Libertarian Island: No Rules, Just Rich Dudes What happens when Milton Friedman's grandson, an eccentric billionaire and some ocean real estate all intersect? You get "seasteads," the first of which is scheduled to hit the waters of San Francisco bay in two years, according to Alexis Madrigal, who wrote about the ocean homesteads for Wired magazine.
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Libertarian Island: No Rules, Just Rich Dudes

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Libertarian Island: No Rules, Just Rich Dudes

Libertarian Island: No Rules, Just Rich Dudes

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Tired of the rat race and following all the rules imposed by the man? Tired of being denied the opportunity to live on a floating ocean capsule? Well, then, seastead instead. Through the miracle of seasteading, which is like homesteading on the high seas, you'll make your own rules, define your own morality and thumb your nose at those mindless drones, tethered to their land-based notions of society.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Wow, I really should have gone into PR for crazy people. OK. No judgments here. Seasteading is real, or at least we should say that it has some momentum. Some very, very rich Libertarians are behind the Seasteading Institute. The first one is scheduled to hit the waters of San Francisco Bay in a couple of years. Alexis Madrigal wrote about the seasteaders for Wired Magazine. Hey, Alexis.

Mr. ALEXIS MADRIGAL (Journalist, Wired Magazine): Hi, how are you guys?

PESCA: I'm well. So I went to the Seasteading Institute website, and there they had those FAQs, the frequently asked questions, and I thought their FAQs were perfect, and they were, what is seasteading? Why would you want to do that? And is it really possible? So I'm glad you're on to answer those, OK? What is it?

Mr. MADRIGAL: So seasteading is essentially trying to create a low-cost vessel that you can move out into the open ocean. So you can experiment and live on a boat, essentially, that is kind of a concrete tube that is ballasted, so it's floating out in the deep ocean, and you can, you know, install whatever sort of political system you want, in particular, say, a Libertarian political system where there is very little government.

And the idea is that it would actually improve government, because if you didn't like what the government of your floating city-state did, you could just motor away and move to a new city-state that - they imagine kind of these constellations of them floating out in the ocean.

PESCA: The picture in Wired helped me literally picture it. It looks like that - well, it looks like this big platform, and maybe this is just the Wired Magazine's graphics department helping them out a little bit, but as you guys showed it, it was this big concrete platform and on top of that was sort of a 360-degree flying saucer house, like the Chemosphere that Troy McClure lives in, from "Body Double." Is that what it would look like?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MADRIGAL: Well, it was definitely a rendering by my friend Valdemar actually. I mean, that is the idea, right? I mean, they based on oil-rig technology called the spar design and it's, you know, that's kind of what it's going to look like. So you see an oil rig, they have this thing, kind of a skinny tube sticking up out of the water, and then there's like a huge platform on it.

And there is actually - I mean, they can be really enormous, like Troll A, which they use to explore for oil in the North Sea, is like four times the size of the Eiffel Tower. So they can build these things and people have lived on them for a long time, and they, you know, we just happened to make it look a little sci-fi.

PESCA: Is it really going to have that much room inside, as these seasteaders plan it?

Mr. MADRIGAL: I mean, it kind of depends. You know, they can scale it up or down, right? Their initial thought is that they'd actually scale it down even farther than we had in the picture so that it would be like basically a single home. And then the single home, they'd be kind of a modular design that could be linked to a bunch of other single homes out there in the ocean.

PESCA: Who are the people behind this?

Mr. MADRIGAL: Well, I think that's the really interesting part. I mean, I think - the guy who gave them half a million bucks, actually, is Peter Thiel, and he is a founder of PayPal, which, you know, is how you pay for stuff on eBay. He also was an early angel investor in Facebook and now is estimated to own more than a billion dollars worth of Facebook. And he also, though, in addition to actually his moneymaking and he runs a hedge fund, a multibillion dollar hedge fund actually, he's put all of these investments in kind of like really futuristic, sci-fi kind of organizations.

Probably the - maybe the best one is the Methuselah Foundation which is - basically wants to stop aging. They believe in what is called negligible senescence, where you would actually not age at all. They believe there're sort of active mechanisms of aging, which there is some evidence for, and that you could just sort of stop it. You could just sort of like pause the clock on your aging and be able to live forever, which is important for a lot of people because they also, these Libertarians and very, like, rich people in Silicon Valley also believe in - some of them believe in something called the singularity, where artificial intelligence will become smarter than human beings, like, sometime in, say, the next 30 years. And then when that happens, all these other wonderful things will be enabled, like for instance downloading your brain into a computer, in silicone, you'd go with your brain.

PESCA: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. MADRIGAL: So all of these technologies for, like, this like deep, crazy future, where you know, you would be able to do whatever you want, radical freedom, the Internet as tool to absolutely transform both, you know, your body and the government. All those things are kind of tied together through Peter Thiel.

PESCA: So this guy Thiel. He describes himself as way Libertarian. He is a genius. He's great at chess. He's made billions of dollars. I guess he's smarter than I am, but, ah, you know, him giving 500,000 dollars, a guy like that, isn't that what he tips his cat groomer? I mean, is that really a vote of confidence? And is that actually nearly enough money to get seasteading going?

Mr. MADRIGAL: It's not nearly enough money. I mean, it sort of - that's what - I think you know our headline was, you know, he made a down payment on Libertarian ocean colonies, and I think that's kind of the way to think about it. You know, he's got these two guys, Patri Friedman, who is actually the grandson of Milton Friedman, who is like a famous, right-wing economist, right? And he's also - he's got Wayne Gramlich, who worked at Sun Microsystems, which is, you know, another big Silicon Valley company, and who cashed out on his stock options and has been semi-retired.

And I think he just sort of decided to give - oh, and also Patri happens to be an engineer at Google. So he found these two smart guys who want to run with this idea, and so he goes, well, hey, I'll give them half a million bucks and you know, if they come up with something good, and if they can't, then big deal. Right now, they're going to off-shore technology conferences and things like that, trying to get it off the ground.

But I think, you know, they need maybe another million, two million dollars, but I mean Clarium Capital Management, which is Peter Thiel's hedge fund, I mean, they run, you know, somewhere between, like, say, three and five billion dollars. So, I mean, there's more where that five hundred thousand came from, you know what I mean? So, if they make progress, I think they'll get more money and if they don't, then, you know, at least I got on NPR again.

PESCA: You know, it seems...

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Yeah, so it all works out for everyone. It seems like there are easier ways to be a Libertarian than to go out at sea and live on sea pods and have your own sea pod society. I mean, is this an idea where the execution of the idea, let's be a Libertarian somewhere, is way more complicated than it needs to be?

Mr. MADRIGAL: Well, sort of. I mean, I think, like, if you really and truly believe that...


Yeah, if you're a purist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MADRIGAL: Yeah, if you're a - exactly. If you really truly believe...

PESCA: I guess I have bought into society. Yeah, go ahead.

Mr. MADRIGAL: You know, basically, there's a history of like micro-nations and people trying to go out to the high seas in order to, like, get away from government. Like, there's a Las Vegas millionaire who wanted to like dredge up the, sort of, sandbars around Tonga to create his own Republic of Minerva. You know, I think for some people, there's just something really appealing about, like, being their own nation, you know?

PESCA: Wasn't Minerva the Greek goddess of wisdom? Huh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: That's an odd...

Mr. MADRIGAL: I think that was a joke.

PESCA: An odd coincidence, yeah. I also love their, you know - they address, well, people have said, you know, what about pirates? They have a great answer for that.

Mr. MADRIGAL: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Which is - did you see that?

Mr. MADRIGAL: Yeah, I mean, well, his - basically Patri's answer, I mean, spoken like a true Libertarian, right? Is that essentially there won't be any financial incentive for pirates to attack a seastead. And you say, well, what about pirates who, like, take over cargo ships? And so Patri says, about this, well, you know, those cargo ships have like tens of millions of dollars of cargo, and only like ten crew. And he's like, we'll have a much different crew-to-moveable-assets ratio. So, therefore no one will attack them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Our sea pods won't be worth as much as the...

Mr. MADRIGAL: Our sea pods won't be worth enough to attract the sort of high-level pirates that they think they can't, you know, fend off, like...

PESCA: Right, because pirates wouldn't want to kidnap Peter Thiel, a Facebook billionaire.

Mr. MADRIGAL: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: They want to take the big cargo container of ball bearings.

Mr. MADRIGAL: Exactly.

PESCA: Pirates aren't stupid. Come on, if we know anything about pirates...

MARTIN: And I think we do.

PESCA: Yeah, I think we do. And finally what's the timeline? Are we going to see these, you know, in the shadow of Alcatraz Island anytime soon?

Mr. MADRIGAL: I mean, they're literally thinking Redwood, Redwood City, there's a port there. They are literally thinking they are going to try and splash one into the Bay within, you know, two years, they're saying. Patri thinks he can do it in a year, which - but Wayne, who actually, interestingly enough, doesn't even want to live on seastead. He's just interested in it as like an experiment. He thinks it's going to take a couple of years and he's been doing more of the engineering. So, I figure a couple of years before we'll see one. Hopefully, I'll get to get on and float around with these guys for a while.

PESCA: All right, thanks a lot. Wired Magazine reporter Alexis Madrigal.

Mr. MADRIGAL: Hey, thank you.

PESCA: Thank you, Alexis.

MARTIN: Thanks, Alexis.

PESCA: All right. If I know anything about Jonathan Swift and "A Modest Proposal," you always count yourself out at the end. So that is consistent.

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