Seasteaders Take to the Land in Honduras

Seasteading guru Patri Friedman has stepped down from the Seasteading Institute (which still promotes the creation of floating new nations to experiment with different governance systems) and is now running Future Cities Development, Inc., dedicated to creating charter cities with their own governance systems within the borders of Honduras. 

Fast Company has a report on the effort, which:

aims to create new cities from scratch (on land this time) governed by "cutting-edge legal systems." The startup may have found its first taker in Honduras, whose government amended its constitution in January to permit the creation of special autonomous zones exempt from local and federal laws. Future Cities has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to build a city in one such zone starting next year....

Future Cities follows this approach, describing its mission as bringing “Silicon Valley’s spirit of innovation to the implementation of cutting-edge legal systems in new cities," most likely in the role of the cities’ master developer. Citing laissez-faire entrepots such as Hong Kong and Singapore as examples, the company’s founders believe that strong property rights and business-friendly regulation are key to creating jobs, stimulating investment, and lifting millions out of poverty, a la China’s special economic zones....

...Future Cities is modeling itself on “charter cities.” The brainchild of New York University economist Paul Romer (read his thoughts on FCI here), a charter city combines a host nation’s vacant land (in this case, Honduras) with the legal system and institutions of another (e.g. Canada) and residents drawn from anywhere. Romer’s central insight is that good governance is transplantable—rather than wait for a basket case nation to come around begging, a charter city could help show it the way, as Hong Kong did for Deng Xiaoping.

Do check Michael Strong in the comment thread of Fast Company's article correcting some errors and misapprehensions in the full original piece (not the parts I quoted above).

Reason's Ron Bailey interviewed charter city mastermind Paul Romer back in December 2001.

I have been reporting on Seasteading world doings in Reason early and often, as per this 2009 feature on the idea, and on-the-scene reporting on the first and second Emphemerisle festivals, launched originally by Seasteaders.

Tate Watkins blogged last month on another former Seasteader's business venture, Blueseed, aiming to build floating tech and business complexes in nonterritorial waters off the coast of San Francisco.

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  • Spoonman.||

    I'm not aware of any wholly vacant land in Honduras that is habitable. Will the group be acquiring land there or will the government kick poor people out?

  • NEW, IMPROVED Neo-Colonialism||

    City-Statism whitewashed now with more natural liberty!

  • BakedPenguin||

    Fat hypocrite, rapaciously eating enough to feed a couple Honduran families!

  • Jason Godesky's...||

  • ||

    hahahhahaah what a fat fuck! Good luck storing the 10 lbs of lipids in your chins by foraging bearies in the gamboltopia of Pittsburgh.

  • Ska||

    This is how Shadowrun began.

  • Joe M||

    Actually, this sounds somewhat like Neal Stephenson's corporate micro-nations in Snow Crash. If that were to come about, it would be two huge predictions he nailed, the other, of course, being MMOs.

  • cynical||

    Sounds more like New Vegas to me. I thought the franchulates were much smaller than city-sized. Like, office park sized, maybe.

  • ||

    Will this work? No, but is it a nice thought? Sure.

  • Ice Nine||

    Citing laissez-faire entrepots such as Hong Kong and Singapore as examples, the company’s founders believe that strong property rights and business-friendly regulation are key to creating jobs, stimulating investment, and lifting millions out of poverty, a la China’s special economic zones....

    If Chinese were as indolent as Latin Americans or were Latin Americans as inherently industrious as are Chinese, this comparison would mean something. As it is...

  • ||

    Double racist? Can I get a ruling please.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Not racist. Stereotyping =/= racism.

  • ||

    Sorry, but implying that beaners are "indolent" is racist without supporting evidence.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Indolent: not racist.
    Beaner: racist!

  • Ice Nine||

    Shit, I thought you were joking. Do you suppose that living, working and doing business in Panama for six years would provide me sufficient evidence? (Who can guess what the answer will be?)

  • Ice Nine||

    Oh, and I wasn't "implying" anything - I was flat out stating the fact.

  • ||

    Shit, I thought you were joking.

    And you would have been right. (Hence the "beaner" comment while crying racism)

  • Ice Nine||

    Well, that could just as easily pass for serious and sardonic. But, glad to know I wasn't really encountering a tedious PC type.

  • ||

    I've been called a lot of things. "Tedious PC type" has not been one of them.

  • Suki||

    Tedious PC type

  • ||

    Please take no note of the remark I made some moments ago.

  • Eyeore||

    It'll never work. They're not going to make it (brays).

  • Eyeore||

    It's no accident that I'm the symbol for the Democratic Party.

  • Eyeore||

    In all seriousness though, I like the idea. I just wonder if libertopia can be transplanted successfully. Liberty tends to evolve (or devolve) out of already existing institutions.

  • This Dave||

    They'd better put heavy weaponry way up on the list of first things to acquire. The Honduran legislature's word won't mean squat once some serious wealth is created.

  • Badges||

    We don nee no stenking badges!

  • ||

    Why do some of you think it won't work? The only reason I can see why would be when the Honduran government changes, those greedy cunts will go after the prosperous towns for as much moola as they can get their grubby hands on.

  • ||

    That's the only reason you need...

  • Spanky||

    Yes, the Honduran govt could get grabby or -- on behalf of special interests threatened by political or economic competition from the new cities -- stabby.

    In addition, establishing the legal framework for this sort of city will be a hugely complex and uncertain undertaking. Screw-ups are inevitable. Getting the framework right may require a lot of experimentation.

    Those caveats aside, I'd love to see this project succeed.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Why do some of you think it won't work?

    Because it entails building a city from scratch, presumably in a place that doesn't have the advantages that would have prompted a city to emerge there in the past. Also, I don't think they'll have the long period of benign neglect that Hong Kong had.

    I mean, it's possible to come up with scenarios where it'll work. But I'd rather Honduras deregulated an existing city, y'know?

  • ||

    I mean, it's possible to come up with scenarios where it'll work. But I'd rather Honduras deregulated an existing city, y'know?

    But what about the rights of the people already in that city? Do they just get screwed out of their way of life?

    The only way it will work is if it starts from scratch. That way all the participants have skin in the game and there is no coercion.

    Falling under the auspices of an existing government, even if initially loosely, is why this will most likely fail.

  • Sailor||

    No doubt about it, given fact. Been there, done that.

  • ||

    Definitely seems easier than building a floating city.

    Although, I would still think it's easier to take over a smaller island first.

    If you combined a financial center with access to drugs, gabling, and prositutuion, you would be minting cash.

  • Eyeore||

    Didn't the Republic of Tonga seize a small island from a group of would be libertopians shortly after they had set up camp?

  • Name Nomad||

    Yes.

  • Suki||

    Time to give it another try. Just how tough are those Tongans anyway? The people on this thread a probably better armed than those Tongans!

  • ||

  • Gibreel||

    They didn't even use force: just did a haka and the pioneers ran off like little girls. I think I read this in Brian's book "Radicals for Capitalism":

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TAPbvBzbqU

  • Smokin' Joe||

    Sure it wasn't this one that scared 'em off?:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

  • Coeus||

    Didn't the Republic of Tonga seize a small island from a group of would be libertopians shortly after they had set up camp?

    Every time it's been tried, the nearest government comes in and takes over. (France did it once too, I believe). I think it's happend 3 times in all, and every time it's the same.

    I mean, come on. How can those governments continue to function while there's this shining example of freedom off the coast?

  • Suki||

    Like a natural Sealand? Looks like they are making a comeback.

  • Joe M||

    Finally, we get our own Somalia!

  • ||

    Why not just purchase an uninhabited island off the coast of some Latin American country with the understanding that you will no longer be a part of the nation?

    Louisiana Purchase? Alaska? Gadsden Purchase? And those places were inhabited.

  • ||

    Agreed, this seems the best bet.

  • ||

    Good luck with that "understanding that you will no longer be a part of the nation".

  • ||

    It would have to be negotiated up front. Find a country with a bunch of uninhabited islands and make them an offer at about 10x the market rate.

    It would take some deep pockets, but it's hardly outside the realm of possibility.

  • Coeus||

    It would take some deep pockets, but it's hardly outside the realm of possibility.

    Only if you use those deep pockets to buy a nuke.

  • Skr||

    This^^^^

  • This Dave||

    Wasn't there talk of Greece selling off islands awhile back? If there's ever been a time and place for a nation to look favorably on the idea....

    But of course, they'd just see it as another group to pay for Greeks not working.

  • Eyeore||

    It's a good idea until said Latin American country decides that small island actually belongs to them. Especially if it becomes successful. See my post above.

  • ||

    Sign a treaty with another nation to protect you for a fee. Preferably sign it wit a nation that is far away and has a big, mean fucking Navy.

  • junyo||

    There's a word for that. It's called a colony. Otherwise, you're just at the mercy of the nearby country, AND your protectors with the "big, mean fucking Navy"?

    The ONLY way it works is if, Day fucking One, you're strapped well enough to make the over under on trying to take it from you un-worthwhile.

  • cynical||

    Well, this should provide an instructive lesson in the fact that basing a city on the legal system of a successful nation and then populating that city with people that don't share that successful nation's attitudes and values is a recipe for failure.

  • Bam!||

    Doesn't that imply that open borders immigration would be a failure as well?

  • INFORG||

    Having been to Honduras, I think it is as good a place as any to try. Although pretty much third-worldly down there, it has a nice climate, ocean and mountain, and a small (but corrupt) governmental infrastructure.

    I am not sure if prostitution, gambling and drugs are legal there, but I can tell you first hand nobody seems to be worried too much about any of them. The exchange rate was/is awesome there. If I were single again, I'd be signing up - that place was a blast!

    Its like the free state project except with dope and hookers!!!

  • Gojira||

    Maybe my experience was colored by having to work with the host nation gov't, but I couldn't stand Honduras.

  • Free Statism!||

    Funny, every day.

  • Sailor||

    Neither drugs nor prostitution are legal in Honduras but they are more prevalent than grains of sand on the beautiful beaches.

  • ||

    I hear they've got the second worst murder rate in the world after El Salvador thanks largely to the war on drugs. There seems to be a high risk that pervasive and vicious organized crime syndicates would just take over and the government would end up deautonomizing it.

  • Gojira||

    Finally something I can comment on with at least a little first-hand knowledge, unlike the usual crap I spew out.

    Been to Honduras on an infrastructure building project for some poor villages after a hurricane when I was in the army (yes, we do shit like that).

    My "local partner" was a 15-yr old kid with an AK and a scar from his ear to his chin. All I'm gonna say is, that place is fucked up from the ground up.

    And my wife is from HK. Been there a couple of times, going again this coming March. Not sure why small-gov't types fetishize it. Sure it's easy as hell to start a business, but there's also a ton of pollution (way worse than anything I've ever seen in the states), and organized crime there is bad. I mean much worse than you're imagining. My wife's family actually decided to move here in the early 90s after the local mafia started scrounging around the schoolyard playground looking for new street-level peons.

  • ||

    We should get dunphy's opinion on this. I think he once said that he was the President of Honduras. I just can't remember if it was before he was a
    fireman
    rock star
    big wave surfer
    professional gambler

  • Coeus||

    You left out day trader and professional athlete.

  • ||

    I know he has trained professional athletes. I never knew he was one.

    How did he find the time to court his wife...Morgan Fairchild?

  • Coeus||

    (I can't believe I have to ask an old-timer this, but...) From whence does this "Morgan Fairchild" meme originate?

  • ||

    Jon Lovitz's character on SNL that was a habitual liar and exaggerator. He used to always say, "My wife...uh...Morgan Fairchild."

  • Coeus||

    Ahh. Much thanks.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Yeaaahhhh... That's the ticket!

  • ||

    Welcome to Mr.Lee's Greater Hong Kong, Mr. Protagonist

  • Kolohe||

    I have the same reservations about reservations as some commenters above (i.e. what if Honduras decides to alter the deal?) but this seems a lot more credible project than seasteading. I wish it well.

  • Sailor||

    I lived and did business in Honduras for over 30 years and I can tell you that any contract made with the government isn't worth a crock.

  • ||

    Wouldn't it be a better use of political effort to attempt to convince US legislators to allow these autonomous zones?

    Basically, the area could reimburse the federal government for military protection (to be raised by whatever ideal means is chosen), but otherwise the area avoids federal taxes and will not receive federal money or participate in Federal programs. Residents do not receive Social Security or Medicare and do not pay into it. Federal laws do not apply to the area, and each area would create and enforce its own Constitution, have its own high court, etc. Trade and travel would be wide open between the areas and the US proper. Set up the areas on undeveloped land so you aren't forcing anyone out who might not want to live there.

    I don't know if the political water has been tested to see if this is even feasible, but I don't see what it could hurt to try. It's the next best thing to secession rights.

  • Nike Dunk Shoes||

    thanks

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