The great benefit of living in society is the enormous boon we all enjoy in a free society from the Division of Labour: the multiplication of knowledge; the benefits from genius; concentration on individual advantage and geographical specialisation; the productive machinery and the economies of learning and motion that emerge from that specialisation—in short, what George Reisman describes as “the general gain from the existence of others.”
Given these enormous benefits, so great that they built the civilisation we now enjoy, why would you want to leave all of that behind and "Go Galt" unless the world is in a dire state?
Every few years, a different group of libertarians will emerge with a new proposal for setting up "outside the grid," either by buying an island, or starting a new country, or by sea-steading. All of them wanting to “Go Galt.” The weakness every time has been that whatever might be gained by moving away from the grey ones is lost by also moving away from the productive geniuses and putting behind you the benefits of Division of Labour. The world would have to be in a very bad state indeed for such a proposal to make sense.
The world is in that state today.
Which is why the proposal by PayPal and Facebook billionaire and self-described enthusiast for New Zealand Peter Thiel for a new form of sea-steading might be attracting so much interest. Here for example is a recent feature write-up in Details [Hat tip Eric Crampton]:
Despite the innovations of the past quarter century, some of which have made him very, very wealthy, Thiel is unimpressed by how far we've come—technologically, politically, socially, financially, the works. The last successful American car company, he likes to note, was Jeep, founded in 1941. "And our cars aren't moving any faster," he says. The space-age future, as giddily envisioned in the fifties and sixties, has yet to arrive.
Perhaps on the micro level—as in microprocessors—but not in the macro realm of big, audacious, and outlandish ideas where Thiel prefers to operate. He gets less satisfaction out of conventional investments in "cloud music" (Spotify) and Hollywood films (Thank You for Smoking) than he does in pursuing big ideas, which is why Thiel—along with an all-star cast of venture capitalists, including former PayPal cohorts Ken Howery and Luke Nosek, and Sean Parker, the Napster cofounder and onetime Facebook president—established the Founders Fund. Among its quixotic but potentially highly profitable investments are SpaceX, a space-transport company, and Halcyon Molecular, which aspires to use DNA sequencing to extend human life.
Privately, however, Thiel is the primary backer for an idea that takes big, audacious, and outlandish to a whole other level. Two hundred miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, past that hazy-blue horizon where the Pacific meets the sky, is where Thiel foresees his boldest venture of all. Forget start-up companies. The next frontier is start-up countries.
"Big ideas start as weird ideas." That's Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer, the grandson of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, and, as of 2008, when Thiel seeded him with the same initial investment sum he'd given Mark Zuckerberg four years earlier, the world's most prominent micro-nation entrepreneur. Friedman, a short, kinetic 35-year-old with a wife and two children, maintains an energetic online presence that ranges from blogging about libertarian theory to tweeted dispatches such as "Explored BDSM in SF w/big group of friends tonight." Four years ago, a Clarium Capital employee came across a piece Friedman had written about an idea he called "seasteading." Friedman was soon pitching to Thiel, a staunch libertarian himself, the big, weird idea...
Here’s Thiel laying out the idea at a Seasteading conference back in ‘09: