Joe Quirk has been described as a “seavangelist”; in his work with The Seasteading Institute, he argues that new floating nation states, facilitated by the institute’s innovative technology, will revolutionize the world. Founded in 2008, with a philanthropic grant of $500,000 by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, the Seasteading Institute (TSI) presents a libertarian vision of the future where this new technology will provide an opportunity for new societies to offer the greatest degree of economic, political, and social freedoms to their citizens.
Quirk notes that the ethos of seasteading was inspired by the legendary Burning Man Festival, which takes place every year in the Nevada desert. It was here that Quirk (a 14 time “burner”) became acquainted with Patri Friedman, grandson of the legendary University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. Quirk and Friedman envisioned transforming the concept of Burning Man’s improvised, do-it-yourself societies, into floating nation states on the high seas. Friedman and Quirk cowrote a book outlining their vision, entitled: Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians.
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Very soon, this theoretical concept will be ready to be put into action. TSI has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the French Polynesian government, and the first “seasteads” will soon be built on a small scale. Quirk notes that French Polynesia, while larger than Western Europe, is 99% water, and has also been affected of late by rising sea levels, making it the perfect partnership to experiment with TSI’s revolutionary technology.
Yet, one might ask, why seasteading as opposed to a land-based quest for new societies and freedoms? What about the logistical challenges of operating, someday in the future, in international waters, 200 miles off shore?
Quirk suggests, “We don’t believe in designing such a process from the top down, we believe in providing the platforms for other people to discover the solutions in a decentralized way; so by starting small and scaling up, we can create the technology, and this isn’t an abstraction, it’s already been demonstrated by cruise ships which are in practice self-governing…so we don’t need to argue about politics on a cruise ship, all you need is the power to choose a better offer.”
TSI also sees great potential in seasteads to present opportunities for people to escape war, poverty, and corruption. Quirk observes that, “People in dysfunctional governments all over the world are trying to get out of them and take jobs elsewhere,” noting that 85% of Dubai‘s workers are foreign, and that the temporary concept of cruise ships, and the employment they provide, could be made permanent with new seasteading technology.
There is also great potential for replacing fossil fuels with biofuels on the high seas: lots of space, lots of sunlight, and lots of nutrients to grow algae for biofuel. Quirk is also excited about wave energy technologies and ocean thermal conversion, where the temperature difference between warmer surface waters and cooler deep waters is used to generate electricity.
But Quirk and TSI ultimately are agnostic as to what type of society will thrive on the high seas. They provide the technology, but take a neutral position when it comes to the ideology of potential seasteaders and their societies: As Quirk notes, “Through voluntary choice and market competition we will discover what works best.”