Monday, March 16, 2009


From over on DK we get the continuing tale of seasteads, that is sea-based communities. Now this may seem odd, but I'm all in favour of this both on the level of 'I hope it works' and 'I wonder how quickly it'll implode?'.

To have little microcosms of society all trying something different appeals to me, the trouble is the people who seem intent on setting these things up seem to be romantics. Oh yes some are more or less starry-eyed than others, but the ones DK point to seem to be sporadic in their grasp of reality.

The obvious similarity is to the videogame Bioshock, so obvious that The Seasteading Institute have a whole page to why their version of Seasteading is not like Bioshock, it's flimsy with only two arguments - it won't be a closed economy, and that fiction is "often a poor mirror for the real world" so don't get hung up on the "superficial similarities".

So why do I say they're flimsy arguments? To deal with the later first to declare some fiction as a poor mirror to reality is fine, but the slight of hand to equate it to this particular fiction is unfair, they've dismissed it rather than challenged it. Next the sea-stead won't be a closed economy, fair enough. Except who's going to ship in goods? How easy will it be to pop over to another seastead that may specialise in something you want? It's not enough to simply declare an open-economy the transport links need to be there to accommodate it.

An answer to the latter is simple if people want something that desperately they'll either pay for it to be shipped, or if there's a high enough demand, someone else will have it shipped in bulk and start to sell it; no prohibition thus an open-economy and with no smuggling they'll be no black-market.

Okay onto the nitty-gritty. First off let's ditch this whole Wild West vibe, the premise isn't going to be your own little boat floating on the high seas that you can keep patched up by yourself it's a wonking great city-state and oddly enough someone's going to have to keep it working. So how do they get paid? Rent might as well call it tax, will it be a flat tax, or dependant on the size of your living/working space?

It's all down to the type of social system you want implemented, but something has to be in place just to get anything off the ground (or into the sea that is) unlike the frontier of America you can't just turn up at a bare patch of sea with some building materials and build yourself a home.

Ah but the best bit is that if this takes off, you can flit from stead to stead to maximise your best interests, if you're good at your job you may well be head-hunted by another stead. Everyone wins. Well no, the old adage of you gets what you've paid for applies. Why is rent cheaper on this stead; is it because they're more efficient or just because they hire unskilled workers at cheap wages?

And here's where we meet the same divide that was kicked off during the Industrial Revolution - skilled vs. unskilled. The skilled will be the ones who can flit between steads, the ones head-hunted; the unskilled will be stuck where they are unable to pay for the education that would increase their skills or that of their dependants they'll be sat at the bottom rung of whatever society evolves. The skilled, on the other hand, will also stay exactly where they are on the top, able to pay to get their child educated moving in the right circles to make the right deals and be in the know of what's going on.

Good old competition at two different levels. A recruiter pays for transport from a 'lower-class' seastead to an 'upper-class' stead and because rents are lower (and risks higher) can undercut the wage of any unskilled trying to live on the other stead; they can't compete and move of, heck even the recruiter probably lives on the 'upper-class' stead. And the steads mirror the ground dwellers as they decentralise and ghettocise.

Shall we tackle crime next? Do we have a stead-wide police force patrolling the corridors (who is paid for by whom) or private firms that citizens can hire. Do we reach the point where the rich can afford better protection and thus might equals right and said rich can go around beating up poor people simply because they can?

Okay I'm being negative for a reason here, and that's because to me the view of all this is sitting in a large apartment with a clear sea-view sipping that delightful little vintage you've just picked up; it's designed by people with money, who for the majority have always had money and who have sailed through life with every grubby thing taken care of and hidden away; who don't understand that food doesn't magically appear in the fridge; that we don't have self-cleaning carpets, or intelligent plumbing systems.

Someone's got to do this, and the assumption seems to be that if you put a bunch of rich people together others will magically appear to do what they want and they may well be right, but me I'd prefer to get the base down first and not build the top floor first and hope someone will come in to hold it up later.

[Additional - I didn't even tackle the currency problem, but to be fair neither did they. It seems the underlying assumption is that you'll be using US Dollars, in other words have a sovereign nation depend on another for the issue of its currency.]