Solly Angel on "Seasteading" in WSJ

Shlomo Angel, a Professor of City Planning and Director of the Urban Expansion Program at New York University’s Marron Institute, recently reviewed “Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians” by Joe Quirk and Patri Friedman in The Wall Street Journal. The book proposes a utopia of city states in international waters, which, someday, could host up to a billion people.

Floating city-states on unclaimed seas, the authors argue with great passion, would thrive in a symbiotic relation with the oceans and restore the environment that landbased people have destroyed. These floating oases would be refuges from the ravages of the modern world. They would help enrich the land-based poor, who would immigrate to floating cities in hordes and find remunerative jobs farming the seas there. They would cure the sick by offering cheaper and safer off-shore health care emancipated from burdensome regulations. Last but not least, they would liberate us from politicians, an especially appealing promise in 2017: “Citizens of existing nations must endure wars they can’t refuse to fund . . . and politicians whose schemes they can’t refuse to participate in.”


Quite simple: Come if you like, be nice to one another, and then, if you don’t like it, you can leave. Floating cities with the best rules thrive. Those with deranged rules quickly perish. This is a new incarnation of active evolution, based on the principle of the survival of the fittest, the fittest being the city with the best rules: “A market of competing governments, a Silicon Valley of the sea, would allow the best ideas for governance to emerge peacefully. . . . A process of trial and error on a fluid frontier will generate solutions we can’t even imagine today.” Floating dystopias, like the “Waterworld” of film, will have no staying power. People will just abandon them. And the familiar banes of human society—the corruption, zealotry, bigotry, oppression, ignorance, exploitation, brutality, abuse, or unfairness that our civilizations are finding so hard to restrain—would never have the time to take hold. You could always avoid them by simply sailing away.

While the author's try to assuage readers' skepticism, Angel has some reservations: 

Will it all work? On a practical level: What about storms? Don’t you worry, the authors assure us: Typhoons are not a problem, at least on the equator, where they never happen. Smaller floating cities can simply float out of the way of nasty storms, or, like modern oil rigs, be built to withstand hurricanes. Yes, the authors admit, “building town-sized platforms that can withstand hurricanes remains a naval engineering challenge, but we expect these challenges to be met with increased economic incentives to colonize the seas.” In other words, we are asked to put our trust in human ingenuity, in social and technological inventions yet unimaginable that will make our familiar problems disappear into distant memories. 

To read Angel's full review, click here

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