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.