Monday, January 2, 2017

Seasteading Plans for French Polynesia

A futuristic plan to build a floating techno-libertarian city in a French Polynesian lagoon has left some local residents worried they could be the next unsuspecting inhabitants of a peaceful planet in a science-fiction movie.

“It reminds me of the innocent Ewoks of the moon of Endor who saw in the Galactic Empire a providential manna,” said Tahitian TV host Alexandre Taliercio. “They let them build what they wanted on earth and in orbit, but that’s not to say that the Empire shared the blueprints of the Death Star with them.”

The proposal for a seastead – an autonomous oceanic colony; think homesteading, but wetter - took a significant step on Christmas Day, when a Silicon Valley group announced it had reached an agreement with the French Polynesian government, with officials poised to explore serving as the group’s host.

Seasteaders said it was a breakthrough that could change the world, but Taliercio worried that rich Americans simply wanted to use his home to dodge taxes.

“These millionaires,” he said, “lulled by an illusory desire to free themselves from the existing states, seem to have much more to gain than we do.”

The idea of seasteading – escaping the laws, regulations, and taxes of life on terra firma by establishing an outpost in international waters – has long enchanted libertarians.

“The question of whether seasteading is possible or desirable is in my mind not even relevant. It is absolutely necessary,” the billionaire PayPal founder Peter Thiel said at a 2009 seasteading conference.

After Thiel helped launch the Seasteading Institute with a $500,000 investment, seasteading became the movement of the moment in Silicon Valley, where regulation and government bureaucracy are anathema and the billionaire’s success as an investor – his current fortune is largely due to his early stake in Facebook – has given him the reputation of a visionary.

The logistical and financial challenges of establishing a colony in international waters, however, proved steep. So this year the Seasteading Institute began negotiations with French Polynesia, which is a part of France, but has significant autonomy.

On 30 November, French Polynesia’s cabinet gave president Edouard Fritch a mandate, and he will travel to San Francisco in January to sign an agreement to develop a “special governing framework” for “seazones”, according to Randolph Hencken, the Seasteading Institute’s executive director.

Hencken said by email that the agreement stipulated that the institute must prove that seasteading will provide economic benefits and not harm the environment, and that the government will not provide any subsidies.

“Our seasteading collaboration with French Polynesia was initiated by the Tahitians themselves and will bring jobs, economic growth, and environmental resiliency to the region,” Hencken said.

Hencken predicts a close relationship between the seastead and the islands. In an interview with Business Insider in October, he suggested that he would be able to take a speedboat to French Polynesia to take yoga classes and go to restaurants. The islands would also provide a construction base, he said, further reducing costs.

While Hencken argued that seasteading would be a boon for French Polynesia, exemption from taxes is a key factor in the seasteading movement.

In his 2009 speech, Thiel argued that “anything that can be done to create much larger numbers of countries will be very good”, largely because the proliferation of nations would drive down marginal tax rates.

“If we want to increase freedom, we want to increase the number of countries.”

It is that attitude that draws the suspicion of local residents like Taliercio, who questioned whether “facilitating the tax evasion of the world’s greatest fortunes” would be healthy for South Pacific nations.

by Julia Carrie Wong, The Guardian |  Read more:
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