Many news outlets are reporting that PayPal founder Peter Thiel is investing more of his billion dollar fortune in a scheme to create floating libertarian city-states in international waters. Physically they would be similar to a large oil platform or artificial island.
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Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties.
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The idea is for these countries to start from scratch–free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place.
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Details says the experiment would be "a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons."

I've always wondered if it's possible for people who make a shit-ton of money in the real world to relocate to exclusive, private island communities and to live as though they are above the law. This experiment should answer that question once and for all.
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Thank you, Peter Thiel.


  • But none dare call it treason or sedition. Enjoy Rapture! A new life awaits you in the off-shore colonies!

  • I, personally, would love to live on a man-made, artificial island, miles from civiization, run by poeple who advocate less regulation in building codes. No, wait. What's the word–HATE. I would hate that shit. Libertarians may very well be the stupidest strain of ideologue there is.

  • What I don't understand is not the fascination with independence or delusions of grandeur, its the simple fact that they could all pack it in to any number of countries around the world and deal with far less cohesive governments. Come join people in the Philippines, the weather is warm year round and the government is virtually totally beholden to big family/business interests. Why do they have to start a new colony? They could move to nearly any other place in the developing southern world and live like royalty. Its just another sign of how strangely ill-informed and out of touch with the world Americans seem to be.

  • we can only hope that they'll remain faithful to their libertarian ideals when their fantasy island encounters difficulties that would require an expensive coast guard/sheriff's department/local search-and-rescue operation.

  • Do Somali pirates have e-mail? I sense a prime new business opportunity in theft and extortion coming up and think they should be informed!

  • I saw some people arguing about this a while ago, and the general conclusion amongst those who weren't idiot libertarians was that this would be hell, and not just because of the ideological horseshit. Amenities as simple as fresh water and electricity would be a logistical nightmare. Rainwater can't provide anywhere near enough to sustain the sort of population they hope to support, meaning they would have to get it shipped in at what I imagine is not exactly a small expense. Someone suggested electrolysing seawater, but that's an absurd idea, given the problems with generating electricity. Small petrol generators – their inevitable sole source of juice – are temperamental enough under ideal conditions on dry land (I once had two fail to start, one after the other, in the same day). Put them on a ship and you have an unstable platform and salt water corrosion (not to mention an inconstant and hugely expensive supply of gas) that's going to absolutely play havoc.

    In exchange for FREEDOM, they're basically going to live in a floating slum.

  • The idea actually makes quite a bit of sense, from a bloodsucking, ruling class point of view:
    1) It would be the ultimate gated community. There wouldn't be any bloody little poor people underfoot, and therefore no social safety net to pay for.
    2) The Lords Of The Sea could still ruthlessley exploit the labor and resources of Third World nations across the globe- yes, that would include the U.S.A.
    3) Their military forces could be provided by mercenaries.
    I would name the first such community Chelsea Towers West, after the exclusive apartment building the Upper Classes inhabited in Soylent Green.

  • The idea is kind of old, for readers of Science Fiction. Try Larry Niven & Steven Barnes' "Saturn's Race" for a look at the concept. As for power, possibly wind, solar, OTEC or long term, mining methane clathrates. If the concept can be made to work, it might be a good thing.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    "…no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons."

    Because, yes, the first thing I'd want on my oil-rig 'Somalia on the Sea' is fewer building restrictions and more weapons.

    Sounds like and entire community of "Darwin Award Winners:"

  • Can we require they renounce their citizenships when they go Gal.. erm "emigrate"? Please say that they will.

    Hmmm… Land, farming, animals, food… Soylent green sounds like a distinct possibility Commrade X.

  • @comrade x, ah, but moving *down* on the socioeconomic ladder is much, much easier than moving *up*. If they have a large enough population and they are reproducing, sooner or later they are going to have *somebody* who fucks up their life badly enough that they become poor (like my cousin who flunked out of college after one semester a couple of years ago, and is now working 12-hour days to pay off the financial aid package that was wasted on him). Besides, somebody has to serve in the capacity of menial labor; I doubt this billionaire dude is going to want to clean his own toilets, milk his own cows, slaughter his own poultry, and harvest his own crops.

  • So are these people going to beg the US Navy for protection when some foreign power shows up on their doorstep with real warships?

  • I'm sure they'd have a servants' quarters somewhere underneath the base of the rig – just above the crashing waves. They'll say come on over! We've got jobs! After all we're the "job creators"! Of course once you get there any pay you make is eaten up by the cost of your food and housing and other necessities but you can always leave – assuming you can afford the cost of the trip back.

  • Why force them to go through all of this trouble? If it gets the Randroids, Paultards, Koch-suckers, and goldbugs out of my internets I'd be more than happy if the U.S. sold them (why not free? soshulizm, that's why) a real island and let them live Lord of the Flies style. Hell, I'd even chip in to ship them there.

  • Libertarians! Stop complaining about taxes here! Move to nivana, the offshore Eden, the state of island bliss! We'll throw farewell parties for you!

    But as to the "ship": wouldn't the design have to include a landing strip? For frequent flights to exclusive golf courses on the mainland, I would think. The rich are known to value acres of well-tended lawns, well-mannered lackeys.

  • This Thiel thing is going to be a failure, clearly. But we do have an interesting question to look forward to: what sort of failure will it be? There are so many avenues for failing that the project could take.

    I predict, unfortunately, the boring sort of failure – the project will simply never produce anything tangible. $1.25 million will go away and nothing will result. But I wish for a spectacular failure of some sort – launch of the island followed by an immediate pirate takeover (see the Principality of Sealand for details), or launch followed by sinking, or launch followed by peasant revolt and beheadings.

    And don't worry about the future – the failure, when it occurs, will be hand-waved away by the true believers – Thiel wasn't a strong enough believer, or something like that.

  • @ Tim H.

    Wind and solar power really aren't going to cut it. They just aren't constant enough on their own, and from what I understand there just isn't enough free surface area or stability on a floating platform to fit the big array of solar panels or huge-ass windmill you would need to sustain the sort of population that is usually anticipated.

    You could always store power in a massive battery, but that's going to take up a hell of a lot of valuable space, and I imagine it'll be a bitch to maintain in the sort of conditions you'll meet in the real world. Besides, this is a rather Keynesian approach to power management, and I'm sure their ideological purity will balk at such heresy.

    OTEC, I'm not sure about. From what I remember, it still requires mechanical pumps which, as with generators (and for basically the same reasons), are difficult and costly to maintain in a marine environment.

    As for methane clathrates, I can hardly see billionaires mining.

  • All he has to do is establish residence in a country that isn't here, and then move his business there. Voila, tax dodge. Additionally, he can establish banking transparency rules that would make the Cayman Island blush for the benefit of all of his friends. He may be going galt, but my belief is that this thing is the physical representation of a postal suite corporation in Delaware. He can make it lavish as he wants to, and then keep a house here that he calls his 'secondary residence'.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Libertarians and Tea Patiers are the curse Native American put on us after we genocided them and stole their land. No other country in the world has those evil nuts.

  • A rich eccentric doing what rich eccentrics do has managed to panty-wad the Fearless Moderator and 23 faithful Libs into a real oral frothing.

    Hmm Hmm Hmm


  • I'm fascinated just to see how they intend to pull off the engineering marvels required for such a project.

    As much as Bioshock was pure fiction, it *did* discuss (via the audio logs) some of the realistic problems you have with a civilization at sea.

  • Oh, I would love love love to see this! I actually think they could manage the importing of food and water – they are uber-rich, after all, so I doubt any problem – like buying food and water – that could be solved with cash will be their doom. I also imagine that paid security forces will be good enough to protect them from a few rogues with minor weaponry.

    Unfortunately, natural disasters can't be bought off. And just wait until the warships show up!

    That's if they don't first run into some sort of practical problem that requires collective action, and the one or two of them with half a brain start talking about how everyone is going to have to contribute something to deal with it, and the rest realize that they just suggested – taxation. and then the fun begins!

  • Everyone from Arab princes to Swiss bankers has done it already, albeit on yachts. And while banana republics are far cheaper to inhabit, offer a steady stream of serfs, and provide proximity to hospitals and airports, they also lack the isolation of an island. And the security. Locals talk, and the petits Napoleons can be roasted inside their cabanas very easily. But for what do you need island-level security? Is it all the gold you have downstairs? Or is it really privacy you want?

    Not to be vile, but most people have "If I Could Get Away With Absolutely Anything" fantasies that have nothing to do with building codes or the minimum wage. Who is going to stop you from owning slaves, molesting children, or whatever you wish? It certainly won't be the neighbors, especially if they are busy with their own fun, and/or not so well armed as you.

    I am a big fan of "ain't nobody's business if you do", and I know everyone draws a different line between liberty and license. But there will be comparatively poor people there, unless all these Galts are skilled plumbers, HVAC techs, etc., and are willing to do all the landscaping, maintenance, and janitorial work themselves. There will be serf labor and weaker spouses and children and other people who are unequal in terms of lawyers, guns, and money. And they will have no rights and no recourse.

    Being lord and master of a fief is the IDEAL version, not the realistic version.

    People who simply want isolation to live as they wish move off the grid, where they are free to dig their own (unfluoridated) wells, shoot their own (uninspected) meat, and keep an eye on who's coming up the road. My big-L Libertarian friends are delighted by Thiel's island, which shows just how disconnected from big-R Reality they are. I'm sure they'll be welcome to work for him there, too. But they'll want too much money, expect Work Comp if they're injured, and might want a day off once a week. If the straw bosses with guns say no, the workers can get with the program or start swimming back to Socialism.

  • Left unsaid between the lines is the fact that slavery would not be illegal. Perhaps some endentured servitude contract boilerplate to skirt international law, but the local authorities at "Galt's Island" would certainly turn an approving blind eye.

  • Elder Futhark says:

    You know, I just laugh even harder at that picture, pretending there are libertarians on board, going "Whoopsie!"

    Other things: petri dish, fecal grase balls, booze and cigarettes, waterworld.

    Seriously, 'nuff said.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Hey! I've played this game before! I know how it ends!

    Peter Thiel gets bashed in the skull with a golf club while screaming "A man decides! A slave obeys!"

    Then his attacker, who is his son via prostitute who was mentally conditioned by his nemesis to respond to the phrase "Would you kindly?", zaps him with lightning, and maybe some fire. Possibly a tornado too. All powered by stem cells taken from sea slugs.

  • @ladiesbane

    "where they are free to dig their own (unfluoridated) wells"

    Ironically, many wells in the SE, in particular, (are truly vile :-)) in that they are naturally fluoridated.


  • The only REAL AMERICANS are the ones who want to leave.

    I guess the utopian isolationists of the fringe right have read up on the utopian isolationists of the '60s left. Because that worked out really well.

  • @bb: I don't think we're so much 'panty-wadded' as bemused. True, it's his money, and he is entirely free to be as batshit as he likes with it. But consider that he is rejecting the society/laws/economy in and under which he became fabulously wealthy by dint of brilliance and hard work, because 'it doesn't work.' Well…um…doesn't his life suggest that it *does*? It's like Bryant and Jordan buying an island to set up their own basketball league because the system doesn't adequately reward talent. (Though admittedly, it does make a nice change from the old fad of trying to fly around the world in a balloon.)

    But it's not that's it's eccentric. It's that Thier's idea is, well, kind of dumb. Like many of my fellow readers, I immediately flashed on fictional versions of this scenario–Rapture, Galt's Gulch, Nemo's Lincoln Island, the Republic (where there are few laws because a society run by the smartest needs none, dealing with decisions on an ad hoc basis), the villains' bases in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, etc.

    Thiel's plan is obviously inspired by speculative/wish-fulfillment-based fiction, believing it to be a legitimate basis for real-world plans/conduct. That…has not gone well, historically. Call it juvenile, quixotic, insane–take your pick, or mix-and-match.

    Can it be built? Sure–check out Dubai as an instance of "holy shit they actually *did* that?" architecture. (And, like Dubai, I'm sure it will be built with slave labor, which is what "no minimum wage" essentially guarantees.) And, oddly enough, if this place were being designed with the notion of solving One Big Problem–like, say, curing cancer–I can see it working, or at least, not collapsing under the weight (or triviality) of its ideology.

    But minimal laws? No oversight? A society built on people who collectively despise authority? I think Hobbes nailed it with 'nasty, brutish, and short.' (Though not 'solitary' and 'poor,' to be fair.)

  • bb, I grew up next to a glacier, and most of us on wells had water that was delicious and pure. The area attracted all sorts, many of whom were fine neighbors, but there were a number of frothing anti-government folks who would rather their kids have rotten teeth than participate in the weekly fluoride rinse provided by the school. They seemed to think that fluoride would emasculate their boys, among other things. The watchword in our slice of the country was always, "It's their business. Shame about the kids, though."

    And I get your point about the eccentric rich, but I do think a person's vision of Utopia is telling. Especially people wealthy enough to make things happen. Given the absurd logistics of the project, I doubt it will launch (and is he planning on doing away with the minimum wage before or after he hires labor for this job?) — but the fact that he really wants to create Anything Goes Fantasy Island For Rich People Only says he's either deeply naive about what would go on there, or that he's too self-oriented to care. Neither option (too stupid or too selfish) is a pleasant reflection on Thiel.

  • Hey, if it gets them to take their idiocy elsewhere, and they're inclined to pay for it themselves, then be my guest and good luck.

  • Elder Futhark says:

    "Shark Ship" Originally published as "Reap the Dark Tide" which I done read back in '58.

    "I'd buy that for a dollar!"

    Ah, pity. The man could write social satire. Witness "The Marching Morons", on which "Idiocracy" was loosely based (and from which the above line was stolen by the screenwriter for "Robocop"). Kornbluth could have been up there with Phil Dick. His untimely death put a stop to that. He was quite right of course. Living on the open sea would require such stringent reliance on others that any type of free society is almost inevitably ruled out from the get-go. I mean, resource extraction and efficient utilization is bad enough on dry land…

  • Didn't some guys try this on a coral reef a few years ago. It lasted as long as it took the vast military of TONGA to show up and kick them off. Say the libertarians resist and shooting starts. From an international law perspective, what happens next?

  • Dear Peter Thiel,

    Please put your idea in the fast track; it should be your number 1 priority. I would love to see the experiment in progress and possibly the end results before I die.

    One of the riffraff

  • "LAMBERTVILLE, MI (WTOL) – The Monroe County Sheriff's Department is working to solve a case of vandalism that turned life-threatening.

    John King was shot in the arm last week when he surprised a man trying to slash the tires on the truck at his Lambertville home.The word "scab" was also scrawled on the side.

    King says he became suspicious when he saw an outside security light outside go on. When he stepped out of his front door, the man fired one shot and ran off.

    King is the owner of the largest non-union electrical contracting company in the area."

    What was that about guns on the Island again? Sweet, Sweet Socialism rat cheer.


  • As I said on another site, I can't wait for the first hurricane to come along and wipe these fuckers off of their Libertarian Island of Utopia. Also can't wait for the survivors to start screaming for the Coast Guard or another country's navy to come rescue them.

    Pass the popcorn.

  • I'm with the pirates. Go ahead and establish an anarcho-capitalist state. Organized crime will always outgun you.

  • "Peter Theil is building the world's most extravagant tax dodge" would be a more appropriate lede.

  • As I own a hammer and an assortment of 2-3 sockets (with no wrench) I'm going to make a bid on building these islands for them. With "loose" building codes I assume that I can use the hundreds of cereal boxes I have in my basement as the primary structure. I'm no chemist, so I don't know how cardboard will react with sea water, but I assume it will be fine.

    Also I'm a bit upset that Mr. Thiel is spending my money on this project. I once sold a hairdryer and comb (I lost all my hair in a freak flamethrower accident at the local NRA meeting) on ebay, but the money was sent to the wrong email, one not associated with paypal. I assume when this happens it goes straight to Thiel's "Money to blow on idiotic ventures to help already wealthy white people achieve idiotic goals that will turn out poorly instead of money for poor starving children dying of diarrhea whose only toys are the bones of his/her dead parents and siblings" account. I will add the amount owed to my construction bid.

  • Elder Futhark says:


    Pirates need some type of an organized framework under which to operate. they need, at the very least, a "fence" to sell off their booty. For example, the Somali pirates are all stationed out of the government controlled north of the country. There are no pirates operating from out of the anarchic south.

  • I was going to mention Bioshock, but then got beaten to the punch. That's free market competition for ya.

    Oh well, maybe Thiel can hitch his floating city to an avanc, go find the Scar and spare us all the trouble. If the delicious combo of "loose building codes" and "few restrictions on weapons" doesn't do the job first. I lived in a place like that once. It was called "the Balkans, early '90s." I wonder how well shiny cruise ships react to .50 BMG fire.

  • Y'all needn't worry. According to the Cato Institute, the big, bad socialist US Gub'mint will never let them leave. Well, at least not without paying the IRS or something.

    Wouldn't you know their entire concern would be about the money?

  • I never thought I'd say this, but please, please make this a reality TV show: PLEASE!

    I agree: somebody notify the Somali pirates.

    Also, didn't the rich guy from Jurassic Park basically have the same idea?

  • Isn't the under two million this fool has put toward this project basically negligible for something on the scale they seem to be fantasizing about.

    It's a ridiculous idea, but if they're serious about it, they're going to need a whole lot more money and resources. His contribution seems more like kicking in to keep this utopian fantasy football league going.

    I'll be very surprised if anything is ever actually constructed, and even more surprised, should their watery Laputa actually see the light of day, that it doesn't turn into a comprehensive demonstration of everything that can possibly go wrong with such a scheme.

  • Hey PayPal guys!

    Y'all don't let the door hit you on the way out. Nothing but love to you. Be sure to write.

  • Noskilz: Yeah – after all the Waterworld references in this thread, ask yourself this question: how far did 1.25 million go towards getting those sets built? Now try to work out how much it would take to build something like what these tossers are getting at.

  • This thing wouldn't be anywhere near Somalia, but as close off the coast of the US as they can manage, as they will want to keep mooching off of us real American taxpayers, the leeches, for fine luxury goods, necessities, banking, investments, protection, all without paying the taxes that make those things possible. The thing would lack any true self-sufficiency and depend for its existence on the friendly indulgence a real nation and an (untrusted) underclass that actually runs and fixes and transports around everyone and everything that makes it work. The perils would include violence from all the openly carried weapons on the boat/island, ever-escalating costs of operation and maintenance, invasion, rough diplomacy, and pirates or navies who would come from much closer to home than Somalia.

  • "The perils would include violence from all the openly carried weapons on the boat/island"

    On 01 July 2010 Virginia enacted a law that allowed concealed carry permit holders to carry in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

    In the following year, incidents involving the illegal use of guns in those establishments droppped 5.2% in the face of people like you who predicted 'barmegeddon' or 'shoot out at the Long Branch.'

    Now the stat I don't have is how much business may have dropped (and the likelihood of fewer customers) during the year.

    Another set of stats we need (to make intelligent statements) is what has the year to year variation been in say the last 10 years so we could establish a singles control chart to test the 5.2% reduction as significant (or not.)

    But, on the surface, it looks like at least a wash and maybe a slightly lower incidence.

    No 'barmegeddon.'


  • @bb, so after Va. enacted law making it legal to carry a gun in a bar, incidence of illegally carrying guns in bars went down? You don't say.

    Don't get me wrong

  • @bb, so after Va. enacted law making it legal to carry a gun in a bar, incidence of illegally carrying guns in bars went down? You don't say.

    Don't get me wrong—following the recent debate over concealed carry in Illinois I actually came around to more or less supporting it. BUT, I think if we're going to do that we should regulate firearm use at *least* as well as we regulate car driving: mandatory training before licensing, for one thing, and restrictions on use while intoxicated. Strangely, most of the people who support concealed carry seem to find this completely unreasonable.

  • There have already been a number of these experiments since the 1970's, some hyped as Libertarian utopias more than others, but none of them have ever got off the ground — ostensibly because the "moochers" maliciously failed to create ideal conditions for their utopias to thrive. In reality, if more Libertarians, especially the Randian branch, used their brains, they'd see a common denominator in how these projects invariably fail: whatever other difficulties they may encounter, they get mired in vicious bickering, rivalry, litigation and all kinds of bad blood. And this shouldn't be surprising to anyone — when you have a commune consisting of members who are ideologically opposed to the very idea of community and cooperative compromise, how is that commune supposed to survive? Every member, being a rugged individualist, feels absolutely entitled to have a thing his way, even if every other member thinks it's a bad idea. If he's thwarted by a vote, it's "oppression by the majority". Ideologically speaking, he cannot acquiesce in what others want because that would be giving something up for the communal good — a cardinal sin for the Randroids. And thus, you end up with a principled standoff on every single thing: from the number of days your floating utopia will spend at Dubai to the color of carpeting in the cigar lounge.

    Money and technical details aren't the central issue here. A cooperative founded on opposition to cooperation is an absurdity.

  • @blahedo

    I did a poor job of communicating.

    Not counting the actual possession of the weapon itself as a crime, but the actual misuse of a gun in the establishments, you know, like shooting people or threatening them with it or robbing the damn place.

    "I think if we're going to do that we should regulate firearm use at *least* as well as we regulate car driving:"

    The big difference we always get stuck on here is that driving a car is a licensed privilige of the State. Keeping and bearing arms is a guaranteed Individual Right (see recent SCOTUS ruling) in our Constitution.


  • The part of me that likes crazy things like this tells me
    "Why have a floating island or a kinda-sorta drilling platform? They could just buy Clipperton Island from France ( and use that as the vacant lot. Build out from the shore on pylons, build a tower over the lagoon – you would get much more infrastructure bang for your buck. Plus, islands tend not to sink."

    Then, in about sixty years when ocean levels rise another yard, they'll be forced to abandon the whole thing, and it can be colonized by post-Collapse anarchists. Win-win!

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