to business, is one of the most socially restrictive countries on the face of the earth--where drug crimes routinely carry the death penalty, until recently chewing gum was illegal, not flushing a public toilet carries a hefty fine, and petty vandalism results in a caning is laughable.
4.7.2009 7:19am
martinned (mail) (www):
Echoing Avatar, above, I would suggest (from Dutch experience at 493 inhabitants per sq km) that the closer people live together, the more need there is for regulations about everything and then some. Just ponder the amazing cases found in a millennium or so of nuisance tort litigation. Not even prof. Coase himself really expects such matters to be resolved through negotiation in all instances.
4.7.2009 7:22am
mattski:
Some people have trouble seeing that government arises organically to serve human purposes. Some forms of government are more desirable than others which shouldn't surprise anyone. Most people find democratic forms of government to be the least objectionable.

But fantasizing about idealized societies, as opposed to working with other people to improve this society, is juvenile, solipsistic masturbation.
4.7.2009 8:15am
Ricardo (mail):
Also, to claim that Singapore, a country that while it may be friendly to business, is one of the most socially restrictive countries on the face of the earth--where drug crimes routinely carry the death penalty, until recently chewing gum was illegal, not flushing a public toilet carries a hefty fine, and petty vandalism results in a caning is laughable.

Even aside from these considerations, consider the way the ruling PAP party routinely uses libel lawsuits to bankrupt anyone with a sizable number of followers who criticizes them. As I understand it, truth is a defense to libel (this isn't North Korea, after all) but the burden of proof is on the defendant to justify his claims. I also don't believe there is any relaxation of the law when it concerns public figures.

What this means in practice is that a blog like the Volokh Conspiracy with its frequent sniping at elected officials would never survive in the long-run in Singapore. This isn't some inconsequential right like being able to chew gum but rather goes to the heart of what a free society is all about. Some people choose to make that trade-off by living in Singapore but a "2" on the libertarian index it most certainly is not. Yes, if you obey the law and don't piss off the wrong people, you can enjoy the good life in Singapore. The same might as well be said of the U.S.

Oh, and a sizable amount of residential real estate in the city-state is owned by the government. How is that for an "ownership society"?
4.7.2009 8:50am
martinned (mail) (www):

As I understand it, truth is a defense to libel (this isn't North Korea, after all) but the burden of proof is on the defendant to justify his claims.

No offence, but AFAIK this is the law everywhere. The plaintiff proves the elements of defamation, and the absence of a defence is not one of them. If the defendant claims one of the defences, they have to proffer evidence to back up their defence. That includes the defence of truth. That is why provoking a libel suit has been so useful in the past in order to obtain the opportunity to prove some fact.
4.7.2009 8:57am
Joseph Slater (mail):
While I agree with what David Schwartz says, in context, this is a pretty great typo: "One group incests on what they consider reasonable moral norms. . . ."

And Ilya, in considering how "libertarian" the 19th century U.S. was, you might also consider slavery -- which lasted longer in the U.S. than in most comparable countries -- and later Jim Crow and related rules re blacks), policies toward native Americans, the strong power of courts, and state-level regulations.

Also, I'm with Guesty McGuesterson re the draft. It ended because the middle class didn't want their kids sent to fight disastrous wars like Viet Nam.
4.7.2009 9:03am
Desiderius:
Wow, I wonder how much this thread resembles the climate in the old country that led my ancestors to seek friendlier shores. How did this so-called libertarian blog come to be infested with such a flock of naysayers anyway?
4.7.2009 9:05am
NaG (mail):
1. Avatar is correct; if your society is basically housed in an eggshell, there will need to be strenuous regulation to protect the integrity of the eggshell. There is no way around it.

2. The kinds of libertarians that would be willing to engage in this venture will be precisely the types to loudly protest that their rights are being oppressed by a statist/fascist/communist authority when these regulations are enacted.
4.7.2009 9:17am
Joseph Slater (mail):
Desiderius:

Well, my ancesters left Russia after the Bolsheviks took over. But they weren't libertarians -- indeed, they were Mensheviks, and they continued to have those sort of politics in the U.S.

More broadly, quite a few immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries came from very repressive political regimes, but that did not mean they were "libertarians" even in the ahistorical sense that word would have to be used. As many conservative nativists pointed out at the time, quite a few immigrants took up socialist, syndicalist, or other radical politics.

In short, it's not the case that fleeing poverty-stricken and/or totalitarian governments to come to the U.S. indicated that one supported what Ilya's ideological ancestors supported.
4.7.2009 9:31am
Bama 1L:
Avatar makes the points I was getting at: seasteaders are going to need a pretty strict internal hierarchy simply because you are at sea. Whether those seeking a libertarian utopia will put up with such constraints remains to be seen.
4.7.2009 9:32am
Floridan:
"And Ilya, in considering how "libertarian" the 19th century U.S. was, you might also consider . . . "

I believe he is thinking about how libertarian the 19th century U.S. was for someone like himself, a white Yale law school graduate, not for blacks, Native Americans, Asian immigrants, women or the working poor.
4.7.2009 9:35am
Per Son:
To be fair to Ilya - I doubt a Russian Jewish immigrant in the 19th century would have fared well.

First, he would not have been permitted to attend Yale.
4.7.2009 10:28am
Ex parte McCardle:
C'mon, guys, this would idea would totally work. All you'd need to do is stumble across a few perpetual-motion machines outside Nowheresville, Wisconsin, a la Ayn Rand, and you're up and running! It's a piece of cake.
4.7.2009 10:38am
David M. Nieporent (www):
As I understand it, truth is a defense to libel (this isn't North Korea, after all) but the burden of proof is on the defendant to justify his claims.

No offence, but AFAIK this is the law everywhere. The plaintiff proves the elements of defamation, and the absence of a defence is not one of them. If the defendant claims one of the defences, they have to proffer evidence to back up their defence. That includes the defence of truth. That is why provoking a libel suit has been so useful in the past in order to obtain the opportunity to prove some fact.
It's not the law everywhere. In the United States, at least where the subject of the claim is a matter of public concern, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove falsity.
4.7.2009 10:39am
Floridan:
"First, he would not have been permitted to attend Yale."

Which a true libertarian would support, since Yale, a private institution, should be able to admit, or reject, anyone it so desires, for whatever reason, logical or ill-considered.
4.7.2009 10:42am
Per Son:
Floridan: touche

I just was rebutting the assertion that 19th Century America was a place of great freedom for Russian immigrants - and being Jewish probably did not hurt (although Orthodox Christians were probably not on top of the party invite lists either).
4.7.2009 10:45am
Desiderius:
Slater,

"Well, my ancesters left Russia after the Bolsheviks took over. But they weren't libertarians -- indeed, they were Mensheviks, and they continued to have those sort of politics in the U.S."

I consider myself an American Menshevik, so I don't think there is as much daylight between the two as you imagine, given the alternatives, or if there is, perhaps we should join forces on that in which we agree, given the Bolsheviks and Czarists which threaten those things we hold most dear.
4.7.2009 10:57am
Per Son:
This is awesome!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Sealand
4.7.2009 11:00am
Desiderius:
Prof. Kerr,

"As I said, if you can just get rid of the people, the idea can work. Of course, if you assume that human nature remains human nature, then you have problems. Cf. Federalist 51 ("If men were angels, no government would be necessary.")."

Curious that you would cite an observation intended to answer questions about the viability of an experiment in limited government in order to question the viability of an experiment in limited government.

Do you suppose that Friedman would disagree with the Founders on this point?
4.7.2009 11:03am
byomtov (mail):
The 19th century US also had no federal income tax, very little regulation, and government spending at all levels that was well under 10% of GDP.

So all those immigrants from Europe were motivated by the fact that there was no FDA or OSHA over here. Is that right? Nothing to do with serious oppression, poverty, famines, political upheavals, etc.
4.7.2009 11:15am
trad and anon (mail):
And Ilya, in considering how "libertarian" the 19th century U.S. was, you might also consider slavery -- which lasted longer in the U.S. than in most comparable countries
It's worse than that: slavery lasted the entire century except maybe a brief period during Reconstruction. De jure slavery was rapidly replaced by a de facto slavery in which blacks were sentenced to long terms of hard labor for pretended offenses, then rented or sold to private parties. Or just imprisoned and forced to work by whites, which the government did nothing to stop. Once federal troops were removed from the South, Southern blacks had no one but themselves to protect them from white predation.
4.7.2009 11:25am
Anononymous314:
Calling Milton Friedman a libertarian is analogous to calling Barney Frank a communist.
4.7.2009 11:29am
Per Son:
I think it is fair to call Milton a libertarian who had an authoritarian streak. See Chile (Friedman supported the military coup which resorted to brutal violence, elimination of civil liberties, and years of repression).
4.7.2009 11:33am
trad and anon (mail):
These are the strangest reasons I can imagine to argue that a platform in the middle of the ocean isn't going to work as a way of creating a viable libertarian state. The more fundamental problems are:

1) Who's going to finance a giant floating platform in the middle of the ocean?
2) Who the hell wants to move to one?
3) What are you going to base the economy off of? Spam?
4.7.2009 11:44am
PersonFromPorlock:
It's possible that the problem is not the inability of libertarians to influence society but the inability of the Libertarian party to do so. Turning the party into an effective force (or founding another libertarian party) might be easier than seasteading.

How about a 'libertarian' party that sponsors government-limiting initiatives that are likely to pass, increasing liberty and gaining the party some credibility with the public at the same time? That runs people for 'unimportant' jobs like Selectman, establishing both an 'installed base' of local officials and a body of party workers able to handle bigger elections? And which, having done so, develops enough 'clout' to overcome election procedures that favor the established parties?

I don't think much can be done to save the LP, which has been a profoundly silly organisation for decades. But a new party that builds on local efforts might still succeed.
4.7.2009 12:01pm
Dan Weber (www):
If Friedman wants to try, who am I to stop him?

The point isn't to make The One True Libertarian Society. The point is to give choices to people as to what form of government they would like. One seastead might think that abortion is a fundamental right, another might think that it is a fundamental evil. If you don't care, either one works for you, but if you do care, you can choose accordingly.

Productive people tend to have property, except for the very young. This kind of thing might work for college graduates looking at a poor economy.
4.7.2009 12:05pm
byomtov (mail):
If Friedman wants to try, who am I to stop him?

I don't see anyone trying to stop him. I do see a lot of people arguing that his idea is extremely foolish and wildly impractical. I agree with those commenters. Seasteading strikes me as utterly silly.

But if he thinks he can prove me wrong, fine. I have no objection to his trying.
4.7.2009 12:19pm
My Middle Name Is Ralph:
C'mon guys. I think all of you deribding the ability of Libertarians to make a go of it at sea are being too rough. Just look at the model of cooperation and success the Libertarian Party has provided.
4.7.2009 12:21pm
Brett Bellmore:

Avatar is correct; if your society is basically housed in an eggshell, there will need to be strenuous regulation to protect the integrity of the eggshell. There is no way around it.


Strictly speaking, there's no reason a space colony has to be an eggshell, and even less reason for a sea colony to be that fragile.

The chief problem really is that you need a product that can't be produced elsewhere, which basically implies your economy being centered on products or services most countries have deliberately chosen to make illegal. Countries that have armed forces.

I don't see gathering a lot of libertarians together in one place so they can be efficiently drowned as a good way to advance the cause of liberty, snark aside.
4.7.2009 12:24pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Some people have trouble seeing that government arises organically to serve human purposes. Some forms of government are more desirable than others which shouldn't surprise anyone. Most people find democratic forms of government to be the least objectionable.


And some people have trouble separating actual libertarian thought from some vague notion hey got from a newspaper article.
4.7.2009 12:26pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
To quote:

Oh, Lordy, the nuts with a shaky knowledge of history, but the talismanic word "Pinochet" have crawled out of the woodwork to assert that Milton Friedman did, too, cause a dictatorship!

There are several problems with this theory:
1) Milton Friedman spent all of an hour with Augusto Pinochet
2) This occurred years after the coup.
3) The "Chicago Boys" reforms didn't even start until 1975, although I believe they did hand the brick to Pinochet the day after the coup. The Chicago Boys were not behind the coup; rather, they helped Pinochet undo the Allende nationalizations after he had already taken power. Early Pinochet economic reforms were along standard right wing Latin American crony capitalism lines. In fact, many of the reforms that the Chicago Boys put in place, such as opening trade, acted against traditional entrenched business interests.
4.7.2009 12:32pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I think it is fair to call Milton a libertarian who had an authoritarian streak. See Chile (Friedman supported the military coup which resorted to brutal violence, elimination of civil liberties, and years of repression).
He did no such thing.
4.7.2009 12:33pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
So all those immigrants from Europe were motivated by the fact that there was no FDA or OSHA over here. Is that right? Nothing to do with serious oppression, poverty, famines, political upheavals, etc.
Is that even remotely a sequitur?
4.7.2009 12:35pm
Dan Weber (www):
C'mon guys. I think all of you deribding the ability of Libertarians to make a go of it at sea are being too rough. Just look at the model of cooperation and success the Libertarian Party has provided.

From spending just a few minutes at the seasteading site, the idea isn't to make One City where everyone agrees. It's to have multiple modular cities that people can physically detach from if they get fed up enough.

I'm highly unlikely to go live on a seastead, but I think some people are misstating the problem in order to make it easier to mock.
4.7.2009 12:38pm
Pain relief (mail) (www):
To control the pain we must attend to the specialist because we can give him what is appropriate and what we need, for example I take Oxycontin, which is a medicine used to counter the chronic pain that I have for years, but I rioja prescribing doctor, I take it in moderation because I read in findrxonline which is a medicine that causes anxiety, and we must control it as it can affect your nervous system, so do not take medicines without consultation because it really can be dangerous.
4.7.2009 12:39pm
Per Son:
David M. Nieporent:

Who Pinochet or Friedman? There is ample record of both, but back to Sealab 2021!
4.7.2009 12:42pm
Loren:
I'm getting echoes of Lex Luthor's scheme in "Superman Returns."
4.7.2009 12:52pm
elaphenna (mail) (www):
MESSAGE
4.7.2009 12:52pm
elaphenna (mail) (www):
emm.. informative )
4.7.2009 12:52pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Who Pinochet or Friedman? There is ample record of both, but back to Sealab 2021!
Friedman. He never endorsed the coup, let alone the repression that came with it. He was not friends with Pinochet, did not take part in the coup, did not personally kill Allende, and was not a member of the Pinochet government.
4.7.2009 12:57pm
Mike_Gibson (mail) (www):
All interesting comments! Please feel free, if you're so inclined, to carry the debate on over to a blog I've started with Patri Friedman and Jonathan Wilde called "Let a Thousand Nations Bloom."

We hope to develop the idea of competitive government further and we'd love to have your input.

Thanks!

www.athousandnations.com
4.7.2009 1:00pm
Bama 1L:
How about a 'libertarian' party that sponsors government-limiting initiatives that are likely to pass, increasing liberty and gaining the party some credibility with the public at the same time?

For example?

[The idea is] to have multiple modular cities that people can physically detach from if they get fed up enough.

Stating the problem accurately makes it even easier to mock.
4.7.2009 1:29pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
Desidarius:

Perhaps I misunderstand you, and if so, apologies, but. . . .

I've also called myself an American Menshevik, at least in a casual sense. But I think the social-democracy tradition that the Mensheviks were in is a pretty different one than the libertarian tradition. Of course, they could find common cause against the Bolsheviks. But my point was being an opponent of totalitarianism does not make one a libertarian, or whatever the equivalent was at the time.
4.7.2009 1:37pm
byomtov (mail):
Is that even remotely a sequitur?

When Ilya claims that the lack of regulation in the US was a major attraction for immigrants then yes, I think it's a sequitur.

Immigrants certainly saw the US as a place where they would be better off than at home, by definition. But to suggest that many had great familiarity with the financial and regulatory operations of the US government, and that these were a major consideration in deciding to come here, seems awfully far-fetched to me.
4.7.2009 1:49pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
When Ilya claims that the lack of regulation in the US was a major attraction for immigrants then yes, I think it's a sequitur.
If he had claimed that, then yes. But what he actually claimed is that "many do like the benefits of living in states with relatively minimal governments."

Immigrants didn't need to have "great familiarity with the financial and regulatory operations of the US government"; they just needed to see the results. Namely, a lot less "serious oppression, poverty, famines, political upheavals, etc."
4.7.2009 1:54pm
Ilya Somin:
In the nineteenth century the U.S. government also provided massive subsidies to immigrants and anyone willing to move out west in the form of land grants. It also forcibly removed the previous residents of those lands, stealing their property and forcibly confining them to reservations while illegally and serially breaking treaties. Additionally, it encouraged the building of the transcontinental and lesser railroads through direct subsidy and land grants to railroad companies as well as directly undertaking massive flood control and navigation projects. They also granted the states ten percent of the land within their borders so they could create a public education system (probably the most brilliant move the Federal government ever made). Just because giving away most of the land that was bought in the Louisiana purchase was not booked as "government spending" doesn't mean it wasn't. To claim that these actions were libertarian in any way, shape or form is patently absurd.

I don't see how privatizing formerly government-owned lands is nonlibertarian. Indeed, the giving away of land acquired by the US in the West to private citizens was one of the largest privatizations in world history. Would it have been more libertarian for the government to keep owning them? As for the "public education system" created by federal land grants, yes a few state universities were created that way in the 19th century. But only a tiny fraction of the population attended them until well into the 20th century.
4.7.2009 2:07pm
Ilya Somin:
Immigrants certainly saw the US as a place where they would be better off than at home, by definition. But to suggest that many had great familiarity with the financial and regulatory operations of the US government, and that these were a major consideration in deciding to come here, seems awfully far-fetched to me.

I did not claim that immigrants had "great familiarity" with the "financial and regulatory" operations of the US government. Merely that they saw the benefits of these institutions (with or without understanding the details) and therefore flocked to them. Certainly, they were not deterred by the strong relative libertarianism of US institutions, which is the claim made by Orin that I responded to (he argued that no one would want to join a polity with "radical libertarian" policies).
4.7.2009 2:10pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
Except, Ilya, that assumes that (1) the U.S. was significantly "libertarian" (see counterexamples above, including but not limited to slavery, policies on native Americans, etc.); (2) that even if it was (and of course it was compared to some places) that the relative wealth of the U.S. was first and foremost a product of "libertarian" policies (as opposed to, e.g., benefits arising to some in significant part due to the unfree labor of others, being in a country with vast tracts of land and being willing to dispossess the native Americans on it, etc.); and (3) that fleeing totalitarianism = sympathy to "small government" within the American political context (again, many immigrants were socialists and radicals).
4.7.2009 2:20pm
Earnest Iconoclast (mail) (www):
Aside from the issue of requiring certain absolute rules to protect the vessel integrity (hull, power systems, motive systems, storm protection, etc...), a "seastead" is also going to require financial support (for fuel, paint, repairs, food, etc...) and that will have to come from somewhere. If not external, then the seastead will have to come up with a product or service that can compete with those available already.

I also suspect that a majority of seasteads would end up being formed by cult-like groups that seek freedom to engage in behavior normally outlawed or disapproved of by their home states. Any libertarian seastead would end up being lumped together with these other seasteads.

Oh, and then pirates would attack and steal anything of value...
4.7.2009 5:01pm
Desiderius:
Slater,

"I've also called myself an American Menshevik, at least in a casual sense. But I think the social-democracy tradition that the Mensheviks were in is a pretty different one than the libertarian tradition. Of course, they could find common cause against the Bolsheviks. But my point was being an opponent of totalitarianism does not make one a libertarian, or whatever the equivalent was at the time."

I'm just saying if one flees from a society where the only two options on offer are the tyranny of the few (the Czar and the Orthodox Church) or the many (the Bolsheviks), one might not even be aware of the option of shackling tyranny itself, or at least one might not consider that option practical, whereas the American experience was, and to some extent still is, predicated on that very prospect, pace D'Tocqueville, Uncle Miltie, et. al.

I think its a mistake to equate a limited government of checks and balances, a Bill of Rights, etc. with small government necessarily, although there may be some correlation between the two, as those seeking inordinate power, noting the limits, turn elsewhere to ply their trade. Bottom line: If you're a friend of a social democracy appropriately realistic in its aims on the hunt for enemies thereof, I don't think libertarians are the droids you're looking for.

The intriguing thing for me is to read, say, Alinsky as if he were a man who'd never heard of libertarianism, which may have actually been the case - no doubt he didn't take it seriously if he did - there is some striking common ground.
4.7.2009 5:07pm
Desiderius:
For those so anxious to confess the sins of your forebears (other than my Cherokee blood, I'm a bit of a Johnnie Come Lately to these United States), will there been an ensuing call to repent, with a passing of the offering plate? Perhaps the sale of indulgences to free one's ancestors from politically incorrect purgatory? I'm told they also habitually emptied their chamberpots into public streets and had an entirely horrid carbon footprint. Act now before its too late!
4.7.2009 5:13pm
Joseph Slater (mail):
Bottom line: If you're a friend of a social democracy appropriately realistic in its aims on the hunt for enemies thereof, I don't think libertarians are the droids you're looking for.

I'm not in the business of hunting for enemies, and my son would dig the Star Wars reference. But you might consider making your point to the libertarian-right folks who post on this blog (as commenters and Conspirators) who seem to think that European social democracy -- or even Obama's marginal increases in top marginal tax rates -- is the enemy, well down the slippery slope to Bolshevik totalitarianism.
4.7.2009 6:05pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Bama 1L:

How about a 'libertarian' party that sponsors government-limiting initiatives that are likely to pass, increasing liberty and gaining the party some credibility with the public at the same time?

For example?


Oh, to reimburse successful defendents in criminal cases for their costs, to do away with sovereign immunity at the state level except for those, like jurors, whose state service is forced, to institute a 'loser pays' tort system, to require the state to pay for the direct cost of complying with its laws... there are lots of possibilities for laws that will never get through state legislatures but might still meet with public approval.
4.7.2009 7:03pm
Bama 1L:
Thanks!
4.7.2009 8:20pm
Splunge:
Oh, and on a more constructive and less snarky level, the difficulty is that even if people recognize the benefits of living in relatively more libertarian states -- which I should hope -- that has nothing to do with whether people would like living on a platform in the ocean to experiment with a new anarchist society.

This reminds me of some of the practical naivete you see among economists, who always assume a perfectly rational actor lies at the heart of human choice. People, e.g. buy Chevron gas instead of 76 because the price is lower, or the gas is better, or the station is more convenient, or some other rational reason, as opposed to because their parents always did.

Alas, such irrationality is quite strong among H. sapiens.

Here, Kerr believes -- naively, I would say -- that people vote for the government that they believe, rationally and accurately, matches their desires. Hence we can infer from what do they vote for? to what kind of goverment do they want?

By me, that's goofy. But maybe that's because I have teenagers, and if I applied the same logic to them -- they behave like obnoxious coked-up mustangs because they really believe that's the best way to make friends -- I would have to conclude they're psychotic.

I think reasonable people, not soaked in Broca's Area rationality to the point of dissolving common sense, recognize that it is perfectly possible -- indeed, likely, alas -- that what people vote for does not, for a wide variety of reasons, correspond identically to what they want. How bad the mismatch is an interesting question. In some cases -- the 1933 elections in Germany spring to mind, say, or perhaps the 1856 election in the United States -- it seems very likely indeed that people voted for something other than what, using the magic retrospectroscope, they could have foreseen they were getting.

In others...who knows? But there's certainly plenty of room for the libertarian thesis that people don't vote for libertarian principles as often as they would if they had a clearer and better understanding of what they want in a governing system, and how to get it.

Another, simpler way of putting this is: advertising works, in the sense that, near the margin, it can induce you to buy stuff you don't really want. Since it works with shampoo, we may presume ipso facto it works with political candidates, too.

Since furthermore a libertarian candidate for substantial political power is almost an oxymoron, most candidates for big-time political power are statists. Since they indulge heavily in advertising, and we assume advertising works -- makes people to some unknown degree more likely to act against their self-interest and in the advertiser's interest -- the conclusion is inescapable that the government for which people actually vote is inevitably more statist than the one they really want. How much more we don't know. That's where the interesting argument lies.

But assuming you can straightforwardly infer what people want from how they vote seems, well, a bit naive, for someone living in the 21st century, who has been paying attention to the social psychology learned in the last century.
4.7.2009 10:16pm
Waldo (mail):
I don't think the seasteading idea is at all realistic since all maritime vessel are required to be flagged, or registered with a state. While there are flags of convenience, most have offices in DC where the US government can get permission to board any vessel it wants. The entire "flag of convenience" regime is really only a way of avoiding US labor law regarding mariners.

The real problem is that any vessel not flagged, is considered state-less, and may be boarded or seized by any state. That's the rational used to board the North Korean ship carrying missiles a few years back. Any armed resistance to state action is, of course, piracy. While pirates may have a romantic appeal, I doubt most libertarians would want to live under such a system.
4.7.2009 10:40pm
DWPittelli (mail) (www):
Given the continual expensive maintenance required of any structure in salt water, there would seem an ironic need for such a sea-based libertarian "country" to have pretty high maintenance fees (aka taxes), as well as a government which imposes a lot of rules concerning matters which might cause wear or impose risks to the structure (e.g., weight, toxics, flammables, superstructures which might catch wind, behavior which might cause trouble with other countries, such as drugs, tax havens, gambling).
4.7.2009 10:47pm
Desiderius:
Slater,

"But you might consider making your point to the libertarian-right folks who post on this blog (as commenters and Conspirators) who seem to think that European social democracy -- or even Obama's marginal increases in top marginal tax rates -- is the enemy, well down the slippery slope to Bolshevik totalitarianism."

Did the thought ever occur to you that that is exactly what I'm doing? A frontal attack is not always the optimal course, or even an attack, as the case may be. In the perfect world, there are all sorts of things about European and/or American style social democracy that I'd rather were, let's say, more limited, but one goes to war with the liberal democracy one has, not the one one wishes one had.

Or, alternatively, one strikes out to start a new one, as the original pilgrims did, and the founders rechristened, and as the subject of this post proposes to do, or one joins a relatively newer one, as my ancestors did, or one that actually exists, as yours did, I take it. Given the tenor of this thread, I'm beginning to develop a curiosity regarding the prospects of Indian (the one in, you know, India) liberal democracy, frankly.
4.7.2009 10:50pm
flawed skull (mail):
OrinKerr

Either I've failed to convey what I meant properly or you've failed to interpret it properly.

Bringing out the utopian argument (which 'if men were angels..' is) is far too easy. Economic THEORY, I think you would agree (at least the one that most economists agree one, hold your jokes) does fairly accurately take into account ACTUAL human beings, not angels. So 'only-if-men-were-angels' argument is useless in this case. You only need to see Government as an industry which is a monopoly, thereby predictably producing bad products for consumers.
Once you accept this model, its a straightforward case to be made that COMPETITION will be beneficial for this industry. The competition brings out trial and error. Nobody knows that a libertarian society will turn out to provide the best utilitarian results ex-ante. Only after trial and error with hundreds of (hopefully) seasteads with different communities and societies will the best model for humanity be clear (maybe even not then but it will be better than now).
NOTE that this reduces BARRIERS TO ENTRY. Again, nothing to do with men being angels. Reduction in barriers to entry is good for competition and ultimately, for consumers.

So theoretically, with non-angel humans, this will work.
Now practically, the problems are those of successfully playing chicken with large governments, and overcoming engineering problems, and attracting a significant set of early adopters.

Again, I encourage people to read the FAQ. Most of these arguments and queries are discussed in there.
4.7.2009 10:56pm
Desiderius:
And, yes, I do contend that, given the standards of the day, both the Massachusetts Bay Colony and its Plymouth Plantations were both more liberal and more democratic than the alternatives on offer. Nor were they anti-social among their own. As the Jamestowners eventually produced Madison, Jefferson, and Washington, their case too can be argued. I recognize that this is all high heresy now among the doctors of our established progressive church, but it is for that reason no less true.
4.7.2009 10:59pm
D.R.M.:
Hmm.

North Korea supposedly runs an open registry. North Korea is pretty unlikely to cooperate with the U.S. government. North Korea is pretty unlikely to send a naval force to the Atlantic . . .
4.8.2009 1:08am
Betty1 (mail):
What a very odd idea - societies built on large platforms in the middle of the sea.

I don't particularly think that absolute freedom is the goal, but rather to transform the constitutional principles our country was founded on and bring them into compliance with the ideas libertarians espouse. Creating some Utopian society from scratch may sound tempting, but the real glory is in manipulating what presently exists, convincing the masses that you're correct, and improving upon an already great country. At least, in my opinion.
4.8.2009 2:42am
Neil (mail):
No, sea platforms are crazy talk.

The best courses of action are:

- Geographic concentration, a la Free State Project. On its own it doesn't make much of a difference, but as a prototype it would be quite valuable, either as a model for the rest of the country (success) or as a harsh lesson on why libertarianism isn't practical (failure). (Side notes: If you aren't willing to relocate within the country for them, are your political views really that important to you? And if you're fine with the idea of moving to a sea platform, why not go through the much easier step of relocating within the U.S.?)

- Cultural influence on younger generation. The Daily Show for libertarians. You can't count on the education system broadening people's horizons. Quite the opposite.

I'd go with video games as the medium of choice, myself. Role playing games or simulations where you can experience first-hand the effects of government on society. It's hard for people reared by the government's educational institutions to be faithful left-wingers to understand why wealth redistribution reduces quality of life for society as a whole. So you put them in situations in video games where they can see the cause-effect chain and experience the negative consequences directly.

A very simple browser game might put the player at the helm of a large auto manufacturer. You pay no taxes of any kind, have no regulations and no unions to worry about. That's level 1. You make lots of money. Then taxes are thrown in. Players will find themselves angry at the high corporate tax rate and furious when they see politicians bad-mouthing them, demanding "windfall taxes" and other hikes.

In successive levels, you start adding other stuff that bites your bottom line: CAFE standards that force you to sell things that people don't want and make less of the stuff that does sell. Unions that are never satisfied with their piece of the pie and strike when they aren't compensated far beyond their worth. And so on.

Once you've gone through all that, you can play as a small, start-up auto company, although you'll immediately see that because of government-imposed overhead (crash tests, legal costs, etc.), it's not possible for a small car company to exist, which is why all our car companies are "too big to fail."
4.8.2009 4:32am
Fact Checker:
As for the "public education system" created by federal land grants, yes a few state universities were created that way in the 19th century.

"a few state universities"?! Don't you mean over seventy institutions of higher education in all fifty states including some of the most respected research institutions in the world (including UC Berkeley, The University of Illinois, Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State).
4.8.2009 8:36am
Stacy (mail) (www):
Someone pointed out that the largest sea-based societies in the present day are naval vessels with a strict authoritarian hierarchy. That's not only true today, but it's always been true, even in the pirate ships that some libertarians like to hold up as early examples of libertarian societies. Living in a harsh environment historically doesn't work very well without a military-like command structure.

Likewise, though likely for very different reasons, living in a densely populated society also historically engenders more statist forms of government.

A successful libertarian state would likely need to be a frontier society with an abundance of productive land and a relatively sparse population, allowing each household to effectively be its own ministate with narrowly defined connections to the larger society.
4.8.2009 9:38am
Live Free or Die:
Seeing other comments referring to Bioshock, TMiaHM, and Superman Returns shows I am not alone in my cultural references. I am surprised no one made any snarky comments about the Dharma Initiative.

It dawned on me reading these comments that true liberty will only ever be obtained in the New World, New Frontier, or the Wild West, not as organized movements, but as individuals desiring to go where control hasn't been established yet. And after that period, as establishment grows, ever-increasing control is inevitable. Sounds scarily Marxist.

So let's get those hyperdrives created so we can live out in space Firefly style.
4.8.2009 9:43am
Desiderius:
Stacy,

Some harsh environment.

Though I think Neil has a point that MMORPG's can be a powerful tutor in economic practice, rather than mere theory alone. Heck, for millions they already have, although we're hardly in Snow Crash territory yet.
4.8.2009 9:49am
Joseph Slater (mail):
Desiderius:

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what points you were trying to make to whom -- no snark intended, I'll take responsbility for not getting it. And I'll also take your word on what you meant.
4.8.2009 10:20am
CDT (mail):
Stacy, I think you've nailed it. The problem with Utopian fantasies (beyond the obvious fact that they are fantasies) is that the folks who engage in this sort of thinking see themselves as Captain Jack Black, and not the poor sod who is carrying buckets of poop. There will always be work that no one wants to do, or subservient jobs that will be filled by people who will eventually demand to be unionized or get special benefits for doing the shit work, and the experiment ends/fails when they do. The common response to this problem is "We'll solve it with technology!" or "Well invent a way to handle that."

It's similar to folks who believe in past lives. They never see themselves as a dolt, thief, or average-Joe. They were someone famous.

My favorite comment so far is the idea of reforming the Libertarian Party. How, exactly would you do that? Take a vote and impose majority will on the rest of the members? heh

Here's my (relatively snark-free 2 cents): Stop claiming that all small government ideas are libertarian or that anyone you agree with philosophically is "good" (and therefore libertarian) and that everyone you disagree with and is "bad" (is not a libertarian). Coopting the langauge and revising history to make libertarians out of people who clearly weren't, would go a long way in bringing about some of the goals. It would require that you drop the libertarian banner.

Libertarian, as a label, has come to be associated with nut cases, hippie/free love causes, and fanciful, fantastical thinking. Drop the term, just as real liberals can no longer call themselves that because communists and socialists have coopted the word to describe their agenda.

When given the opportunity to organize and show their strength, a huge number of libertarians flooded the first town hall meeting with demands that the President legalize drugs. Oh, that goes a long way in helping the libertarian cause and presenting an association with libertarians as advocates for liberty, instead of proponents of libertinism. Given what is going on in the world, THAT is the their most pressing issue? heh It just proves they're not serious.

There is always a balance to be struck between an individual's desire for unfettered actions and the intentional or unintentional consequences of his actions on others. Libertarianism has become synonymous with a failure to accept the concept of a social compact, while at the same time believing that a social compact among libertarians will exist (voluntarily) and create Utopia. Name one commune type experiment that actually lasted more than a single generation, or didn't morph into the worst extreme of a totalitarian extreme.... that's what happens when a thousand Captain Jack Black wannabes find out everyone else doesn't want to be the sidekick.
4.8.2009 10:24am
Bama 1L:
The entire "flag of convenience" regime is really only a way of avoiding US labor law regarding mariners.

I wouldn't be so sure; the Jones Act has surprising reach, particularly given the right/wrong judge, and might grab the seasteaders anyway.
4.8.2009 10:53am
Desiderius:
Slater,

"To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what points you were trying to make to whom"

While we're being honest, I'll admit that neither was I. Just calling them as I see them. I do see libertarians of good faith functioning as the white blood cells of a healthy social democracy - keeping the government focused on those things it does well and should well do and raising the alarm when it oversteps its bounds in antisocial/antidemocratic ways.
4.8.2009 1:19pm
Desiderius:
CDT,

"Name one commune type experiment that actually lasted more than a single generation, or didn't morph into the worst extreme of a totalitarian extreme.... that's what happens when a thousand Captain Jack Black wannabes find out everyone else doesn't want to be the sidekick."

Um, the state of Utah?

Why the assumption that it would be a commune? And if we're liberals, we should have the stones to call ourselves liberals, as past liberals have, facing more dire consequences than those we now face for doing so.
4.8.2009 1:24pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
"And if we're liberals, we should have the stones to call ourselves liberals, as past liberals have, facing more dire consequences than those we now face for doing so."

As long as you correctly distinguish between "leftist" (or "conservative") and "liberal".
4.8.2009 2:47pm
Desiderius:
Stacy,

"As long as you correctly distinguish between "leftist" (or "conservative") and "liberal"."

Always. Which is why at times I opt for the less apt "libertarian", though I prefer liberal, in the tradition of Socrates, Cato, Franklin, Burke, and Berlin.
4.8.2009 7:14pm
CDT (mail):
Utah? Surely you jest!

Except that Burke was a conservative, ie, "The Father of Modern Conservatism." Franklin and the Founders referred to themselves as a (small R) "republican." That was my point. Revising history and categorizing historical heroes with the label "libertarian" is just wrong headed. If they labeled themselves, we might want to respect that, because it also gives a great big clue into how they felt about things.

"The catholic principle of republicanism [is] that every people may establish what form of government they please and change it as they please, the will of the nation being the only thing essential." --Thomas Jefferson

"Conservative" has also come to mean something else, as in "right-wing religious extremist." Secular-conservatism is a political ideology (championed by Burke). There is also religious-conservatism, but it is not the same thing at all. Classical liberals don't want to be misunderstood to be "progressives" (the more accurate label to describe them). Classical conservatives don't want to be associated with the extremism of religious conservatives. But libertarian has its own meaning, and it is neither classical -conservative nor -liberal.

Run that Jefferson quote by libertarians and you'll find that most don't agree with it at all, believing (instead) that there are aspects of government that should be denied to the people. How they intend to enforce those limits is always the interesting (and humorous and hypocritical) bit, requiring contortions of force they are supposed to be against.

For folks who think that the Founding Fathers were libertarians, consider how Jefferson and Madison would regard the writings of Spooner:

"The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves; a contest, that -- however bloody -- can, in the nature of things, never be finally closed, so long as man refuses to be a slave." --Lysander Spooner

"The first principle of republicanism is that the lex majoris partis is the fundamental law of every society of individuals of equal rights; to consider the will of the society enounced by the majority of a single vote as sacred as if unanimous is the first of all lessons in importance, yet the last which is thoroughly learnt. This law once disregarded, no other remains but that of force, which ends necessarily in military despotism." --Thomas Jefferson
4.9.2009 9:24am
Desiderius:
CDT,

Utah was a commune-type experiment that lasted more than a generation: satisfying the stipulations of your question.

Burke was a Whig - the Liberal Party, not a Tory, the Conservative Party of its day. That he is, by some, acknowledged to be the founder of modern conservatism does not make him thereby less liberal, as modern conservatism is by any lights far more liberal than even the Liberal Party of Burke's day, and a good thing too. If you don't consider Franklin a liberal, you lack even the most rudimentary understanding of the meaning of the term.

The definition of conservative you offer is obscene, and illustrates more vividly your own bigotry than any true sense of the facts at hand.

Your contest of quotes ignores entirely the Bill of Rights or the importance of checks and balances to protect minority rights advocated by Madison and accepted, perhaps under duress, by Jefferson, although I never took him to be a friend of tyranny, even the tyranny of a majority of his fellow citizens, given the Declaration.
4.10.2009 4:06pm
Porcupine (www):
Dr. Jason Sorens has a response to Patri Friedman posted here.
4.11.2009 4:05pm

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