Last Friday, Milton Friedman's grandson Patri Friedman and his fledgling Seasteading Institute had their first ever conference. Equipped with half a million dollars from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, the Institute wants to eventually build a fixed, independent structure off the coast of San Francisco called Ephemerisle that will function as an anarcho-capitalist utopia. The idea of a ocean-based civilization isn't a new one, and the Institute has heaps of failure to learn from. Click for the best and worst waterworlds.The history of ocean civilizations isn't particularly bright, but it is remarkable just how many ways people can think of building on the ocean.
What and Where?: Sealand, a platform off Suffolk, England. What Was The Inspiration? A small abandoned military base after WWII, Sealand was situated in international waters. Former English major Paddy Roy Bates occupied the island and won the resulting legal case in a British court. He named himself King and his son Prince, and the nation-state went on from there. An independent company, HavenCo, invested in Sealand but pulled out shortly thereafter, citing fraud. Their business plan currently consists of trying to get bought by a major tech company. Why Did It Fail?: Constitutional monarchy may not be the worst form of government, but this micronation was doomed by its size: it is so tiny as to be dependent on the goodwill of other nations. Still, Sealand was certainly the most successful of these projects at establishing sovereignty. What and Where? The Minerva Reefs, an artificial island south of Tonga What Was The Inspiration?: Las Vegas real estate magnate Michael Oliver tried building an artificial island in the early seventies by building up sand on a reef as part of a micronation that would be a libertarian paradise. The reefs were submerged at high tide, but it was thought if properly built up they would remain above sea-level. Why Did It Fail?: Like other sea mounts, the Minerva Reefs came under the jurisdiction of neighboring nations, including hostiles from Tonga. Unwilling to fight, the project was abandoned. In 2003 a new movement of Minervans arose with...a website. As of 2005, Tonga and Fiji were still squabbling over the area.
What and Where? Oceania, an independent horseshore-shaped harbor in the Carribbean. What Was The Reason? A hopeful libertarian Eric Klien and architect Jim Albea conceived of Oceania in early 1993 after a botched election in Nevada soured them on the U.S. The proposed images inspired the Seasteading Institute's co-founder Wayne Gramlich. Why Did It Fail? Their website admits "the project ended due to lack of interest in April of 1994," and with an anarcho-capitalist focus, it was only likely to attract a certain type of person – a problem the Seastanding Institute will also be dealing with. Oceania founder Klien is onto a new project called The Lifeboat Foundation that looks to build a nanoshield and otherwise preserve the existence of humanity.
What and Where?: New Utopia, a chain of proposed 'islands' on concrete platforms near the Caymans. What Was The Inspiration?: The concept's inventor is Howard Turney, who identified himself as Prince Lazarus Long and was prosecuted by the SEC for selling national bonds for $1500 each. Prince Lazarus also attempted to sue one of the people he had worked with for $10 billion, and it's really not a good idea to burn bridges when you're on a seafaring utopia. Why Did It Fail?: New Utopia has a functioning website and per Prince Lazarus Long is still open for donations, but detailed illustrations of what might have been are about all this project has left. Yes, this project has no chance of being realized, but Friedman summarizes the larger problem presented by New Utopia and the Minerva Reef, saying, "We are very doubtful that any sea mount raised above surface level will remain unclaimed by the existing sovereign nations for very long."
What and Where?: Freedom Ship would circle the globe and stop at international ports of call. What Was The Inspiration?: CEO Norman Nixon started the project in the late 1990s with the idea of it housing 30,000 people. Visions of a massive population that would make it a full-time cruise ship abound, and appear to have no basis in reality. At one point Nixon openly suggested the project would cost over $10 billion. Why Did It Fail?: It hasn't entirely flopped yet, but come on. With unrealistic expectations of a casino, a hotel and a full-on commercial district, the Freedom Ship is simply too massive a plan to sustain itself. They have, on the other hand, built a 400 pound model. In Patri Friedman's proposal for the Ephemerisle, he hopes to learn from the stalled and non-existent projects of the past:
I think that these projects all suffered from too much ambition. They attempted to tackle a difficult problem all at once, rather than dividing it into realistically small pieces. Realistically small, for a country, may not merely mean space, it may also mean time. Rather than attempting to solve the paradox of finding good land that no government wants, or the thorny engineering problems of building economical barge-cities or floating platforms, I propose the Ephemerisle: a temporary, autonomous, anarcho-capitalist community in international waters.