Libertarian Islands

Story here.

Apparently they’re trying to build artificial islands on which to found new nations. New nations featuring “no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.”

The first comment made me chuckle. “I think they made a game like this called Bioshock. Everyone dies…”

Any predictions?

I’m going with the Bioshock reference.

Even uber wealthy Libertarian Island needs maids and plumbers and sewer workers and gardeners and nannies and shop clerks and so on. Where do those people live?

True Libertarianism is a fools game. It is no more workable than true communism is. They will devolve into the same partisan bickering and favoritism as anywhere else and their laws will start looking as restrictive as anyone else’s.

That’s the good ending to this scenario. The bad is lots of people die because of the lack of regulations*, or the place dissolves into tyranny or bloody chaos. Or all three.

  • As one of the more recent comments said:

They could easily all die when their poorly built paradise collapses into the ocean.

I’m betting the building of this “Libertarian paradise” is going to be tightly regulated.

I predict this will turn into yet another libertarian bashing thread.

I can’t wait for the first major storm to devastate the place. I hope that they don’t count on the navy of a huge nation to assist with the rescue.

I think they made a country like this called Somalia. Everyone dies. Except the pirates. Most of them die.

And I think that if you had anything substantive to say in defense of this wack-a-doo idea you would have posted it.

I could see these ‘nations’ become the headquarters for a lot of corporations so that they can skirt environmental and/or tax laws.

But they’re soooo bashable!

I think it’s great that there are people out there willing to experiment with alternative systems. The linked article gives no real information about what they are actually going to do, so it’s not really possible to make predictions, other than the one I made. So far, I’ve been right. It was stupid of me to miss the prediction about “Somalia”, though.

I think Greg Egan had a book along these lines… Teranesia, maybe? And maybe Steven Gould too.

If it’s feasible, I say let them go for it (as long as people are free to leave and they aren’t polluting the ocean and whatnot, of course). If nothing else, it would be an interesting experiment on libertarianism. Much better than the Free State Project.

I’ve always thought that these ‘libertarian islands’ and other attempts to create restricted libertarian enclaves like the ‘Freedom Ship’ were incredibly misguided. The big problem is that tightly enclosed environments in harsh environments are exactly the wrong environments for libertarianism. You need rigid order on a ship or on a small artificial island, because almost all activities are intertwined and it’s impossible to avoid interfering with others when just carrying our your daily activities. They are also tightly constrained in resources, making development difficult.

I suspect that these ideas are driven more by developers and entrepreneurs looking to find a way to extract wealthy libertarians from their money.

But the general idea of finding an area and giving it freedom from regulation, taxes, and other big government is not a ‘wackadoodle’ idea. There is a long history of this. In 1241, the city of Lübeck was given a special dispensation from the king, allowing it to trade freely with other nations and to avoid other regulations. It was also given property rights so it could profit from trade. The result was the start of the Hanseatic League of free city-states, which eventually wound up protecting each other in mutual pacts and protecting their own trade routes. The league worked to expand free trade and to be exempted from tolls normally extracted from trade by the kings of the time. The result was an explosion of trade and a rapid rise in the wealth of the members of the Hanseatic league and the people they traded with.

More recently, Hong Kong was a British experiment in self-governance. Colonial administrator John Cowperthwaite took an explicitly Laissez-Faire approach to Hong Kong administration, refusing to engage in any industrial policy at all. Taxes were kept low, the region was left to determine its own form of governance, and business regulations next to nonexistent. Even today, you can open a business in Hong Kong by filling out a one-page form and turning it in. Then go rent a space and start your business.

China has created prosperity zones freed from state management, and those zones have exploded in wealth.

Paul Romer, husband of Ex-Obama chief economist Christina Romer and a very influential economist himself, has proposed similar ideas to kick-start wealth and trade in the third world: Charter Cities. Explicitly referencing the Hong Kong model, Romer wants countries to find areas of land that are currently not used but which are suitable for development, and zone them off for the development of charter cities. These cities would be exempt from tariffs, regulations, government planning, and taxes. The property would be sold to private investors to build cities. Central planning in the city would be kept to a minimum: things like rules of the road and public sanitation regulations would be determined by the city government, but there would be no explicit zoning or control over business development.

In short, these are very close to the ‘libertarian island’ idea, and very similar to the old Hanseatic League cities in that they would be an enclave of free trade and self-governance inside other countries.

This is an idea that’s being taken very seriously.

Here’s a Q&A With Romer about the idea.

This Page has links to more information, including Romer’s popular TED talk on the subject.

I’m thinking that if this is workable (but I don’t think it is because I don’t think there are really that many working class libertarians), the first thing you’d see is a “tragedy of the commons” type situation where you don’t need plumbers or sewer workers…just dump it into the ocean.

And in pollution. And the occasional literal explosion.

Forget cowbell, we need more threads about libertarianism.

For those playing liberty bingo at home, so far we’ve got:
everyone dies
a reference to Somalia
and a comparison with communism

Completely unlike the rest of China, proof that excessive government control will reduce pollution and explosions. Great example.

And there are probably even fewer who would stay libertarian when they got the chance to be in a libertarian society and discovered that they weren’t going to get to be the rich guy on top.

All fair things to say about libertarianism. People die in large numbers with lax or nonexistent regulations, Somalia is an example of what you get with a really weak state (and I’ve heard it spoken of with approval by libertarians), and libertarianism like Communism is a horribly impractical utopian ideology that can’t help but be a disaster if someone tries to implement it.

Where do you think human waste is currently dumped? Correct me if I’m wrong but most coastal towns send their sewage into the ocean. I know my home town only recently put in a treatment plant.

Currently, lax state and federal laws allow cruise ships to dump untreated sewage from toilets once the ships are three miles from shore.

So once again we have a thread about libertarianism that predicts a bunch of stuff that currently happens. Are you guys living under rocks? Or have you simply never left the US?