Doherty Defends "Folk Activism"

In today’s installment of Cato Unbound, Reason senior editor Brian Doherty defends “folk activism” (that’s we do here at Cato, in case you’re wondering) against Patri Friedman’s complaints of ineffectuality

Doherty argues, in effect, that Friedman’s effort to simply go out and float a boat on which one can do whatever floats one’s boat is parasitic on earlier “folk activist” aimed at persuasion. It is hard to find 20,000 people who will commit to moving to New Hampshire for the cause of liberty and, as Brian points out, it’s even harder to find people who will now commit to moving to a man-made island. The viability of projects like Seasteading seems to depend on the success of prior evangelism. 

That said, one of the merits of Friedman’s “dynamic geography” is that it is not really a “libertarian” project at all. As he writes in his Unbound lead essay:

Because we have no a priori knowledge of the best form of government, the search for good societies requires experimentation as well as theory — trying many new institutions to see how they work in practice.

I think there’s good reason to expect competing sea-top jurisdictions to settle on a scheme of governance more libertarian than what the world’s current nation states have to offer. But I also think there’s little reason to expect a seastead to embody the system of most libertarians’ dreams unless a lot of libertarians coordinate and settle there. In that case, it’s really clear that creating a libertarian society from whole cloth depends on the prior existence of libertarians, which depends on the success of the folk activism that produces them.

For more on seasteading, check out yesterday’s Cato Policy forum with Patri Friedman.

[Cross-posted at Cato@Liberty]

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17 thoughts on “Doherty Defends "Folk Activism"

  1. I disagree with the argument that we need a whole lot of libertarians in order to generate a libertarian state. Imagine that you lived on a boat tethered to one of these seasteads, that as long as you were tethered to a seastead you had to abide by their rules (including paying their taxes), and that there were literally dozens or hundreds of these within a reasonable enough distance from you that you could wake up every morning tethered to a new one with hardly any trouble at all. I will bet you that few of these seasteads, under such circumstances, would be able to pass very many taxes (beyond the marginal cost of actually running the platform) or limit your freedoms in any burdensome way.Its all about your options on the seastead market and the cost of moving to another seastead. Lots of options + low cost to move = Libertarian paradise virtually guaranteed. Now I realize there won't be hundreds of them anytime soon nor will you be able to just float a boat to the next one on a daily basis, but the closer we get to that side of the continuum the closer we get to this sort of result.

  2. Shades of Nozick!I predict an entertaining train-wreck if anyone actually tried it.MaxM: At very least, you underestimate the cost (and free rider problems) involved in policing.Simply “running the platform” is insufficient to form even a pseudo-state; at very least, minimal law and contract enforcement on the platform will be required. In practice, I don't see a lot of tethering to platforms that don't police their immediate surroundings either.

  3. I predict an entertaining train-wreck if anyone actually tried it.I doubt you'll ever see it. Cosmopolitans are intrinsically parasites. They've never built any nations, they only infest and fuck up nations after they're built by somebody else.

  4. Sigivald: Can you elaborate? What sort of free-rider problems do you foresee as being unsolvable or too costly policing issues?

  5. I believe that the plan is for people to actually live on the seasteads (they could possibly be several acres) not living on boats tethered to them. I actually think a lot of people will opt to live on seasteads with left-liberal/ governance. Of course they will have to limit the number of needy people who want to move in, but still.

  6. Something kind of like seasteading is currently in existence and apparently working pretty well. Its a floating community called “the world”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World_(cruise_…)Considering that 700 people have already moved to New Hampshire for the Free State thing, I think its plausible that a relatively inexpensive seastead for a couple hundred people would probably work. Revenue could come from tourism (for the novelty of a floating community, gambling and maybe some light drug use could be permitted). In addition more and more people are telecommuting, so these people could work from a seastead. Of course, the more freedoms the seastead offers the more dangerous it would seem to nation-states. But with more freedoms, the seastead has more to offer visitors and potential residents.

  7. “I think there’s good reason to expect competing sea-top jurisdictions to settle on a scheme of governance more libertarian than what the world’s current nation states have to offer. But I also think there’s little reason to expect a seastead to embody the system of most libertarians’ dreams unless a lot of libertarians coordinate and settle there.”really?I don't see how redistribution of income will work if all the rich people can leave at any time and go float somewhere else..when taxes are more like a utility bill than our taxes, then what is not gonna be libertarian about it?not only libertarians want to avoid taxes…and if you take away taxes the rest of the rules are gonna be like neighborhood rules, wich are not unlibertarian at all…

  8. Without competitive pressure, our institutions generate flawed policies which benefit the political class, not those that reflect the consensus of academic economists.This is the line from Friedman that made me laugh out loud.

  9. Immigration, Will.The highest tax jurisdictions in the U.S. all have very poor internal migration statistics, but the popular ones all have very high rates of immigration from outside the country that offsets that. Partially that's a result of being very welcoming to immigrants. (People of an anti-immigration mindset tend to regard these states as important cheap labor and chasing away the middle and lower-middle class. It's true that those states tend to have expensive housing and a much wider gap between rich and poor.)California's taxes have gone up, and the 2010 Census looks to be the first one where California will not gain a seat since becoming a state. California has seen an incredible exodus of people already in this country moving away, but it remains a popular destination for immigrants.That's if we're defining popular as “places where people actually move to live.” If popular means something like, “place I'd really like to live if I could afford it,” things are a little different.High tax areas in the US also tend to be wealthy. There's a bunch of reasons for that. (One could even point out that being able to deduct state and local taxes from federal income taxes gives wealthy states an incentive to raise taxes higher than they would be otherwise, in order to “keep money at home” that would otherwise subsidize poorer states.)

  10. Here's the Census data on domestic net internal migration. You can see that New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are the most “unpopular” states for US residents, in terms of domestic migration. All of them receive lots of foreign migration to replace much of those people, though.So one answer to “how do they do it?” is “by being more prosperous than other places in the world outside the U.S.” They're certainly not more popular considered within the US.Of course, since these numbers are 2000-2004, they also reflect high housing prices driving people away from those states.

  11. You of all people should know better than that Will. The high tax jurisdictions became high tax because they were already popular. The more built in advantages, (major financial/ commercial/cultural institutions) your jurisdiction has the more taxes/regulations governments can charge as a rent. Comparatively, the rents one can charge to people for the right to stay in Nevada, Utah, Idaho, etc. are relatively low. Seasteads start with no cultural/infrastructural capital, so people will by far prefer relatively libertarian seasteads. Sometimes governments exaggerate the rents they can charge. That is why Detroit (the whole upper Midwest really), New York state, and California are failing, while (current recession aside) the South and mountains/west are booming.

  12. it’s even harder to find people who will now commit to moving to a man-made island

    Why do you need rich-world libertarians to commit? I suspect some of the eager first-movers will be poor people whose current governments are stifling and murdering them. Later, when seasteds develop their economies and offer a higher quality of life, rich-world citizens will begin to find them attractive.

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  14. With dubai, the last liberal hope in the low-tax middle east eager to crack down on “immoral” activities, this might be the time for a libertarian seastead to try something different.

  15. With dubai, the last liberal hope in the low-tax middle east eager to crack down on “immoral” activities, this might be the time for a libertarian seastead to try something different.

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