Libertarians Building Themselves Islands


Pay Pal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create floating libertarian countries in international waters, according to a profile of the billionaire in Details magazine.

Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. The idea is for these countries to start from scratch–free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details says the experiment would be “a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.”

The way this has been reported in the media casts these people as crazy fringists looking to secede from society, but this idea is more mainstream than many will give it credit for. In fact, federalism was based on this concept.

In 1932, in the Supreme Court ruling on New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis described the states as “laboratories of democracy,” referring to the ability of sovereign states to set their own policies within the overall union of the United States. The states, in fact, compete with their policies and that competition (when it’s allowed to happen) benefits the citizens of the United States as whole.

People and business tend to move away from states with bad policies to states with good policies.

If these “libertarian islands” have any merit, people will move to them. Of course, the one problem the libertarians have is that law necessitates that they do their experimenting out in the middle of the ocean where even people who might like to live in a libertarian community aren’t likely to move.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • robert108

    What a great idea!

  • Jimmmypop

    theve already tried this with an oil rig. it didnt work. maybe it was too close to england?

    regardless, the population of these islands will swell as everyone with money will ‘move’ there.

  • Spartacus

    Sounds like a lot of fun until you see Dennis Hopper and the “smokers” in their old beat up oil tanker on the horizon headed your way. You’re only hope is Kevin Costner shows up on his trimaran.

    • Neiman

      I am probably the only person on earth that liked Waterworld and I have watched it many times.

      • flamemeister

        Who can forget Dennis Hopper’s, “Don’t just stand there!  Kill something!”
        I lived about 8 miles mauka from where the filming of Waterworld took place (Kawaihae Bay).  I even got to play golf with both Dennis Hopper and Kevin Kostner—both golf nuts at the time.  The local folks had great fun as extras and in scamming the Hollywood folk.  The Exxon Valdez bit was something of a groaner, but I believe that the movie did well on DVD.  (Hopper & Kostner camped out for a couple of months at the Mauna Lani resort in $3000/nite + oceanside bungalows [one each]—one of the many reasons the thing cost c. $175,000,000.)

        • Neiman

          I have to admit that in that film, I had the hots for Jeanne Tripplehorn. Sailing the ocean, always in perfect weather with Tripplehorn, there are worse ways to live.

      • Spartacus

        You’re not the only one, GF’s daughter bought me the DVD. For some reason, and no disrespect toward R108, but every time in that movie someone says in a terrified tone “smokers” I think of him ;)

        • Neiman

          I know exactly what you mean.

      • suitepotato

        No wonder you’re not afraid of being damned. They show that movie three times a day in Hell.

        • Neiman

          Well, you should know you are the chiefprojectionist down there!

        • borborygmi

          It is Mad Max on the water.  I give it a thumbs up.

  • Jamermorrow

    Hong Kong is and was similar to this. Free market capitalism in an area surrounded by big government and it flourished. 

    • robert108

      Not really.  Hong Kong is notable for having three of the four essential freedoms.  They had personal, economic and religious freedom, but no political freedom.  It worked due to the benevolence of the govt, which is a rare occurrence, even in this country.  HK was not libertarian.

  • SigFan

    Given that there is very little unoccupied or unowned in some way land left in the world, this is just about the only choice people who wish to go Galt have left to them.  Of course it’s a pretty extreme idea, and I have a hard time imagining it will work out well, but you have to give them points for guts and creativity.

  • Neiman

    1. I just read where the filthy rich are buying their own literal islands.

    2. This is the silly romanticism, escapism of middle aged men wanting their own deserted island where they make the laws to suit themselves, swim, eat fruit all day and fornicate constantly with their own Harem.  In other words, it is juvenile in the extreme.

    3. No matter how hard they try to live free of the rules of man, they cannot escape the laws of God and they are all destined for bitter failure, as did the Hippie Communes of the Sixties, which by the way, like these libertarian islands are really cheap little drug cultures.

    4. Men have always sought to be their own gods, to be free from all authority and this is just more of the same. So, not only is it juvenile, it is self idolatry, the madness of fools.

    It is nuts, but they have they right to be fools, let them be their own gods, but let no one rescue one of them one they get into trouble, faced by many dangers. No medical rescues, no food drops, no water, not anything. If they be gods let them prove it alone.

  • awfulorv

    Why not just sell Eastern Oregon to Israel. They’ll take it, pipe in water now being wasted out to sea from the Columbia river, and make the SOB blossom in no time.

  • VocalYokel

    Are people of like philosophies welcome, or is there an ideological screening process?

    Is there work for those of us who haven’t the wherewithal to retire right now or is this just a haven for rich libertarians?

  • Spartacus

    gamecawai, some users are very unpleasant to read and a pain in the ass but it varies sometimes.

    If you didn’t see that it’s because Rob is a spam killing NINJA!

  • Pg1954ster

    I wonder how long before laws are put in place.