by Ian CoKehyeng
Fighting for free markets within the democratic system is a steep uphill battle. Anarcho-capitalists may even call it useless. The inherent biases of democracy swing towards populism and crony capitalism. The dilemma faced by Western democracies stems not from the fact that everyone benefits from freedom, but from the fact that everyone can benefit from one particular intervention granting them a special privilege whose costs are dispersed onto everybody else. Such is the mixed economy- a battle for rule by pressure groups and lobbyists. The great statesman, Frederic Bastiat, describes this situation elegantly when he said:
The State is that fictitious entity in which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
The analysis of political institutions in public choice theory demonstrates that the perverse incentives of political actors (from politicians to bureaucrats to voters themselves) gear governments and their bureaucracies to grow. Attempts at changing the intellectual climate (especially on college campuses) in favor of economic freedom make the situation seem all the more hopeless.
Democracy was a wonderful experiment, but it seems to be outdated. The marketplace is full of innovation and improvement while our political institutions are old and if anything, deteriorating in effectiveness and responsibility. The political realm and the market operate on completely different terms. While both promise choice, a vote in the market place is far more different in nature and effectiveness than a vote at the ballot box. If the political model for change is clearly broken while the market has repeatedly proven to push the boundaries of mankind’s achievements, why not pursue market solutions to provide us with the same type of innovation in politics as there is in the market place? Why vote when you can shop for good governance? This is the logic driving The Seasteading Institute. The Seasteading Institute works to enable the establishment of seasteads – floating ocean platforms – to allow the next generation of pioneers to peacefully test out new ideas for government. The successful ones will serve as shining examples, inspiring political change around the world. While the long term goals are full-fledged floating cities, the short term incremental goals are to establish simple small barges, cruise ships, or platform communities to give enterprises an alternative place to start up without the red-tape to inhibit development.
The Blueseed project is an example of this. The project aims to establish an ocean startup community just 12 miles off the coast of San Francisco near Silicon Valley where international waters allow autonomy. The vessel will serve as a location for international entrepreneurs to grow their businesses without having to obtain a US work visa. They would be free to enter the United States for 160 days a year on a much easier to obtain travel VISA only to spend the rest conveniently back on the seastead just 12 miles off the coast. Silicon Valley is wonderful for already established businesses but regulations create a barrier to entry. Blueseed offers an entrepreneurial way around this without fighting a useless battle within the political system. When an enterprise on Blueseed reaches a large enough size, it would be profitable enough to move it onto Silicon Valley.
Another short-term goal of The Seasteading Insitute is to capitalize on ever growing medical tourism. According to the Fraser Institute, an estimated 46,159 Canadians received treatment outside the country in 2011 alone. Many Canadians have to go through the slow and costly process of obtaining a VISA to fly across the world to receive treatments that are prohibited by our regulations. Seasteads based only 12 miles off the coast could enable large opportunities for cheaper medical tourism and bring down the cost to as low as 30% of what it otherwise would have been.
There is hope out there for people disillusioned with politics. In my limited space I have not gone over all the issues people may have regarding seasteading, but I encourage everyone to read up on it.
Ian CoKehyeng is a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management student at Carleton University. He is also an AIMS on Campus Student Fellow for 2012-2013.