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LES ECHOS

Ocean Micronations, The Libertarian Floating Utopia

The U.S.-based Seasteading Institute is pursuing the notion of "startup governments" and the opportunity for like-minded people to live in shared offshore communities. Could man-made island colonies be our future?

Vincent Callebaut's
Vincent Callebaut's
Julien Damon

In the early 16th century, humanist Thomas More envisioned Utopia as a fictional island whose organization principles could inspire the world. Now, at a time when all the world's natural islands have been discovered, some U.S. libertarians aspire to create new ones so they can better organize the world.

For the island of Utopia, More contemplated a system of perfect equality where private property was banned. On the islands dreamed by these U.S. entrepreneurs, who are keen on absolute liberalism and high tech, one principle rules: freedom for the shareholder citizens.

With the financial backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early Facebook investor, the Seasteading Institute was created by former Google engineer Patri Friedman, who also happens to be the grandson of late economist Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize laureate. Relying both on scientific progress and grey areas concerning the status of residents in international waters, Friedman and his institute are trying to install new artificial islands in the sea to test innovative forms of government.

On social networks and in the press, the project is invariably presented with amazing imagery — the sort that every architect knows how to produce — of beautiful skies and green archipelagos of residential platforms.

A team of designers and graphic designers, together with engineers, biologists, and legal and financial advisers, have thoughtfully modeled and calculated everything. In July, the institute announced that with $167 million in investments, it would be possible to accommodate 300 people on a reinforced concrete platform of 3,000 square meters by the year 2020.

This first module would later be joined by others, offering a whole range of services and equipments, from swimming pools, hotels and gardens to office buildings, heliports and docks. The different units would be assembled as an independent city, where developers say the rent shouldn't be higher than in New York or London. By 2050, the Institute hopes that tens of millions of inhabitants will live in these aquatic and idyllic metropolitan configurations.

But there's surely still a long way to go from the announcement to the project's realization, especially given that while a lot is being said about the subject, nothing concrete has been built yet.

Still, constructing these islands represents a lot more than just a technical feat. It's a true realization of the anarcho-capitalism ideal: cities, or micronations, freed from all taxation, democratic elections, law and visas, all competing with one another, resulting in the emergence of the most efficient models of government. The Seastanding Institute's project is based on one big idea: being able to choose your government the same way you choose your cellphone, paving the way for "startup governments."

Critics may laugh at the technological challenge, but this isn't even the most difficult part. Today's giant ships and offshore installations prove that we can conquer the sea. And those who see it as just a slightly crazy fantasy for nutty millionaires are missing the point. Indeed, the creation of such islands, which at this point may or may not materialize, is not just about wanting to make money or to runaway from the world.

Their ambition lies in what the institute calls the "eight great moral imperatives," namely to feed the hungry, enrich the poor, cure the sick, live in balance with nature, power civilization sustainably, clean the atmosphere, restore the oceans and stop fighting. No less.

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