Originally posted by zhai2nan2 on 7 Aug 2014:
In The Machinery of Freedom, David Friedman used the following metaphor to show the benefits of anarcho-capitalism:
Consider our world as it would be if the cost of moving from one country to another were zero. Everyone lives in a housetrailer and speaks the same language. One day, the president of France announces that because of troubles with neighboring countries, new military taxes are being levied and conscription will begin shortly. The next morning the president of France finds himself ruling a peaceful but empty landscape, the population having been reduced to himself, three generals, and twenty-seven war correspondents. 
Taking this metaphor literally suggests an alternative strategy. Suppose that the cost of physically switching countries really could be dramatically reduced. Even though each country retained a monopoly on its geographic territory, governments would be forced to compete for citizens by providing services more efficiently. Governing would be more like long-distance phone carriers less like operating systems. But how?
While the answer is not to put wheels on our houses, some may find it equally counterintuitive – to build floating cities from detachable, modular units. The general concept is by no means an original idea, as floating cities have long been a part of the nation-founding fringe. Because all land is under the control of nations with no interest in selling sovereignty, nation-founders have been forced to consider the oceans. Yet far from being a booby prize, it appears that the sea may be ideally suited to sustaining free societies.
The geography of land is fixed, and the cost of transporting things over it is high. Moving buildings is rarely feasible. Buildings and heavy possessions are valuable and important, which makes control over physical territory important. Water, however, is a fluid medium. Even large buildings, if floating, could be towed to new locations quite cheaply (think cruise ships). So the geography of the oceans is dynamic – pieces of territory need not maintain a fixed spatial relationship.
The consequences of this geography should be clear from Friedman’s story. If an individual structure can cheaply relocate to another jurisdiction, the cost of switching governments is low. The streets which make up a town, the towns which make up a county, the counties which make up a state – each level can switch its affiliation to get a better deal. This switch is not merely virtual as in feudalism, since it can involve physically moving the entire area. If the state tries to impose a sales tax on Monday, the capitol building may be all that’s left of the city by Tuesday. When leaving is easy, exploitation is difficult.
The barrier to entry is much lower on the ocean as well, because the geography of floating cities can be dynamically grown as well as re-arranged. A new government no longer has to fight a war over some already-claimed piece of land. It can simply take some small bit of the vast empty oceans as its own. While location does matter, the oceans are far more homogenous than land, and so there will be less contention for prime real estate.
As mentioned earlier, one of the major factors bloating governments is the ratchet effect. Because dynamic geography can also be shrunk, it provides a potential “reset button” to help counter ratcheting. Imagine a platform city where the government has become too repressive or inefficient. A single platform decides to disengage and anchor a mile away, forming a new government. More follow. Eventually, the entire city may have relocated to the new position, with exactly the same set of platforms, but an entirely new government. In practice, it is likely that the threat of this possibility will keep it from being necessary. While a reset policy could be made part of a terrestrial constitution, the powers-that-be will have great incentive to fight the reset. When citizens can just walk out and take friends, family, and office with them, resetting is harder to stop. This sort of reset is incremental, so it has no single point of failure. Stopping a terrestrial reset might just require winning a vote. Stopping a dynamic reset requires limiting the freedom of movement of every module in the city.
This solution can be foiled. If a government physically prevents modules from leaving, they have terrestrialized the city – and can proceed to terrorize it. But while this is a genuine danger, the aquatic city is still relatively better off. On land, buildings and land are inescapably trapped in place. On the ocean there is always some chance that a platform might, through valour or stealth, make a daring escape. Further, this restriction will have to be sprung quite suddenly, as I believe that the freedom of physical association will be considered the most fundamental right of a platform. It will be revered as free speech and property rights are by libertarians today, for it ensures explicit, voluntary participation in the social contract.
Dynamic geography moves power downwards towards the smallest separable unit. Depending on various factors, the smallest economically feasible unit might be as small as a single residence, or it might have to house some 10-100 people. Either way, this size will allow far more individual influence and accountability than in current huge, monolithic, winner-take-all political systems. Not only will government be more efficient, but it is likely to be more diverse. There seems to be a fair variety in people’s tastes for political systems, so with a lower barrier to entry firms will arise to serve many niche markets.
Part of why this idea is so powerful is that you don’t need to believe in it for it to work. The governing market will have different characteristics under a different incentive structure, regardless of the particular political beliefs of its citizens. This avoids the weak link of many utopian ideas, which require everyone to See The Light. The only convincing required is to start the process, and since its incremental only a few people need be persuaded at each step. As floating cities grow, the additional evidence that they are nice places to live convinces those on the margin, which produces more evidence, and so forth.
A disadvantage to DG is that the oceans are a difficult and resource-poor environment. One might ask whether the advantages of efficient government are worth it. Empirically, the answer appears to be yes. For example, consider cities like Hong Kong and Las Vegas. With few natural resources, they have enjoyed tremendous economic growth by providing an environment of freedom. In our complex global economy, there is plenty of work to be done besides extracting natural resources.
You can see why governing floating cities will be a dynamic, competitive industry. As with any such industry, I have great confidence that it will produce useful innovations I would never have dreamed of. DG, like AC, produces good government through competition. I don’t claim this will result in utopia, but it will increase both private freedom and the efficiency of public efforts. Note that the advantages of dynamic geography are not specific to libertarian or AC politics – all kinds of government will be made more efficient by DG. In fact, it may turn out that both communism and anarcho-capitalism are infeasible on land but workable at sea.
That’s a great idea, but it leaves out the violence and surveillance components of government.
The scenario would go like this.
Suppose France contains fifty million citizens.
The king of France announces conscription.
Five minutes later, the French people have started up their motor-homes and are zooming toward the borders.
Five minutes and ten seconds later, the king of France has launched an affordably priced but highly lethal fleet of killer drones. The king of France puts into cotton earplugs.
Five minutes and fifteen seconds later, there is a massive screeching and booming and roaring of flames.
Five minutes and twenty seconds later, the king of France takes out his earplugs, and surveys, with satisfaction, the new, peaceful landscape of France, the population having been reduced to himself, three robot designers, a few killer robots, and fifty million corpses.