Artifact: Hope Floats

Homesteading on the high seas


Credit: Valdemar I. Duran

Seasteading—homesteading on the high seas—is an idea that has long attracted libertarians, along with others who would like to see a little more competition between forms of social organization. The idea is to get out into international waters and set up a floating outpost (or 12, or 1,200) from which people can come and go, experimenting with different types of legal, social, and contractual arrangements. The basic unit, consisting of essential infrastructure and plenty of space to moor your boat, might be something like the platform imagined above.

In April, PayPal founder Peter Thiel announced a $500,000 investment in the Seasteading Institute. Thiel's co-conspirator and resident big thinker is none other than the impeccably credentialed Patri Friedman, the son of David "Machinery of Freedom" Friedman and grandson of Milton "Capitalism and Freedom" Friedman. Patri, 31, hopes to dodge the curse that has beset other watery "new country" projects such as Minerva Reef, an uninhabited dredged island "invaded" by neighboring Tonga and eventually more or less reclaimed by the sea.

Friedman says he'll be the floating autonomous entity's first resident. Despite the seemingly radical idea he's championing, he sees himself as a practical guy. "Starting a new country is actually a much less hard problem than, say, a libertarian winning a U.S. election," he says.