Pirate Government Pirates

Econ Talk is my new addiction. Today I listened to Patri's interview on seasteading and I had a thought on the problem of piracy.

One of the obvious difficulties with seasteading that occurs to everyone when they first hear of it is the problem of pirates. Seasteading supporters often respond to these fears by noting that pirates will not have an incentive to attack seasteads because the vessels will provide little booty of value compared to the pirates' normal prey, cargo ships.

But this answer is incomplete. There is one obvious piece of booty of high value on a seastead, namely the seastead itself. What pirate wouldn't kill to have a permanent, mobile, highly-engineered, self-sustaining sea base?

My objection is not unanswerable. I get the impression that most modern pirate operations are small and located in coastal waters, so it isn't hard to avoid or outgun them. Pirates would have to make major changes to their organizational strategy to pursue well-defended seasteads in deep ocean waters. But given the value of a seastead, making the change may just cross the 1:1 benefit/cost ratio threshold.

Share this

Another nasty thought

It's just occurred to me that there is another kind of pirate-friendly booty on seasteads. What's one of the major, and most obnoxious, income-streams for modern Somali pirates?

Seasteads are not, certainly to begin with, going to be even remotely self-sufficient, let alone inward-looking. They'll be highly dependent on their connections with, and the value they can add to, the outside world. Also, it seems plain to me that the first wave of seasteaders will be disproportionately either wealthy in their own right, or possessed of many wealthy friends, or most likely both.

Doesn't this make them extremely attractive targets for ransom? I'd think that a seastead would have to be at least well-defended enough to make this an unattractive proposition.

The value to the pirates of seizing the stead itself worries me a lot less, since it is a large and obvious object which lots of very powerful people would have strong incentives to destroy as soon as it fell into pirate hands. From the pirates' point of view, it's nothing but a trap - the best thing they could do with it would surely be to exact a ransom for not scuttling it on the spot, and then bugger off again post-haste!

The problem with that

The problem with that analysis is that they would have a long way to bugger off if they raided seasteads in middle of deep ocean. The solution for the pirates is to use a submarine, or to get away under the cover of a storm.

I lean towards believing seasteads could be defended easily enough to make the costs of raiding higher than the benefits, but I'm not sure. In particular the benefit side is uncertain to me.

States are more of a problem

States are more of a problem than pirates.

A truly free seastead would immediately become the locus of activity considered utterly and massively illegal anywhere else. States, particularly the United States, would intervene, ending the seastead's autonomy. International law would be no defense. A seastead could avoid this by enforcing the pertinent laws, but it would then not be free.

The problem of creating a free society remains.

We already have something much like seasteads: cruise ships. One might say that a cruise ship is a highly mobile seastead that relies heavily on the tourist trade to sustain itself, not unlike some small nations, I would imagine. My point is this: just how free are the cruise ships? Does the drug trade thrive on them? Copyright violation? Unregulated banking? As far as I know, the extent of the freedom is gambling, which you can do in Las Vegas. Sure, the cruise ship enters ports, but if international waters were truly a safe haven, the good stuff could be kept far at sea.

Judging by design concept, a

Judging by design concept, a seastead could be easily defended by armed residents or a small dedicated defense force.

I completely agree with Constant on this. I add that government would be far too interested in maintaining the monopoly on land and force to just stand aside as people grasp for freedom. I imagine a bucket of crabs, the largest crab in the bucket is too big to escape, so it pulls the others back down off the lip and into the fray.

You could not count on public outrage as a deterrent for the Feds. The other crabs just sit there, staring at you as the big guy pulls you back down.

This is probably the same reason that the moon and other celestial bodies have been claimed (by treaty) "for the benefit of all humanity". Heaven forbid somebody gets out of the bucket, where the IRS cant find them.

Call me a pragmatist, but I

Call me a pragmatist, but I think it would be most wise for early seasteads to refrain from making their economy the epicenter of the cocaine and bootleg trade. No need to antagonize the land govs at the most vulnerable phase in the venture.

Where I think I disagree with some people is that I don't see seasteads as a way to bring about a free society, but as a way to generate better governance through competition in the governance industry. As I've mentioned before, I think the mean seastead will be a lot more free than our current landgovs. But if the concept really catches on, I doubt most seastead colonies would approach anything like libertopia.

"Call me a pragmatist, but I

"Call me a pragmatist, but I think it would be most wise for early seasteads to refrain from making their economy the epicenter of the cocaine and bootleg trade."

I agree. I would give this same advice to a seasteader and also to anyone living inside the US: do not make your seastead, or your house in New Jersey, the regional epicenter of the drug trade. But that's just the problem. It suggests that living in a seastead is a lot like living in a house in New Jersey. The point of a seastead is that it's supposed to give you freedom. It doesn't.

Better governance? But the problem of the seastead, as you and I have just agreed, is that in practice it is unlikely to be sovereign. If not sovereign, then not really a substitute for existing government.

The point of a seastead is

The point of a seastead is that it's supposed to give you freedom. It doesn't.

I think the seastead ecology gives you freedom after it reaches a certain critical mass. It certainly doesn't give you freedom in one step, and it will be captive to the whims of current governments in the early fragile stages.

There is no magic teleporter to freedom, but there are reasonable steps in the right direction.

I don't see that either.

I don't see that either. Houses in New Jersey don't get you freedom after reaching critical mass. What's so special about seasteads?

Hah!

What's so special about seasteads you ask? The price and the view. That and the media has the potential to referring to it as a compound.

As for critical mass being required; unfortunately the same is true for traditional agorism, I fail to see how it would reach critical mass and kick in, yo. The cool thing about both agorism and seasteads is that they would theoretically create communities that could ride out a global currency crisis created by centralized government, thus positioning themselves to be at the head of the table when the world re-stabilizes.

The big difference is, before any government collapse the seasteads would be positioning themselves for a potential Waco at Sea incident. Agorism on the other hand is more of a distributed system - when the raids hit they only grab one house at a time - not a whole floating city.

Of pirates and Vikings, dwarves and hobbits

What pirate wouldn't kill to have a permanent, mobile, highly-engineered, self-sustaining sea base?

My objection is not unanswerable. I get the impression that most modern pirate operations are small and located in coastal waters, so it isn't hard to avoid or outgun them. Pirates would have to make major changes to their organizational strategy to pursue well-defended seasteads in deep ocean waters. But given the value of a seastead, making the change may just cross the 1:1 benefit/cost ratio threshold.

What Viking would have an interest in obliterating an entire population and taking over, rather than continuing the lucrative life of piracy? An aging Viking. Thus a generation of Vikings settled in northern France to become the Dukes of Normandy (“land of the Norse”). Of course, the military skills that they employed during the early part of their careers remained useful for the purpose of fending off attacks from later Vikings.

Similarly, I would expect seasteads to fall prey to pirates – both as a source of ransom and as a nice place to live when they want to give up the strenuous life of a pirate. Of course, a pirate-occupied seastead would be a pretty obvious target for – well, for whom? Other pirates, sure. But how about law enforcement?

Should seastead owners (or their heirs) expect to be protected by coercive power of a state? Or should we expect these heirs to form their own band of pirates and engage in self-help to dislodge the pirates?

“Ahoy. My name is Thorin, son of Thor, King over the Ocean. Vacate the premises that belonged to my father, or prepare to be boarded by my bugler friend here....”

Law Enforcement would have

Law Enforcement would have no say. Now, lets imagine that the pirates enslave the populace and begin using the 'stead as a base for the slave and drug trade. Would interventionism lead the Government (anyone really) to go and liberate the seastead? By liberate I mean kill anyone who is armed and then occupy and administer the seastead as an extension of empire.

“Ahoy. My name is Thorin, son of Thor, King over the Ocean. Vacate the premises that belonged to my father, or prepare to be boarded by my bugler friend here....”

You just painted a very vivid picture in my mind. Speaking of hobbits, how about they name the first seastead Laketown? The risk of the name being cursed is at a minimum, due to a lack of dragons.

Have any of you people been at sea during a storm?

Just curious.

That's why you put the

That's why you put the seasteads in the doldrums and migrate in an anual pattern to avoid major storm seasons.