Monday, April 19, 2004

I Like the Island Life, Part IV 

Somebody once said "buy land: they're not making any more of it." Depending on where you look or whom you ask, it was either Mark Twain, Will Rogers or "a famous real estate agent" who said this.

The saying, however, is not strictly true. For purely pedantic purposes, I'd like to point out that volcanic activity occasionally creates new islands. Take that, straw man!

For those of you who are still reading, there's a reason I bring this topic up: over the past 50 years or so there has been a small wave of attempts to build new countries on artificial islands, usually by utopian libertarians. Unfortunately for these visionaries, the nation-states of the world have made moves to stop this from actually happening: the Third Conference on the Law of the Sea, acceded to by 150 nations since 1982, declares that artificial land can't be constructed without the approval of the nearest (existing) nation-state. Presumably not every country has the will or the means to scuttle an artificial island, be it the Hall of Doom or a libertarian utopia, but they all have the right to do so. This is a great example, incidentally, of the way international law serves the needs of states instead of rendering them obsolete. Take that, lawyers and neoliberal institutionalists!

There are a couple of places that could possibly qualify to be grandfathered in, however. The most famous of these is Sealand, a "country" set up on an abandoned drilling platform in the North Sea and used for a while as a "data haven" where internet activities forbidden by nation's laws could be conducted harassment-free. Read all about it here.

There's another massive strike against these projects in the current international environment. "Failed states" are viewed with concern: since they have no central government which can be reached via diplomacy or coerced under standard doctrines of war, there's no one to appeal to to halt terrorist activity. I would think that the US and other states would view new, tiny, floating sovereign entities in a similar light.

If you're interested, there's a lot of history on this subject to be found on the web. You can get an eyewitness account of a 1968 attempt to build a libertarian utopia ("Project Atlantis") in the Caribbean in this memoir by Roy Halliday (not last year's AL Cy Young Award winner, by the way, but someone else entirely). I don't know why it didn't work; they seem to have had a good plan, focusing on ideology instead of logistics (just like we're doing in Iraq!):
The original plan for Operation Atlantis consisted of three stages: (1) gather libertarians in a single location (the motel) “where they can work together to build an integrated community” and prepare the way for the next stage, (2) acquire an ocean vessel and declare it to be an independent nation while in international waters, and (3) create “an artificial island as close to the shores of the U.S. as international law will permit and Uncle Sam will tolerate.” Each of these stages was designed to make a profit for the initial investors and to ultimately be self-supporting. By establishing Atlantis as a proprietary community inhabited only by individuals who voluntarily agree to the terms of their lease contracts, Stiefel endowed it with a limited government that does not violate the non-aggression principle, thereby making Atlantis acceptable to both limited-government libertarians and anarcho-libertarians.
But don't let the failure of Project Atlantis get you down. If you're interested in the prospect of living in the middle of the ocean with like-minded freedom lovers, the Seasteading Project is conducting tests of new, allegedly seasickness-proof "sovereign, self-sufficient floating platforms." Their website is fascinating, has tons of resources on the topics covered in this post, and answers all your questions about seasteading (addressing your fears that the project will contribute to overpopulation, for example). Take a look.

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