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Seasteading

There’s a famous quip attributed to Mark Twain; he advised readers to buy land because they weren’t making it any more. Since two-thirds of our planet is ocean, there’s still a lot of real estate out there, though admittedly rather damp and often inclement.

The idea behind seasteading is to establish miniature independent countries out at sea, perhaps initially on refitted oil rigs or cruise liners. The word is clearly a play on homesteading. It’s far from new: it first appeared in the Stratton Report, a US study of 1969 that developed a plan for innovative use of the sea, as reported here:

One proposal of Stratton’s group attempts to revive the spirit of homesteading. To encourage aquaculture, recreation projects and other uses of the sea, the commission recommended the leasing of submerged lands on easy terms to small investors. It proposes to call the arrangement “seasteading.”

Time, 24 Jan. 1969.

The idea was taken up by individuals who were more interested in the potential for creating communities independent of existing national governments and what were seen as their onerous interference with personal liberty than in productive uses of the seas. Several tries at extra-national seaborne institutions followed, including various pirate radio stations and Sealand, based on a World War Two sea fort in the Thames estuary.

This century, a key focus for the movement has been the Seasteading Institute, founded in 2008 in California by Patri Friedman, which has gained from the support and investment of Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal. It was in the news in August as the result of a widely-quoted feature in Details magazine. The vocabulary has extended: a seasteading community is called a seastead and its promoters and inhabitants are seasteaders.

The ultimate goal, [explains] Patri Friedman, grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, a former Google engineer and the man behind a concept he calls “seasteading,” is to “open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government,” to build a country where there is no welfare, little gun control, no minimum wage and looser building codes.

The Globe and Mail, 19 Aug. 2011.

Friedman called on his fellow libertarians to give up on the whole idea of the democratic nation-state and join his movement in favor of “seasteading,” or the creation of new, microscopic sovereign states on repurposed oil derricks, where people who think that “Atlas Shrugged” is really cool can be in the majority for a change.

Salon, 30 Aug. 2011. Atlas Shrugged is a dystopian novel by Ayn Rand, published in 1957.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 17 Sep. 2011

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 17 September 2011.