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Joe Quirk joins us to discuss the possibilities of seasteading for the future of civilization.



00:07 Trevor Burrus: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Trevor Burrus.

00:09 Aaron Powell: And I’m Aaron Powell.

00:11 Trevor Burrus: Joining us today is Joe Quirk, President of the Seasteading Institute. He is the co‐​author, along with Patri Friedman, of Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians. Welcome to Free Thoughts, Joe.

00:24 Joe Quirk: Thanks for inviting me you guys. It’s great to be with you.

00:27 Trevor Burrus: Now it may be obvious from the term, but what is Seasteading, just to get off with point one here.

00:36 Joe Quirk: Seasteading is homesteading the high sea, and the technology for building floating cities and floating communities on the ocean is at hand and seasteaders wanna make it happen sooner than otherwise, because almost half the earth’s surface is unclaimed by any existing nation state, and seasteaders wanna empower people to have basically startup nano‐​nations on the ocean.

01:03 Trevor Burrus: That seems like a pretty bold, bold move. That sounds pretty science fiction, which I’m sure as you say in the book consistently, the biggest question you usually get is, “Are you crazy?” And so, maybe that’s the next question, is like, “Are you crazy? Isn’t the sea dangerous and volatile and barren?”

01:22 Joe Quirk: That’d be a good description of space, and yet people are taking going to Mars very seriously. And the thing about living on the ocean is that science fiction is science fact. We already have oil rigs which are on the high seas and very high waves for decades at a time. We have cruise ships that are essentially self‐​governing floating cities, and seasteading is a way of combining these two technologies for permanent living on the sea combining with the governance technology of a cruise ship. Buckminster Fuller designed a floating city and unveiled it way back in 1968. It was featured in Lyndon Johnson’s White House and people were taking very seriously the concept of floating cities. But the whole thing got derailed by the Cold War as people got distracted by the race to space, to compete with the Russians. And guys like Elon Musk were young kids growing up reading science fiction about going to Mars and imagining that by the time they were grown up, we were all gonna go to Mars and then they grew up and realized it hadn’t happened and they’re mad and now they’re trying to make it happen.

02:38 Joe Quirk: But we’re completely skipping the sea, and I like to tell people that we live on Planet Ocean. Two‐​thirds of the earth’s surface is water. If you wanna go deep down below the ocean, you’re basically… That’s 98% of the living space. If you’re interested in alien intelligence, we have cephalopods like cuttlefish, they’re highly alien intelligences. But most interesting to seasteaders is the chance to completely start over and to empower as many people as possible to start over. So we have a 193 nation states governing 7.6 billion people. I live near Silicon Valley, seasteading is sort of a Silicon Valley approach to the problem of governments sucking, which is basically, if you think that solutions come from startups and you think if you can create platforms whereby people can choose among different governance structures and you could actually create a peaceful market of governance at sea and people could choose among them, you’d basically have a research and development department on the ocean for people to try different sort of governance ideas, and as long as people can choose among them voluntarily, we will unleash voluntary tiny societies on the ocean that can attach to each other, get bigger, break off from each other, go elsewhere. We’d essentially have variation by governments and selection by citizens which seasteaders believe will unleash evolution in governance itself. And you can imagine the libertarians are very attracted to this idea.

04:32 Aaron Powell: So if the advantage of this though is that you can build these things outside of the territory of governments, won’t we just run into the same problem that Silicon Valley startups are starting to notice now with government calls for regulation of Facebook? That it’s one thing when you’re small and no one’s really… You’re just ignored by the governments, but if seasteading actually became competitive or was done in substantial numbers, wouldn’t governments just decide maybe we do own those parts of the seas and not allow it?

05:06 Joe Quirk: I think the greatest threat to seasteading is what you just described. It’s certainly not technological or business or anything like that. And the great thing about old governments is that they’re dinosaurs, they move very slowly, they’re very dumb, so Facebook can scale up and get a billion users before the government wakes up and starts getting upset that people like Facebook better than them. And when people worry about, governments worrying about seasteads and doing something about it, I just cite historical precedence. China doesn’t invade Hong Kong because it’s a blatant slap in the face of everything that communist China represented as this little defenseless flea that created all these free markets and created so much prosperity and basically persuaded China to change it’s views. The Cayman Islands off the coast of the US has no standing army, takes a very spiteful stance with regard to welcoming medical mavericks and financial innovators and the US doesn’t invade it. They just ignore it because it provides a service. So I always think of, if nation states are like sharks, if you’re a seastead, you wanna think like a cleaner fish. You wanna provide a service that the nation state appreciates.

06:36 Joe Quirk: I think it’ll take so long before seasteads are actually some sort of threat to existing governments, that seasteads have the power to scale up considerably. There’s a really great precedent to show how little governments care about new floating societies that are very rebellious. So there was an abandoned sea fort known as Fort Roughs off the coast of England and it was outside the territorial jurisdiction of England at that time. And there were some pirate radio stations out there playing pirate radio that was basically not legal because the BBC only wanted to play rock and roll sometimes, but this was fulfilling people’s desire to play music all the time. And this guy named Paddy Roy Bates basically sailed out there, kicked off the rivals, and declared himself a sovereign nation. And when the Royal Navy ship strayed into what they claimed as their territorial waters, his son, Michael, basically fired a warning shot. And it’s like, “WTF, what the… These guys are crazy.” And so what happens? Did Britain try to invade? Did they swoop in and shoot these three crazy guys? No, they just ignored it and they brought weapons charges against the Bates family. And a British judge ruled that, “Well, they’re outside the territorial waters of Britain so we don’t have jurisdiction.” And it kept getting crazier.

08:22 Joe Quirk: Another pirate radio rival tried to invade and take the little 120‐​meter nation away from [chuckle] Bates, and they captured them and imprisoned them. And then so a German diplomat went and negotiated with Bates as if he was a sovereign country. And then Bates said this, “Release the prisoner.” But then said, “Aha. You’ve negotiated with me. That means you recognize me as an independent state.” So you couldn’t get more provocative than these guys. They’ve established a three‐​generation dynasty on this silly little ugly sea fort. The territorial waters of England has since expanded to include Sealand, what’s called the Principality of Sealand, but they remain a self‐​declared micro‐​nation. Britain has not done anything about it. They’re just letting them do their crazy thing.

09:25 Joe Quirk: And last I checked, they were claiming $600,000, US dollars, GDP just from selling stamps and sponsoring a soccer team and offering dukedoms [chuckle] to people. I hope… I’m involved with the first seasteading company now and we’re not gonna be as provocative as that. We’re not gonna fire canons at navy ships. We’re not gonna capture people and imprison them, but if that crazy guy can establish his own little nation and governments basically don’t care, and he can actually make a profit, and it’s basically the ugliest, smallest nation in the world, I think that’s a great precedent for what seasteads are capable of and a great example of how little the old big governments don’t care because attacking a floating algae farm is basically gonna be a PR nightmare.

10:26 Aaron Powell: There are about 195 nations.

10:30 Trevor Burrus: 93. 193.

10:30 Aaron Powell: 193 nations right now and they are competing with each other and you can move… Some of them are more restrictive than others, but you can move typically from one to another. And yet, none of them, few, if any of them are what libertarians would consider market utopias or the kind of place that we imagine the seasteads might be. And so, if among those nearly 200 nations, we haven’t seen any of them embrace the kind of values that we would like to see, what makes us think that the seasteads would be any better?

11:12 Joe Quirk: Well, the stampede of people like us racing to seastead [chuckle] to volunteer and get involved and make it happen. I think a really cool way to look at this is through the lens of special economic zones. So we tend to think of nation states as being these great big things that control everybody inside them, but they’re disintegrating from the bottom up. And so, I mentioned Hong Kong earlier, the first interesting little special economic zone that just a random experiment that happened accidentally through historical caprice, created so much wealth it ended up converting China into being a much more open market and a half billion people escaped extreme poverty.

12:00 Joe Quirk: That was such an interesting experiment, that China allowed 14 more little special economic zones within its nation. And those all created so much wealth, right now probably more than half of all Chinese people have migrated to these special economic zones. So, in a sense, people have already left the old, poor, communist, rural China, and moved to these much more prosperous free market places. This set a precedent where different countries around the world, especially in the southern hemisphere started experimenting with little free ports, little, I think of them as legal islands, allowing special exemptions from taxes and regulations to create prosperity. And overall, some special economic zones have failed, some have succeeded, some have been corrupted, some have been spectacularly successful, such as Shenzhen in China. That basically, more than 4000 have proliferated across the world in the last 50 years. It’s completely peaceful, it’s a bottom‐​up, inside‐​out revolution in governance as Tom W Bell calls it.

13:12 Trevor Burrus: Who has been on Free Thoughts before.

13:16 Joe Quirk: Yeah, yeah. He’s the author of Your Next Government?: From Nation States to Stateless Nations. So it’s already happening. But these things are only so free. So there’s this revolution and freedom, to me this is the most momentous political revolution. It’s sweeping the world. You mentioned 193 nation states. Well, over 4000 special economic zones have them completely outnumbered. So, Tom W Bell is the kind of the John Adams, kind of the father of the sea zone where he takes the best practices of all these special economic zones and he wants to instantiate them on the first floating legal structure, which would be the sea zone. Which we hope to establish in an island nation soon, and continue this evolution of better, freer governance.

14:10 Trevor Burrus: That’s interesting, as your book is extremely optimistic, and kind of surprising to the point that it… I felt like I was being pitched, and I came to believe it more and more, almost like I was being pitched time shares in Mexico, a can’t miss real estate opportunity, and all that stuff. But the really interesting thing about it was all these people, not necessarily libertarians doing different technological things were kind of converging on the same idea in terms of, how to get food, how to get energy, how to get different things from the ocean, and how to build floating structures that can sustain. It’s not just libertarians, it’s coming from a bunch of different angles.

14:48 Joe Quirk: Yeah, it’s interesting. It actually works best if you don’t say the L word, because that sets up people’s psychological immune systems. But as soon as you tell the world, “Hey, we’re gonna set up a platform, you can completely start over with a new governance system.” Innovators come stampeding to you, they don’t need to self‐​identify as libertarian. No more than an American vacationer who steps on a cruise ship, is changing ideologies because now they’re getting free market healthcare, and free market security on a self‐​governing ship, with a dictator known as a captain. [chuckle] They’re not changing what their beliefs are, but it’s about the proliferation of choices, and providing different places where people can experiment with different social structures.

15:38 Joe Quirk: And crucially, people bring their own business ideas to seasteading like crazy. And environmentalists are interested in algae farms and seaweed cultivation, and conservatives are interested in a new frontier, people, socialists, want to create their own sea stead, everybody with a different idea, who wants to prove their point to the world, can get their own seastead, build their own business model, and then succeed or fail in the eyes of the public on their own terms. That’s the great thing about the seasteads is the people who try them absorb the cost of failure. And hopefully, prosperity will be shared and the world can watch and see which systems work. And we don’t have rely on politicians to impose systems from previous centuries from the top‐​down on us.

16:32 Aaron Powell: So practically, what does life on a seastead look like? Because I mean, to be perfectly honest, the idea of living on an oil rig doesn’t strike me as super appealing.

16:44 Joe Quirk: Me neither. And that always depends on whether we’re talking about seasteading in 2025 or 2055. So I hope that a company that I helped co‐​found, called Blue Frontiers, will build the first very modest seastead in French Polynesia, which is right in the middle of the blue frontier, which is the Pacific Ocean. And if that works, that’ll be for around 300 people. If people want to check it out go to blue​-fron​tiers​.com. We have lots of visuals there, we’ve already designed how it’s gonna look, we’ve already got the engineers. And it’s basically gonna look like a floating Hobbiton. Basically green roofs, it’s gonna look like any other island from a distance. It’s gonna be inside a protected lagoon, so there’s no waves. So we’re gonna be using existing technology. It’s basically, the same engineers who built the floating pavilion in Rotterdam, are gonna build something about seven and a half times as big, which will be the first seastead, if all goes according to plan with Blue Frontiers.

17:52 Joe Quirk: But what about seasteading in 2055? Hopefully by then… Oil rigs already are way too expensive. Only oil and gas exploration companies could afford them. If you think of seasteads as the intersection, the confluence of material science, of 3D printing, of people… I have colleagues working on geopolymer concrete and all this sort of stuff. The way it would work is basically the way Buckminster Fuller designed it 50 years ago, which is much of the seastead will be deep below the water, the physical structure of the seastead, where it’ll have tremendous ballast. So, if you put a lot of weight far down below the sea, you can create incredible stability, and then have pilings, which are basically pillars that go up high above the waves, and then your city floats on top of it. So, you have these very high waves, your city well above it. And there’s something called the Flip Ship, if this seems like futuristic to you. I’d encourage your listeners to look up the Flip Ship, F-L-I-P.

19:15 Joe Quirk: It’s been in operation on the ocean since 1962, and it’s basically like a baseball bat thing. Think of it as a wine bottle that’s much bigger. Where four‐​fifths of it is below the ocean, basically uses ballast tanks to float in the oceans. And it’s described as being a stable, as a fence post, in 60 foot waves. And that’s just one little floating giant wine bottle, you can think of it. And Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic and famous oceanographer, he’s a seasteading fan. He’s featured in the book and he wants to take Flips, put platforms on top of them high above the waves and create stable structures on the sea. So in many ways, large enough and deep enough structures on the ocean can be more stable and safe than coastal communities. Safer in tsunamis, which don’t become destructive until they reach land. Tsunamis are harmless on the deep sea. So it’s basically the principle of ballast below the oceans.

20:26 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, when I read the part about the Flip, I immediately went to look it up and I do suggest listeners look it up. It stands for Floating Instrument Platform, and there’s a video on YouTube of it turning. It’s like a big barge and then you fill it up and then it floats with part of it sticking out but four‐​fifths of it underwater. It’s pretty incredible. You get into, in the book, you also get into the… Well, you seem to think that seasteading is almost imperative, first of all, rather than something that would be fun to do or good to do to get out of government, but imperative in terms of food production and fuel production. Food in particular is pretty interesting. How we could farm the sea.

21:12 Joe Quirk: Yes, in the book, I feature Ricardo Radulovich, who was one of many seaweed farmers who wanna mass farm the oceans. And the amazing thing about seaweed is that there are thousands of different species of algae that are edible. It’s more healthy than corn, wheat, or soy on which we base much of the food we eat now, which is basically not healthy. And the incredible thing about ocean‐​based crops is that they can be environmentally restorative. So this is way beyond sustainable, and this is… You can think of this as the Libertarian answer to environmentalist critiques, which is that there’s a type of seaweed called macrocynthis, I think it’s called? It’s been called the Redwood of the ocean. And in order to build its biomass, these different kinds of seaweed need to draw tremendous nutrients and carbonic acid from the oceans, basically. And our coasts are just polluted with dead zones, which are caused by agriculture and all the agricultural runoff that runs into the oceans and dumps all this nutrient wealth that can be used by seaweed farms, which would basically restore those areas.

22:40 Joe Quirk: I’m very intimately aware of this. I wrote a whole book before I discovered seasteading about the problems of agricultural runoff and its effect on coastal oceans and it’s effect on marine mammals. It’s really brutal. You can imagine these dead zones, as they’re called, restored to their pristine conditions by eating. Imagine if you had a company called Restorative Foods, I was trying to found a company like that with a Libertarian friend of mine in big agriculture to try to make this go and we spoke to maybe a half dozen seaweed farmers in California. None of whom have a particular ideology, but all find the regulations in California and in the US so onerous they can’t scale up their vision. And they wanna get outside the existing jurisdictions and scale up their seaweed farms. And Neil Sims, who I also features in the book, he’s a fish farmer. He says, “First come the farms and then come the cities.” You gotta establish the business model out there. It’s just like the Western Frontier. And that seasteads can be thought of as the covered wagons. You get out there, you get your seaweed farm, you get some workers on there, you start hiring people, then the towns will come on their own.

24:05 Aaron Powell: What’s the economy of these things look like? Like I guess I’ll start with just how much would it cost to live on one of these early, or in development seasteads?

24:18 Joe Quirk: So, the first seastead in the early 2020s that will be established by Blue Frontiers will have to be competitive with beach front property. So if you take, it’s gonna be about 7500 square meters. If you divide that up among 300 people, it comes out to about $200,000 per person. Which is steep, but some of the islands are designed for small apartments and things like that. So it has to be… The only way the close to shore seasteads will compete economically, is that they have to offer something that’s less expensive than the land that’s right on shore, especially the beach front property. And the great thing about seasteads is that even though it may be more expensive to build a floating neighborhood than a neighborhood on land, the land is more expensive in the water, the seastead doesn’t have to pay for the land. So if you establish a sea zone in a lagoon off the coast of some beautiful bungalows in Tahiti, we could conceivably make the seasteads cheaper than what people are already paying for with bungalows and hotels and apartments on the beaches of Tahiti.

25:43 Trevor Burrus: So do you expect people like, in the first wave to be telecommuters from Silicon Valley kind of people ’cause there’s no jobs there. You don’t have someone who’s gonna work at McDonald’s able to go live on a seastead. Not only because they can’t afford it, but there’s no McDonald’s there or other services. So, is initially, do you expect kind of people who are telecommuting to live there?

26:07 Joe Quirk: The first one is going to feature various businesses. It’s very important to me that the first seastead set a stellar example. So, we plan to have scientific researchers in the Blue Economy, wave energy generation technologies on there. We plan to have homes for students to come and learn. I want it to be beautiful and to integrate economic classes. Some of it will be villas for families, others will be small apartments and all those people will require services. And so, we hired an economic modeling firm known as Emsi, which gave a third‐​party estimate that by the time the… We’re gonna do these seasteads in three phases. If the first one succeeds, it’s gonna triple in size over about 10 years. And they made an independent assessment of the economic activity that would be created by this. When you consider eco‐​tourism and potential underwater apartments where you can see through the aquarium walls at how floating seasteads can be environmentally restorative and the commuting back and forth, it’ll be a short ferry ride from shore, so people will probably work there and go back and forth.

27:33 Joe Quirk: Emsi estimated that by the end of phase three, when there’ll probably be less than 1000 people on there, the seastead will produce at least 760 direct jobs, and a lot more indirect jobs when you consider entrepreneurship on shore to service the various people that will be coming out to visit this amazing floating island that looks like a real island. And that’s not Blue Frontiers’ estimates, that’s an independent third party. So once you’re on the water, there’s all sorts of things you can do better. Like solar, for instance, floating solar’s about 20% more efficient than solar on land ’cause you use the water to cool the solar panels and the first seastead, the engineers who work with us plan to use that warmed water for the showers, for the dishwasher, for all that sort of stuff. So, even just the sheer incubation hub and the center for excellence that will be concentrated on the seastead alone, I think will give work to all sorts of network effects so that as people expand anyone that wants a new jurisdiction where they could do something interesting, they will come to you. And probably the industry most beating on our doors is medical research and health care professionals who wanna get outside existing systems and start regulatory startups.

29:11 Aaron Powell: What does the governance system look like? Do the people who live there have an input into the laws and regulations on the seastead? Are there taxes or fees? Does it look like being on a cruise ship, like that dictatorship that you mentioned earlier? Does it look more like a Democratic nation state?

29:32 Joe Quirk: Well, when it starts very small, it’ll be under the jurisdiction of French Polynesia which will also be under the jurisdiction of France, but we will negotiate considerable regulatory and administrative autonomy through the sea zone. And if French Polynesia signs into law our sea zone, it’ll basically be no personal tax, no corporate tax, it’ll be largely self‐​regulating. And we’re committed to the decentralization of governance. The currency we’re committed… The token of exchange we’re committed to using is called Varyon, V-A-R-Y-O-N, which is sort of like a crypto‐​currency that people are buying already. We’re in pre‐​sale now to raise money for the seastead, so it’ll be radically decentralized and people who own Varyon will have a say in some governance decisions. So the whole philosophy of seasteading and our approach to currency is the decentralization of power.

30:39 Joe Quirk: So we wanna take Special Economic Zones to the next step in evolution, which is governance will be developed from the bottom up. I can get into more details on that, but the basic idea is that as long as people can create different societies voluntarily, go bankrupt if they don’t work, and then other people can choose them voluntarily, and the crucial mechanism is that people can leave voluntarily. You could detach your miniature island, float away and go somewhere else. So if you can decentralize the very ground beneath your feet, we’ll develop governance from the bottom up. So the best way of governing ourselves, no one knows how to do it, but it waits to be discovered on the oceans in my opinion. Now, you guys have lots of intelligent listeners, so I’m sure they want the actual details and if I was in the mainstream, I wouldn’t get into this but… So what are the first floating islands by Blue Frontiers? How are they gonna be governed?

31:46 Joe Quirk: They’re gonna be maximally inclined towards economic and personal freedom. And so, basically, with French Polynesia, if they pass the sea zone, Blue Frontiers and French Polynesia will choose a peer group of countries among the most peaceful and prosperous and well‐​run countries on earth, and then those countries will choose the regulations in the sea zone. And the way it works is, if all those, say there’s a dozen of the best countries, if all of those have a law or a rule, they can all agree that that law or rule should be on the sea zone. If a single country descents, say, Switzerland says our country runs just fine without that rule, even though the other 11 countries say they require it, then that rule or regulation won’t be instantiated on the sea zone. So it’s… When I first joined the seasteading institute, I learned the term strategic incrementalism. So it’s gonna be the next step, it’s gonna be the most socially free, and the most economically free, but because it’s not yet on the high seas, it won’t be completely free. Criminal Law, France will be in charge of that. So it’ll sort of be like taking slow engineering steps out onto the high seas while also taking steady legal steps steadily towards complete freedom on the high seas, which is the ultimate goal of seasteading.

33:24 Trevor Burrus: As you say in the book, many times that… And, I’ve said it in different contexts, too, is that one of the goals of freedom is you don’t exactly know what it looks like because freedom is a discovery process, and so, at this stage in seasteading, I think the analogy you use is asking whoever created the transistor what the computer look… What kind of things people will do on the computer in the future, whereas the architecture is the transistor, but who knows the App Store and what apps are gonna be created. That’s all unpredictable in its own way.

33:53 Joe Quirk: Yeah, apps, I love the analogy of apps because people say, “Well what kind of government are you gonna create Joe Quirk on your seastead?” Not to compare myself to Steve Jobs, but I’ll do it anyway. It’s like Steve Jobs wasn’t creating an iPhone so he could have an iPhone with one app on it. He was trying to create the platforms where other people can bring their apps, in my case, governance apps. And as long as people can choose among them, the best apps will emerge and the crappy ones will go away, and then we’ll have this huge proliferation of things we couldn’t imagine serving us in the area of governance that certainly we couldn’t imagine before we had the platform. And I always use the analogy of Ben Franklin. The difference between centralized control of innovation, monopolies and decentralized experimentation. So Ben Franklin, genius, innovated in the control of electricity, and innovated in governance. One of the most advanced guys of his day. So his experimentations with and control of electricity led to inventions that he couldn’t possibly have imagined that ever permeated every area of our life. It’s the only reason we’re able to talk about it. Ben Franklin wouldn’t even recognize a light bulb. From the Franklin stove to this iPhone I’m talking to you on. No one could have come to him and said, “Well what good would this electricity do? How will people be lit in the future?” He couldn’t have really answered.

35:37 Joe Quirk: But he also helped write the rules, the parameters for the United States government with a quill pen, when information traveled at the speed of a horse. And we haven’t had any updates since then. We’ve added more rules. We have the same methods by which we choose our rulers. It’s changed over time, but there haven’t been startups. There haven’t been revolutionary new ideas that the Ben Franklins of today can try out. North America at that time was basically a giant seastead where the smartest people in the world went and tried something new, and it worked so much better it ended up converting the whole world. I think of… Another story I like to tell is Steve Wozniak. I think of Steve Wozniak as a modern Ben Franklin. He worked at Hewlett‐​Packard. Hewlett‐​Packard was a big monstrous company. Steve Wozniak was loyal to Hewlett‐​Packard, he loved working at Hewlett‐​Packard, and he designed the personal computer and he pitched it to his superiors at Hewlett‐​Packard five separate times. They said no five separate times. And with great reluctance, he quit, and he went off, and founded a company with Steve Jobs that Steve Jobs named Apple, and that design became the initial design for the personal computer.

37:01 Joe Quirk: So, if Steve was Wozniak couldn’t leave and try something else outside at his own risk, we wouldn’t have had Apple. It wouldn’t have happened. So, to me, seasteading is a platform for the Wozniaks of governance. The internet and books are full of people with all sorts of ideas for how governance could work better, and there’s no place where they can be tried out. My co‐​author on this book is Patri Friedman. He’s the grandson of Milton Friedman. He’s the son of David Friedman. I’m very persuaded by their ideas. I would like to have a place where those ideas can be tried and to see what emerges, unpredictably. It’ll certainly be better than whatever I can imagine. And whatever emerges among floating societies in 2035 will not resemble the ideologies we have now. It will completely defy our limited little minds because we’ll engage the global brain on behalf of innovating in governance the same way the global brain is innovated on behalf of technologies based on electricity.

38:13 Trevor Burrus: Now, if I’ve learned anything from movies like The Perfect Storm or the crab fishing show, Deadliest Catch, that the sea is pretty dangerous, and it has some pretty bad storms that come up. And you mentioned tsunamis, but even in this place in Tahiti, if it is modular to the point that you can actually detach one of them, if a typhoon comes won’t that almost just destroy the entire thing?

38:42 Joe Quirk: The oceans are very dangerous, just as tornadoes on land are dangerous. And we should keep in mind that planes still fly and boats still sail the seas. So you wanna start your seastead not in high wave conditions, preferably close to the equator where waters are warm and very low. The French Polynesia, especially the areas around where we’re gonna start seasteading, if French Polynesia approves, are some of the warmest and lowest, calmest waters on the ocean. And we’ll start inside a protected lagoon, which is sort of a protected atoll actually, which is like a natural wave breaker. It’s like as the volcanoes slowly sink below the oceans over millions of years, they form these nice little rings, where inside it’s like turquoise and lovely and calm and you can put your seastead right inside one of those. And French Polynesia has many, many, many atolls stretching over an area the size of Western Europe, which is what French Polynesia controls.

39:50 Trevor Burrus: But still, a hurricane would disrupt that atoll to some extent, wouldn’t it?

39:54 Joe Quirk: Sure, but they don’t get cyclones of that magnitude. We have to account… Our engineers are Dutch and they build things to account for the one or the 10,000-year storm, they’re very proud of that. The big hurricanes that you see in other parts of the ocean don’t really occur in this area. They do get the occasional cyclone, but the people who live on those islands, and the boats that are there, and the cruise ships that sail there, all weather those things, and our first seastead will too. And it’s about being sort of tethered to the seafloor inside an atoll, creating a kind of stability.

40:43 Aaron Powell: Realistically, how big can this get? Seasteading as a whole. Will it always remain small nations that a handful of people live on or could we see significant numbers of people eventually living on the open ocean.

41:02 Joe Quirk: I think we could get a floating Hong Kong because as these different little things compete, some of them will work very well, and then there’ll be a runaway process where the economy will start to grow so fast that others will come. There’s also an incentive to provide superior governance because the bigger your seastead, the more stable it is in waves and the longer it can stay out there and I can imagine a floating Venice with little moats for roads, where people can move their seastead in and out, but the more of these things you can lock up, the more dangerous conditions you can remain in. Imagine oil platforms where there’s 100 or 1000 of them all locked up together. And to get an idea of how fast a prospering economy can grow, I always point to Shenzhen, which is a fishing village that was right across the street from Hong Kong and was the first imitation of Hong Kong that China allowed.

42:04 Joe Quirk: And at one point, there was just a little fishing village, they didn’t even have a street light and they just had tremendous growth, tremendous property values ascending by 18,000% over a couple of decades and now they make 90% of our computer keyboards. That was just a little bit of freedom, a little bit new economy and people raced there and created something new. So once you have a society that works, I think it will start out distributed. I think you will have lots of small little seasteads living in the doldrums near the equator. But the ones that succeed, I think, will attract more and more people. So I actually do think we could conceivably have cities with floating airports on the ocean and our children will be flying to floating islands the same way they fly to the Cayman Islands and not think it’s weird.


43:05 Trevor Burrus: You point out in the book that a lot of it is about business, it’s not as much about governance and stuff, the latter part is, but about all these businesses that can be put onto the ocean, getting energy from the ocean and things like that. And that seems to be a really important component that you can say, “Hey, do you wanna live in on the ocean?” and maybe some people you’ll find at a libertarian party convention will say yes, but the question of whether or not a business would go out there and build the kind of infrastructure and make money out of the ocean in order to build more and more and scale the problem up. What kind of businesses are interested in this now? And you, have you seen a growth in the amount of businesses that are looking at the sea for various, whether it’s energy or getting out of the regulatory environment and stuff like that?

43:52 Joe Quirk: Yes, as you very smartly point out, seasteading is not an ideology, it’s a technology that requires a business model to pay for people to build it and float out there and actually move out there. So the people most interested in us, and yes, there is a constant acceleration of people coming to us with their ideas about the type of business they’d like to float, the type of technology they could develop. So to run through them quickly, it’s certainly algae farmers and seaweed farmers. It’s absolutely medical researchers, including mainstream ones who are like… Even if I can move our experiments out onto a seastead for six months and then bring them back and go through the whole regulatory process of the FDA, that could save a major pharmaceutical company $100 million. People in the industry have actually told me this. So, we build factories worth a billion dollars just to produce one drug, we’ll pay for a seastead too. And certainly, people working in material science. One of the biggest business models is simply ecotourism and people wanting to be in an incubation hub where other people are working to be pioneers. There’s people with that wanna sell flagging rights. If you just think about, if you had a cruise ship that never docked and floated out there permanently that could be its own nation.

45:36 Joe Quirk: There’s all sorts of ways to rethink how your business would work in a different sort of regulatory environment. And one of the big ones is definitely floating hospitals. Devi Shetty who I feature in the book, who’s Mother Teresa’s former heart surgeon. He’s been called The Henry Ford of heart surgery. Just a huge humanitarian, has just saved many, many lives with his low‐​cost heart surgery in India. He actually said in The Economic Times that the best place to have a hospital is floating off shore an existing American city. And given that he doesn’t have that, he’s already built a health city in the Cayman Islands. So businesses are already flying their employees down there to get their knee transplant while on vacation in the Cayman Islands because it’s cheaper to do it that way with a butler and a concierge service than it is to have them get their knee replacement surgery in the US. So there’s innovators trying to get outside the old regulatory structures in pretty much every business and industry you can name that you would need to build society from the ground up and we can even do it from the water up. So you name it, somebody in that industry is reaching out to us and they tend to be the most innovative and entrepreneurial sports.

47:07 Trevor Burrus: Now, as I’ve mentioned, you are very optimistic throughout the whole book and we often ask our guests if they’re optimistic, because we have guests who have apocalyptic predictions about various things, but you seem optimistic. So is that accurate? Do you think that… Would you be surprised if by 2050 there wasn’t some substantial seasteading presence in the world?

47:32 Joe Quirk: Well, I like to think that I’m not an optimist, I like to think that I look at the evidence and do my best to determine what’s most likely. And I’m very influenced by Matt Ridley who wrote The Rational Optimist. Incidentally, he blurbed the seasteading book. I’m very proud of that. And his book is very much about just look at the evidence. Does it say that the apocalypse is coming? Or does it say that things are trucking along okay? Or does the evidence suggest that things are spectacularly getting better, in pretty much every measure of well‐​being we can measure globally? And surprise, surprise, it defies human intuitions, everything is getting much, much better in most areas. I’m interested in seasteading, and the startup’s governance, Startup Societies movement, ’cause I think governance is the most important service and it’s the thing that’s getting worse, and worse, and worse. And I don’t think humanity can survive unless we solve that problem.

48:36 Joe Quirk: But I’m also influenced by Nassim Taleb, which is, you can look at all the trends and say, it’s all getting spectacularly better, but the thing that could set us back is a black swan. It’s something you and I are not gonna talk about. Just like the solutions are beyond our imaginings, the thing that could completely screw us up is something we’re not talking about. Who knows? Some cloud of methane gas below the Earth’s crust that could be an earthquake and it could be released and we’d all be wiped out, and none of us were worried about it. So all the trends suggest that we have a lot to be positive about. The trends in governance and fiat currencies, I think, are very negative. But I think blockchain tech and seasteading and Startup Societies could be solving that problem. I think it’s looking up. I think our children and grandchildren will be much wealthier than the wealthiest people today. But there could be some black swan that comes out of nowhere and screws up everything. So I hope I’m an optimist, because the evidence suggests I should be an optimist.


50:00 Trevor Burrus: Thanks for listening. Free Thoughts is produced by Tess Terrible. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, please rate and review us on iTunes. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.