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Libertarian paradise

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Sealand: paradise on stilts. If "Hell is other people",[1]:61 is paradise fewer people? Sealand, population usually just 2.[2]
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…the marriage of mercenaries and libertarians was not one of simple convenience or grudging collaboration. To suggest otherwise is to miss the point that capitalism and counterinsurgency, markets and mercenaries are all too often two sides of the same coin. They are bound, in intimate and inextricable fashion, by the coin itself.
—Raymond B. Craib[3]:124

Libertarian paradise or libertarian utopia is sometimes used as a form of loaded language when it is used to refer to a political entity that libertarians themselves have not embraced. At most other times, it is used accurately to refer sarcastically to libertarian experiments in reality that have inevitably failed when political theory and fiction meet cold, hard real world.

Prior to the coalescence of right-libertarianism (Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard[3]:23) in the late 20th century, there were antecedents of private attempts to create new countries of their own, particularly in the 19th century: William WalkerWikipedia in Mexico in 1853 and Nicaragua in 1854-1857, James Brooke,Wikipedia rajah (king) of Sarawak (Malaysia) in 1842-1868 (and the dynastic successors until 1963), Orélie-Antoine de TounensWikipedia in Patagonia (Chile/Argentina) in 1860-1878, Edward Gibbon WakefieldWikipedia in New Zealand in the 1820s-1830s, and Gregor MacGregor'sWikipedia "Republic of Poyais" (a Ponzi scheme in Colombia) in 1821-1825.[3]:3-4

The idea of the libertarian exit, leaving statist society for a libertarian anti-tax/anti-collectivist libertarian zone, is fundamental to right-libertarianism. One of the seminal works of right-libertarianism is Rand's book Atlas Shrugged, which spawned the phrase "Going Galt" after the book's protagonist, John Galt.[3]:29 For these libertarians, the idea of the exit is a "moral" experiment tied up in the potential for financial profit that constantly beckons, and thus it explains the endless iterations of the experiment. The inevitable failures of these projects come because the theory of libertarianism is forced to meet the reality of essentially all livable (and most unlivable) land being already claimed by states.[3]:7-9 The seeming inevitability of failure makes the libertarian exit seem more like an argumentum ad nauseam, a golden hammer, or a point refuted a thousand times, rather than an actual experiment.

Experiments with utopia: when fiction implodes on reality[edit]

Phoenix Foundation[edit]

Michael Oliver
For over a decade now I have heard the drums beat for the new Eden, an island, natural or man-made, that would live in either anarchistic or Randian bliss. One would think that if man can really learn from experience, then the total and abject failure of each and every one of these cockamamie stunts should have sent all of their supporters a "message"; namely, to come back to the real world and fight for liberty at home. Come to think of it, I don't see very many of the New Countryites schlepping out to Minerva, Abaco, Atlantis, an ocean platform, or a moon of Jupiter. Once again, I would love at least a year of these brethren removing themselves from the consciousness of the rest of us: either by remaining silent and returning to concerns nearer home, or, preferably, really hieing themselves posthaste to the New Atlantis and Randspeed to them.
—Murray Rothbard, 1975[4]

The Phoenix Foundation is the serial offender of libertarian paradises. The Phoenix Foundation was so named in 1975, but variously named incarnations have existed since 1968.[5] The Phoenix Foundation was formed by three gold bug libertarians: Nevada-based real estate millionaire Michael Oliver (born Moses Olitsky in 1928),[6]:108 his friend James Murt KcKeever, and investment advisor Harry D. Schultz.Wikipedia[5] Oliver is a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Lithuania, the only member of his family to survive.[3]:16 Oliver wrote a libertarian nation-building manifesto in 1968, A New Constitution for a New Country.[7][6]:108-109 With the publication of his book, Oliver launched the New Country Project in 1968 and began searching for places to create a libertarian utopia.[6]:109 By 1970, Oliver had investigated the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, Curaçao, Suriname, French Guiana, Honduras, Costa Rica, and New Caledonia.[6]:110 In the cases of the Bahamas and Vanuatu (below), the Foundation's actions had a distinct air of neo-colonialism, since the actions took place at around the time of independence and since anti-independence European colonists were involved with the Foundation.[5]

[Oliver] is one of the Mr. Bigs of the new right-wing revival, with close ties to neo-fascists in Britain and his native Germany. … In recent years Oliver and [Bob] Johnson have had associations with the Birchers, the Minutemen, etc., but O&J are to the right of these weak-sister organizations and have set up in business as ushers of the new Dawn on their own.
—photojournalist Andrew St. George in 1974[3]:123

Vanuatu, part 1[edit]

In September 1971, Oliver and his supporters (called the Ocean Life Research Foundation or Caribbean-Pacific Enterprises) invested in a joint venture to purchase land for subdivision on Santa Maria and Gaua Islands in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), but by November, the British-French Condominium, which was the colonial overseer of New Hebrides, virtually prohibited subdivision and made residency by foreigners more difficult.[6]:110-111 Financial backers of Ocean Life Research Foundation included John Templeton, who later founded the Templeton Foundation, and Seth G. Atwood.Wikipedia[3]:62

Republic of Minerva[edit]

Satellite view of the Minerva reefs

In 1971, Oliver's representative attempted to have an audience with the King of Tonga regarding Oliver's intention to appropriate submerged reefs located south of Tonga and Fiji, known as the Minerva reefs.[8] After the 1971 setback in the New Hebrides, Oliver and his supporters proclaimed the "Republic of Minerva" over the submerged Minerva reefs on January 19, 1972.[6]:111 It was also claimed that Oliver's group had dumped one or more barges of sand from Australia on the reef, so as to create an island from the sea.[8] The declaration drew the attention of Tonga, and later Fiji. On June 15, 1972, the King of Tonga declared sovereignty over the Minerva reefs.[8] A delegation from Tonga shortly thereafter visited Minerva to enforce the Tongan sovereignty.[8] Tonga's sovereignty was recognized in September 1972 by the South Pacific Forum, which includes all Pacific Island nations as either members or observers. In 2005, Fiji had declared that they did not recognize Tonga's claim to Minerva, but by that time Oliver's group had long since given up on claiming it.

There are few details about how the Republic of Minerva would function, but Oliver's 1968 manifesto, A New Constitution for a New Country showed what Oliver had in mind. For his constitution, Oliver had lifted large parts of the United States Constitution while excluding any provisions for welfare or for printing currency.[3]:68 Furthermore, the constitution required that participants either pay for all government services or none, and that those who did not pay would not receive any government services.[3]:69[7]:76 The implication of this is that overseas laborers, who would likely be the ones to actually build the Republic and not be able to afford government services, would have no police protection, and would be assumed to be criminally guilty if a Republic participant assaulted them since the laborer would not have been able to afford the police protection if it was provided.[3]:69[7]:84 This plan would have created a dystopian society, recreating the one that Oliver had barely escaped, Nazi Germany, in which a bottom-rung labor class, mostly likely racially-defined from neighboring Pacific Islands, would have no rights.

Bahamas[edit]

File:Mitchell Werbell III.jpg
Mitchell Werbell III
Bahamas in cream color with the North Abaco in red
[Oliver] represents several wealthy Americans and Britishers who have long had a dream of having their own Island and establishing their own country. Now this sounds like something right out of cheap fiction; however, it is a fact.
Central Intelligence Agency, June 18, 1974[9]:115

In June 1971, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas announced an agenda for independence from Britain.[10] Many people from the Abaco islands objected to independence and formed a committee to oppose it.[10] In 1972, the pro-independence party won a decisive 60% of the vote overall, but in North Abaco, the vote was razor-thin, and in South Abaco, the anti-independence party won by a wide margin.[10] The British government, however, had indicated that independence for the Bahamas was an all-or-nothing deal.[10] The Bahamas declared independence on July 10, 1973. In August 1973, two residents of Abaco, Chuck Hall and Bert Williams, formed the Abaco Independence Movement (AIM); shortly before independence, they had contacted Oliver, who had agreed to finance AIM.[11] Besides independence, the goals of AIM included elimination of Crown (government) lands, creating an "Abaco World Trade Zone", and basically setting up an independent libertarian nation.[11] Though AIM's campaign was stated to be "self-determination through legal and peaceful political action",[11] there were some sinister non-Bahamian characters associated with AIM, including the arms merchant/mercenary/con-man Mitchell WerBell.Wikipedia[5][11][3]:99-113 At that time, Werbell had a mixture of libertarians and segregationists at his firearms training school (SIONICS) in Georgia.[3]:107-108 By 1975, AIM had changed its name to the Abaco Home Rule Movement (AHRM).[5] The 1977 elections were a disappointment for AHRM; the movement eventually died.[5]

Prior to independence, the libertarian magazine Reason was touting Oliver's plan for Abaco in part because of the perceived social structure. Abaco was racially about 50% white and 50% black, due in part to British Loyalists fleeing there after the American Revolution,[12] and Abaco was seemingly self-segregated socially but not economically.

Nor does anyone, black or white, appear to want residential integration — both races appear concerned about preventing interracial marriage as well as trying to avoid having either racial group become politically or economically dominant over the other. This system appears to work well; there is no segregation in stores, hotels, schools, restaurants, etc. and black Abaconians have for the most part been unresponsive to the racist rhetoric of Prime Minister Lyndon Pindling.
—Lynn Kinsky and Robert Poole[12]

This was clearly a nod to libertarian Southerners who were angry at US desegregation ("Libertaryans").

Following Hurricane Dorian in 2019, the destruction on Abaco revealed to the world its racial and social inequality, with wealthy absentee owners owning luxury properties there and relying upon undocumented Haitians (who lived in an unregulated shantytown called Mudd) to build and maintain the properties.[13] One property owner said, "There’s a lot of people who don’t let their workers use their bathrooms. I get criticized for being too nice to my workers, but you’ve got to treat a human like a human, or you don’t get good quality work."[13] While the wrath of the hurricane destroyed luxury properties as well as Mudd, the luxury property owners were able to flee before the hurricane's arrival but the Mudd dwellers had to either hope for shelter in their employers' better-built estates or weather it out in the shantytown.[13] While the idea of an independent Abaco failed, Abaco has become libertarianesque because the infrastructure was largely privately built, because wealth is highly determinative there,[13] and because the Bahamas is a tax haven.[14]

Azores[edit]

The Phoenix Foundation financially backed the Azores Liberation FrontWikipedia (Frente de Libertação dos Açores), which sought independence from Portugal and was active from 1975-1979 and engaged in violent political attacks.[3]:130,132

Vanuatu, part 2[edit]

Proposed flag of the Republic of Vemerana

Following The Phoenix Foundation's failure in the Bahamas, they investigated purchasing one of the Line Islands in 1975 from the British colonial government of the Gilbert and Ellis Islands (now part of Kiribati) via a British Lord as a proxy, but was swiftly rejected after it was discovered who the real purchaser was.[15]:151 Following that failure, The Phoenix Foundation then turned to influencing the Nagrimel movement in the New Hebrides starting in 1975.[15]:151

The Phoenix Foundation refocused on the New Hebrides archipelago in March 1979, since independence from the UK-French colonial condominium was imminent.[5] Oliver sought out potential allies within the New Hebrides, even considering the Jon Frum cargo cult of Tanna Island as a likely ally with a "libertarian bent",[16] even though the movement was primarily a religious/separatist organization with little to no knowledge of libertarianism.

Eventually, the Foundation formed an agreement with Jimmy Stevens (a.k.a., Jimmy Steven), the leader of the Nagriamel Movement, who was from Espiritu Santo Island (a.k.a. Santo).[5] The Foundation had the aim of having Santo become separate from New Hebrides as a libertarian paradise with Stevens as its leader.[5] The Nagriamel Movement badly lost the 1979 elections to the national unity Vanua'aku Pati. Stevens declared the Republic of Vemerana in June 1980, and New Hebrides became the independent nation of Vanuatu on July 30, 1980.[5] Though Nagriamel had supporters, it proved to be unpopular, winning only one parliament seat of six on its home island of Santo, with the other major party (New Hebrides National Party, later Vanua'aku Pati) winning the other five seats and a 2/3rd majority nationwide in the nation's first election in 197.[3]:155

In 1979, Oliver and Stevens tried to cook up a scheme for resettling Vietnamese refugees who fled Vietnam after the end of the war ended. Jackie Bong-Wright, a member of the National Alliance of Vietnamese Associations in the US, had been contacted by Oliver and was skeptical, saying, "any refugees who make it to the New Hebrides will be exploited as slave labour by Oliver on his development projects." Stevens seemed to have confirmed this by saying that refugees would work in gardens in exchange for room and board.[3]:165

Apparently, the Foundation had either forgotten about a little clause in their old proposed Abaco constitution about the government's limited powers ("Prohibiting import or export of … arms for criminal groups"),[12] or they "learned" from their failure and decided to rely on WerBell's mercenary expertise. The Foundation had spent more than US$250,000 in weapons, transport and radio equipment for Steven's secessionist Nagriamel movement.[5] Nagriamel supporters kidnapped the district commissioner of Santo, forced 2000 government supporters to leave the island, and ransacked businesses and houses.[5] The colonial troops that were stationed there did not act to quell the violence, and eventually Walter Lini, the first prime minister, requested troops from Papua New Guinea to suppress the rebellion.[5][17] The rebellion was dubbed "The Coconut War" and resulted in a few casualties and the death of one of Stevens' sons.[17]

Before he became a US Representative, Dana Rohrabacher visited Vanuatu during the rebellion and was likely connected to the Phoenix Foundation in some way.[18]

In the late 1990s, Oliver and Stefan Mandel formed the Israeli Mondgragon group, which attempted to form a free trade zone within Vanuatu. The project failed in 2001 when a Vanuatu government ombudsman found that the group was corrupt.[3]:175 Also in 2001, one of the board members of Vemerana, F. Thomas Eck III, was convicted of pump-and-dump schemes of US stocks.[3]:175

And in 2006, another attempt was made by an Oliver-affiliated group to establish a free port with an autonomous government in Vanauatu; this time it got no further than a memorandum of understanding.[3]:175-176

Free Town Project[edit]

In 2004, a group of libertarian activists attempted to take over the tiny town of Grafton, New Hampshire and transform it into a monument for libertarian ideals. The founders of what would become the Free Town Project drove around the New England countryside in a van “fortified by alcohol, tobacco and firearms" while searching for their paradise.[19] In addition to attracting a fair number of cranks and kooks, civic institutions were gutted, and the town was overrun by aggressive black bears feeding off unsecured food and improperly-discarded garbage.[20] Because not even the most basic common public services were supported (to the point that the town's single police officer didn't have the money to repair his patrol car), the residents of Grafton were literally left on their own to deal with the bear problem individually.[21] The town also enjoyed a sudden influx of sex offenders, a budget shortfall compounded by numerous lawsuits filed by libertarians, and the first homicide in living memory.[22] What a paradise!

In 2005, one of the original masterminds of the Free Town Project, Larry Pendarvis[21] (a Filipina mail-order bride website operator[23] who had previously been convicted of 129 counts of possession of child pornography in 2000)[24] later schemed with two other fellow Free State Project libertarians to try and take over Mentone, Texas,Wikipedia one of the tiniest county seats (population in 2010: 19) in one of the least populated counties (Loving County, TexasWikipedia) in the United States. Claiming they had bought property in Loving on eBay,Wikipedia in the fall of 2005, the three libertarians attempted to file voter-registration forms in Mentone. However, the town sheriff, Sheriff Billy Burt Hopper, determined that their claims did not match current deed records, and filed misdemeanor false voter registration charges against the three.[25] There is no evidence that the project proceeded any further than that.

According to the Free Town Project's now defunct website, the goal was to move in enough Libertarians into the town "to control the local government and remove oppressive regulations (such as planning and zoning, and building code requirements) and stop enforcement of laws prohibiting victimless acts among consenting adults such as dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling."[26] It is quite understandable why some of the local populace of these small towns would be a tad irked by these folks moving in.[27]

While the Free Town Project was unfolding in 2016, a similar but more grandiose project was being planned for the whole state of New Hampshire by other libertarians, the Free State Project.[28]:218 The Free State Project did not eventuate.

Von Ormy[edit]

The sign of the two-headed city government

In 2006, residents of Von Ormy, Texas (population of about 1000) feared that they would be annexed by the nearby and rapidly expanding city of San Antonio.[29] There was opposition to incorporating as a town because a lot of people in rural Texas hate government.[29] As a compromise, Martinez de Vara, a libertarian and a local law student, proposed instead incorporation as a "liberty city", a low-tax, minimal government form of incorporation in Texas that is popular among the Tea Party.[29] The town incorporated in 2008 with the motto "The Freest Little City in Texas".[29]

Vara became mayor in 2008, promising to bring in new businesses and progressively lower property taxes every year.[29] A major problem was that Von Ormy lacked a sewage system and businesses were reluctant to come there without one. The San Antonio Water System told them a sewer connection would cost between $4-5 million, but the town only had $500,000 it could spare.[29] The city administrator recommended floating a bond, but liberty cities are not supposed to take on debt.[29] An oil boom in Texas increased sales tax revenue from existing businesses, and the property tax revenue was decreased from 2009 through 2014.[29] In 2014 the oil boom began to end and sales taxes began to dry up. At that point 3 of the 5 city council members decided that decreasing the property tax every year was foolish, and they formed a shadow city government, but were eventually arrested for allegedly violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.[29] Von Ormy was descending into chaos and Vara stepped down as mayor, replaced by councilor Trina Reyes. In 2015, Von Ormy was spending $20,000-$30,000/month on legal fees due to the arrests.[29]

Vara suggested that Von Ormy change from a Type A to a Type C municipality in order to eliminate the chaos.[29] Voters narrowly supported the change, but it didn't eliminate the chaos.[29] By 2016, the police department was forced to shut down after the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement pulled its accreditation due to its inability to meet basic standards from a combination of lack of funds and an unqualified police chief.[29][30] The volunteer fire department also collapsed due to lack of funds.[29] When a volunteer fire department fails for lack of funds, you know you've got problems.

Lessons that could be learned:

  • There's a cost to saving money.
  • Constant chaos is exhausting.

Colorado Springs[edit]

Mayor Steve Bach,Wikipedia who largely ran the experiment in Colorado Springs

The Libertarian Party was founded in Colorado Springs, Colorado; it is also the home of Focus on the Family and is notoriously anti-tax.[31] Though not explicitly libertarian in nature, starting around 2011, Colorado Springs' response to an economic downturn of the Great Recession, and concomitant reduction in sales tax, was to vehemently oppose any increase in property taxes. In response, the city drastically reduced government expenditures. The city turned off ⅓ of its streetlights, locked public restrooms, slashed public bus services, and cut funding to police, the fire department, trash pickup, and city parks, including closure of swimming pools.[31] The city then began charging $125 to have a streetlight turned back on.[31] The city privatized a lot of services, but it was never determined whether privatization saved any money.[31]

[A lot of the people in Colorado Springs] don't care if privatizing actually saves the government money, so long as the government is doing less. City councilwoman Jan Martin says she hears this all the time. That it's become a matter of faith in the city that private is better.
—Robert Smith[31]

According to a city council member at the time, a lot of citizens didn't care what privatization cost; they just wanted less government.[31] This was to the point that people would rather pay $300 to turn on streetlights in their own neighborhood than collectively restore all government services for everyone for $200.[31] This is hatred of government bordering on class war.

Eventually, the recession ended, sales tax revenue increased, and city services resumed.[32]

Lessons learned:

  • There's a cost to saving money. Turning off streetlights saved $1.25 million, but copper thieves stole $5 million worth of wire (no electrocution worries, fewer police).[32]
  • Perpetual chaos is exhausting; most people involved with the privatization experiment are glad that it's over. During the experiment, a dysfunctional city government was voted in and led by Steve Bach, a self-described Trump-like businessman.[32]
  • Open bidding is a good thing; one of the benefits to come out of the experiment was an open bidding for the city's hospital, which netted the city a lot of money.[32]
  • Roads were not privatized, but public transport was slashed, showing just how hypocritical people can be.

Galt's Gulch[edit]

Who needs water rights?
See the main article on this topic: Galt's Gulch Chile

Galt's Gulch, Chile, was created on 11,000 acres of arid land in Chile by three libertarians (John Cobin, Germán Eyzaguirre, Jeff Berwick).[33] It was named after the fictional locale in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Subdivisions were marketed and sold to fellow libertarians in 2013-2014. It was later found that the subdivisions did not include water rights, which is an enormous problem for arid lands. Compounding the water problem, houses had not been finished and contractors' bills had not been paid and they refused to perform further work.[34][35] And in a final stroke of genius, the ownership of the gulch was accidentally transferred to someone who was not a founder.[36][37] The mess has resulted in multiple lawsuits, which is particularly ironic because libertarians are usually loath to use governmental court systems.

Honduras[edit]

Romer in 2005
You can gauge the controversy surrounding Paul Romer's charter cities by the fact that their likelihood ended, in Madagascar, and began, in Honduras, with coups d'état, both in 2009.
—Raymond B. Craib[3]:212[note 1]

The concept of "charter cities" was developed by Paul Romer prior to winning the Nobel Prize in economics in 2018 (though the prize was not for his charter cities work). The charter cities concept in Honduras was implemented as Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico (a.k.a. ZEDE or tax-free zones).[3]:212-213 Romer's charter city idea was based on colonial Hong Kong, which had "no duties on imports, exports; minimal customs control; free entry to foreign capital; a prohibition on industrial regulations and closed shop labor unions; and a significant amount of political autonomy."[3]:220 The idea consequently started out with the taint of colonialism. Romer claimed that "charter cities are based entirely on voluntary actions",[38] but it's difficult to see how the ZEDEs of Honduras are voluntary in any meaningful sense when they were brought about by a coup that has continued to keep Honduras as undemocratic (a "hybrid regime").[3]:223-226[39] To counter the claim of charter cities as being neo-colonialist, Romer joined a transparency commission to oversee ZEDEs in December 2011.[40] By September 2022, Romer had left the commission because it had been completely bypassed and ignored.[41] The Honduran Congress repealed the laws that created ZEDEs in 2022 after the left-wing Libertad y Refundación was elected into power replacing the right-wing coup-installed party Partido Nacional de Honduras. However, the original ZEDE law contained legal assurances that included constitutionally-protected legal stability for 50 years, which meant that the three existing ZEDA zones created before the repeal ("Próspera"[note 2] on Roatan Island, Ciudad Morazán, and ZEDE Orquídea) were left in legal limbo.[42] As of 2023, there remains a dispute about whether the initial law that allowed ZEDEs (Regiones Especiales de Desarrollo) was legal because it was passed via corruption, and whether the government would owe the existing ZEDEs compensation if they were not grandfathered in.[42]

Próspera has faced both initial and ongoing opposition from Roatan Island residents,[3]:234-235[42] and the investors are likely prepared to change the project from a ZEDE to an ordinary tourist destination.[42]

Contrition[edit]

In 2015, Romer expressed contrition about his involvement in Honduras, but no acknowledgement of his extreme naivete for thinking that a free enclave could be established within an authoritarian country, or that colonial Hong Kong's wealth was due to "freedom",[3]:232-233[note 3]

Thibault Serlet, director of research at special economic zone consultancy Adrianople Group, said that the main reason people invested in Próspera was ideological, "Nobody's investing in Próspera because they seriously think they’re going to make money."[42] It's ironic then that they named the ZEDE for the the English word "prosperous" (próspera).[46]

Loaded language in Honduras[edit]

Edwin Lyngar, a former libertarian, and Mike LaSusa have claimed that post-2009 Honduras was a libertarian paradise.[47][48] The evidence that they presented for it being libertarian was: no speed limit signs on their cross-country trip, unnecessary vehicle license plates, illegal traffic stops replaced by military checkpoints, and privatization of road repair by ad hoc work crews.[47] Lyngar apparently did not have much of an idea of where he was or the context of what he was seeing, for example misidentifying the crime-ridden San Pedro Sula for the ZEDE Ciudad Morazán,[47] about 20km away.

Robert P. Murphy of the libertarian Fraser Institute, writing for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, wrote that he had never heard of a "libertarian claiming that Honduras [was] a paradise, or an experiment in the philosophy."[49] Murphy is essentially claiming loaded language on the part of Lyngar and LaSusa; however, Murphy is being duplicitous because libertarians were involved in the 2009 coup d'état against Honduran pro-socialist president Manuel Zelaya.[50]:44-47[51] Porfirio Lobo, who succeeded Zelaya, was responsible for implementing ZEDEs in Honduras.[50] The ZEDEs were designed after the libertarian concept of "free cities", tax-free zones with special legal systems that are largely independent from the rest of the country.[50]:48-50[52] For example, Jeff Berwick,Wikipedia a libertarian and one of the three Galt's Gulch founders, tried and failed to set up a free trade zone in Honduras in 2014.[53]

Silk Road[edit]

Silk Road payment system
Dread Pirate Roberts before he was keelhauled
I have been scammed more than twice now by assholes who say they’re legit when I say I want to purchase stolen credit cards. I want to do tons of business but I DO NOT want to be scammed. I wish there were people who were honest crooks. If anyone could help me out that would be awesome! I just want to buy one at first so I know the seller is legit and honest.
—An anonymous darknet user[54]

Silk Road was an online darknet black market that was best known for illegal drug commerce, but also other legal and illegal goods and activities. Silk Road was launched in 2011 by "Dread Pirate Roberts", who was later revealed by the FBI to be the libertarian Ross William UlbrichtWikipedia when he was arrested in 2013 and later sentenced to life in prison in 2015 on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy.[55][56] Silk Road was based on Bitcoin cryptocurrency and Tor to anonymize both currency transactions and communications.[57] The anonymity brought a problem insofar as it became difficult to tell whom to trust, and that's where Ulbricht came in as an intermediary who could generally establish trust between seller and buyer.[54] The rules of Silk Road required that sellers immediately erase the mailing address of the buyer after a sale was completed; however, there was not and could not be any mechanism to enforce this.[54] This was a key structural flaw in Silk Road, which forced Ulbricht to betray his own ideals:

Now, my goals have shifted. I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind. Just as slavery has been abolished most everywhere, I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end.
—Ross Ulbricht[55][58]

Since sellers could, and did, in fact, keep the addresses of their buyers, they could and did use this information to blackmail Ulbricht. Ulbricht paid two blackmailers to murder two people who tried to blackmail him, though it is not known if this resulted in murders and he was not convicted on charges of murder.[54] Ulbricht also had to pay bribes to halt denial-of-service attacks.[54] The fate of Silk Road seemed to answer in the negative a fundamental libertarian question of whether free markets can exist without the threat of force.[54]

Seasteading: Mutiny on the Bounty[edit]

Seasteading is the libertarian fantasy of attempting to establish a society on (or under) the sea. Given that a large swath of the oceans are international waters, outside the jurisdiction of any one country, some people view seasteading as the most viable possibility for creating new, autonomous states with their own pet political systems in place.

Several attempts have been made by libertarians to create micronations on artificial islands: Sealand (a former World War II anti-aircraft platform in the North Sea), Republic of Minerva (an artificial island constructed on top of a submerged reef in the South Pacific), Rose Island (a platform in the Mediterranean), and Operation Atlantis (a ship anchored off of the Bahamas). None of these were successful, but libertarians are still pushing the idea.[59][60]

Given that international maritime law doesn't, as such, recognize ginormous boats or artificial islands as stateless enclaves or independent nations, diplomatic recognition, if the owners actually need it, is problematic.

Seasteading is inspired by real-life examples of boat-based provision of services that are illegal in certain countries. Examples include casino boats (ships that, upon reaching international waters, open up their gambling facilities to passengers) and the organization Women on Waves,Wikipedia which provides abortion services for countries (such as Poland, Portugal, and Spain) where abortion is illegal or in which the rules are stricter than they would prefer. Another example is pirate radio stations, which got their name from the fact that many of them operated from boats in international waters.

Several seasteading projects have been started; only two have ever been completed (three if one counts Sealand and its 'Prince'), and the vast majority have never even really begun. It is quite possible that herding libertarians is more difficult than herding cats.

Some cryonicists are seasteaders, such as former Director of Business Strategy at The Seasteading Institute Max Marty,Wikipedia[61][62] which implies truly remarkably compartmentalised thinking about the value of large, stable social structures necessary for long-term cryonics vs. the remote microstates envisioned in seasteading.

As they age, some libertarians are realising that replacing government may be more work than they can personally achieve as actualised individuals.[63] Reason magazine, of course, tells them not to stop thinking about tomorrow.[64]

An early attempt[edit]

In 1964, Leicester Hemingway (brother of Ernest) anchored a bamboo raft 8 miles at sea off of Jamaica. He encouraged birds to defecate on one end of the raft, and attempted to get the US government to accept the raft as US territory under the 1856 Guano Islands Act. A hurricane destroyed the raft in 1966.[3]:54-55[65]

I fought the law and the law won[edit]

The decade of the 1960s was one of increasing private and US governmental interest in the sea.[3]:57-60 In 1970 there was a case over the legality of building a resort on top of a Florida reef; federal appeals court judges made a ruling that put the kibosh to any dreams of seasteading in proximity to United States territory. The judges stated in their ruling:[3]:60[66]

The fairy tale has an unhappy ending, with the granting by the District Court of the petition of the United States for a permanent injunction against the activities of defendants and intervenor on these reefs, and by the action which we take here in affirming in part and reversing in part the judgment of the trial court. The dreams of the separate groups for a new nation must perish, like the lost continent "Atlantis," beneath the waves and waters of the sea which constantly submerge the reefs.

In 1982, the United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea extended the exclusive economic zones for signatories to 200 nautical miles from the coast, greatly limiting the potential for seasteading because most countries (157) are signatories.[67][68]

"Successful" examples[edit]

There have been five seasteading projects that could be considered 'successful' in any sense of the word — successful in the sense of a physical project launch. The first such project was the Republic of Minerva (above).

Rose Island[edit]

Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj

Rose Island, officially the "Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj" (Republic of the Island of Roses), was a 400-square-meter artificial platform in the Mediterranean founded by an Italian casino entrepreneur in 1968. It styled itself as a libertarian capitalist state with Esperanto as its official language, but was in fact little more than a tourist resort complex, and had virtually no space for permanent residents. The Italian government, seeing the project as nothing more than a ploy to avoid having to pay taxes on revenue from the resort, seized the platform with police a few weeks after it opened and destroyed it with explosives.[69]

Operation Atlantis[edit]

Deca, the currency of Atlantis — it also sank

In 1968, libertarian soap-magnate Werner K. Stiefel wrote a booklet, The Story of Operation Atlantis, under the pen name Warren K. Stevens. The booklet, based on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, outlined three stages: purchase a motel for like-minded individuals to meet and create a community, build or purchase a ship to anchor offshore, and build an artificial island.[3]:55-57[70]

Operation Atlantis was an American attempt by Stiefel to create an anarcho-capitalist utopia in the Bahamas by building a large ferro-cement ship, sailing it to its destination, anchoring it there and living on it. The boat was built, launched from New York in 1971, and (after capsizing once on the Hudson river and catching fire) taken to its final position in the Caribbean, where it was secured in place until a tropical storm destroyed it.[71][note 4] After two more attempts and eventually pouring a lot of money into an island off the coast of Belize that he couldn't get autonomy for, the project collapsed.[72]

Stiefel's personal desire for exiting the state was his impoverishment during the Great Depression due to the Nazi seizure of his grandfather's assets in Germany, and his personal desire to escape "Social Security, federal income tax, and Medicare", which he viewed as impossible to repeal.[70]:26[73]

The failure of Operation Atlantis like other failed libertarian sea adventures, can be regarded not just as a failure to understand indigenous island-based communities:

Atlantisians and seasteaders have paid little attention to island culture and to the many communities in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar who have traditionally lived in a symbiotic relationship with the ocean.
—Isabelle Simpson[73]

but at least in this case as a failure to understand other libertarians ("Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." — Francis Bacon, as cited by Ayn Rand herself.[74]:31

Sealand[edit]

Their Hoyal Highnesses, Prince Roy and Princess Joan, standing amid the fertile plains and majestic highlands of Sealand

HM Fort Roughs is an abandoned British anti-aircraft platform of World War II vintage located 7 nautical miles east of the British Isles, which was just outside of Britain's territorial limit up until 1987. In 1967, the abandoned fort was claimed and occupied by Paddy Roy Bates, declaring the fort as The Principality of Sealand, and himself as "Prince Roy of Sealand" (1921–2012). Bates was a former offshore pirate radio station operator, who also proclaimed his wife Joan Bates (1929–2016) "Princess Joan". Paddy Bates, while not known to be explicitly a libertarian, did merit an obituary in the libertarian Reason magazine and in the Foundation for Economic Education.[75][76] The population of this nation has never been more than one can count on both hands; nonetheless, the Principality of Sealand was invaded and conquered in 1978 by a group of German and Dutch nationals (including the kidnapping of Prince Roy's son, the future "Prince Michael"Wikipedia (1952–)) whose coup was promptly reversed by Prince Roy who hired a helicopter to help him retake the artificial island. To this day, it's as close as anyone has ever come to a functioning seastead, and that isn't really saying much.

An internet service provider, HavenCo.com, actually attempted to set up its servers on Sealand circa 2000, but the deal fell through when HavenCo's founder had a falling out with Prince Paddy Roy.[77] In 2013, a HavenCo placeholder website appeared, stating, "Havenco is launching new services in early 2013 to facilitate private communications and storage" and boasting "The next generation of online privacy coming soon!"[78]

Following a fire in 2006, Prince Roy listed the Principality of Sealand for sale in 2007, but since one cannot technically "sell" a monarchy, it was in actuality being offered for transfer of title or something along those lines.[79]

Such is Sealand's reputation that the nation actually has had athletes who represented the country,[80] ships who have attempted to negotiate with Prince Roy to buy the right to flag their ships under the Sealand flag, the German hip-hop group Fettes Brot shot the video for their 2013 track Echo at Sealand,[81] and there is a phony-baloney outfit based in Germany selling counterfeit Sealand coins, stamps, and passports (not recognized by the de facto Sealand government of Prince Roy, who considers the outfit a criminal gang descended from the earlier coup attempt). The counterfeits have been produced by multiple outfits, and so may be more common than the "authentic" ones.[82] It is an inspiration to micronation buffs who see it as an example of a successful micronation. However, Sealand has never been recognized by any other country as a sovereign nation (though a British court decision held that the English courts had no jurisdiction over it[83]:641-642). Note that UK territorial waters were expanded from three to twelve nautical miles in 1987 (in accord with international norms) and so now encompass Sealand.

Sealand is depicted in the anime Hetalia: Axis Powers as a child in a sailor suit,[84] and in the webcomic Scandinavia and the World as a little boy wearing a crown and a t-shirt modeled after its national flag.[85][note 5]

Prince Roy died on 9 October 2012, leaving his son and heir, Michael Bates (who had been serving as Prince Regent Michael), as Sealand's Head of State, and the author of the Principality's historical book, Holding the Fort.[86] The Prince is dead, long live the Prince!

MS Satoshi[edit]

The former MS Satoshi in 2021

In an effort to throw in as many libertarian buzzwords as possible into one news story, in 2019, Bitcoin entrepreneur Chad Elwartowski attempted to set up a floating home in what he thought were international waters 26 km (14 nautical miles) off the west coast of Phuket, Thailand. He and his partner Supranee Thepdet (a.k.a. Nadia Summergirl,[87] a.k.a. Bitcoin Girl Thailand[88]) planned to construct up to 20 homes, Chad[89] calling himself "probably the freest person in the world". Unfortunately for him, the Royal Thai Navy didn't agree with his interpretation of the law and boarded the floating home, pointing out it was in Thailand's exclusive economic zone and therefore a violation of Thai sovereignty, an offence potentially carrying the death penalty.[90]

Elwartowski is not one to give up easily. After fleeing Thailand with Thepdet, he joined forces with two other seasteading advocates, Grant Romundt (creator of a popular hairstyling series on YouTube and a houseboat owner) and Rüdiger Koch (an engineer with Bitcoin wealth).[87] The three of them set up their business, Ocean Builders, in Panama in 2019, where they began building Seapod prototypes in early 2020. It was a terrible time to start a business, but as it turned out, it was a great time to buy a cruise ship since the cruise industry also sank that year like the RMS Titanic due to the COVID pandemic. In October 2020, the trio purchased, with their new company Viva Vivas, the cruise ship Pacific Dawn for a song ($9.5 million), and renamed it after the likely-pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto who had created Bitcoin.[87] Despite starting the business with libertarian ideology, ship purchase and ownership is highly regulated,[87][note 6] and that's close to impossible to escape if one ever wants to dock to refuel or even to leave international waters. After the purchase, the ship had to be piloted across the Atlantic with a professional crew, as the trio had no prior experience in legal or technical aspects of running such a ship. Elwartowski meanwhile tried to talk up potential tenants on Reddit, making some perplexing but detailed requirements for the 'freedom' of life in a cruise ship cabin:[87]

  • There would be no microwave ovens and no cooking in cabins. Only some cabins would have refrigerators, but meals could only be purchased in the restaurant, or perhaps from renting part of the kitchen.
  • Bitcoin mining rigs would be allowed in cabins, with initially free electricity, promising that no taxes would need to be paid for income derived in international waters.
  • Dogs would be allowed only in balcony cabins, and pet waste thrown overboard would engender a $200 fine.[91]
  • Electricity would initially be by the ship's generators, but eventually be provided by solar power.

Some of the more obvious problems with these restrictions are:

  • Microwave ovens are relatively low-energy use and very safe, but Bitcoin mining rigs are very high-energy use and can get very hot if not properly cooled with air conditioning. Imagine every tightly-packed cabin going full-blast Bitcoin mining day-and-night, and someone forgot to turn their air conditioning on full blast before going upstairs to get drunk at the poolside bar — oops, there a raging fire in the bottom-level cabins. If the A/C and mining are on separate circuits, one could even imagine the A/C going out everywhere while the rigs are still heating up in every cabin.
  • Undoubtedly there are wealthy people in the world who view a $200 fine far preferable to properly disposing of doggie doo. This rain of negative externalities dropping from the sky a few times a day is not likely to please the less wealthy libertarians on lower berths.
  • The likely very high electricity usage from Bitcoin mining on the ship is highly unlikely to be powered by offshore solar power in any feasible scheme. Even if the trio was eventually able to concoct such a scheme, they were required by the Panamanian government to sail 12 miles out to sea approximately every 20 days to dump their treated wastewater outside of Panamanian waters,[87] thus likely requiring disconnection and reconnection to a sea-based solar power grid.
  • Packing so many freedom-loving libertarians so densely under a perhaps evolving set of rules enforced by the landlords is likely to generate a lot of anger and conflict, and bring out the asshole in everyone.
  • The claim that people living in international waters do not have to pay taxes is entirely wrong for US citizens, for example.[92]

If that weren't enough, the promotional materials at one point erroneously referred to COVID as the flu,[93] and also promoted the quack COVID treatment of hydroxychloroquine.[93][94]

After the purchase was finalized, it was realized by the new ship captain that due to the naivete of the new owners, the ship neither had a certificate for seaworthiness nor the insurance required to sail it, so the first stop was a Gibraltar dry dock for repairs to gain a certificate, and then insurance for the Atlantic crossing.[87] Insurance for the Panamanian anchorage proved even more difficult due to the unprecedented nature of a cruise ship being semi-permanently anchored a few miles from a coast.[87]

Ultimately, the project failed because no one wanted to rent the cabins under the proposed conditions, not even true believers in both seasteading and Bitcoin.[87] But in one sense, insurance is the enemy of libertarianism. One can't easily enroll people onto a potentially life-threatening vehicle without insurance. One can't have insurance without insurance regulation, and one can't have regulation without government. Stiefel, the man behind Operation Atlantis, however had no problem with requiring insurance of participants.[72]

The idea of a floating island-ship for millionaires/billionaires to escape from all laws other than admiralty law had been foretold in Jules Verne's 1895 book L'Île à hélice,[95] which was not translated into a complete English uncensored edition until 2015 due to its anti-British and anti-American passages.[96] The book starts with the kidnapping of four musicians who are forced to perform on the island, and features an ongoing rivalry between two onboard wealthy families.[3]:189-190

The Seasteading Institute[edit]

I do not despair because I no longer believe that politics encompasses all possible futures of our world. In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms — from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called "social democracy."
—Peter Thiel[97]

Libertarians Peter Thiel and Patri FriedmanWikipedia (grandson of Milton Friedman) founded the Seasteading Institute (SI) in 2008 with the intent of building a floating city.[98] The Institute has claimed that it would be beneficial to "millions of people threatened by rising sea levels, provide economic opportunities to people in remote and economically-deprived environments, and provide humanity with new opportunities for organizing societies and governments."[99][100]:25 Behind this though was one of the "solutions formulated elsewhere"[101]:28 with minimal or no consultation with native inhabitants, the imposition of an external political system (libertarianism), and colonialist language and ideology ("homesteading").[3]:205-207[100]:268

In 2017 the Institute, by then Thiel-less, signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of French Polynesia, an autonomous territory of France in the south Pacific, but by 2018 French Polynesia let the agreement expire. Even so, hundreds of residents of Mataiea marched against the agreement after it had expired.[3]:208

Similar projects[edit]

Vietnam's claim on Collins Reef in the Spratlys

Libertarians are hardly the only people to try and colonize the ocean. China, for instance, has used a version of seasteading in order to enforce its claims on the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that's claimed in whole or in part by six nations (the PRC, the ROC, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei). China has been hard at work using land reclamation to build artificial islands with airstrips, piers, harbors, and helipads, which they say are for military "and civilian" use.[102]

In the 1970s, a relatively apolitical seasteading project was proposed for the North Sea, "Sea City", based on the idea that "Man is fast running out of living space."[103]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The video game BioShockWikipedia[104] features what is probably the best-known example of a seastead in popular culture both in the form of the underwater city of Rapture, and the flying city of Columbia. Spoiler: neither really panned out as intended.
  • Waterworld — a dystopian seasteading film, that The Seasteading Institute felt compelled to claim was more about the problems of living on land than living on water.[105]

Other realities[edit]

Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early 21st century is organized along libertarian lines?
—Michael Lind[106]

There have been countries based around many different systems of social and economic organization: capitalism, communism, socialism, democracy, autocracy, theocracy, autarky and monarchy, but not on libertarianism. Libertarianism as a concept has been around since the early 20th century, but its roots date back much earlier, going back to at least John Locke[note 7] in the 1600s. Libertarians like some aspects of some governments, but they seem to be hard-pressed to point to a country with high levels of economic liberty and social liberty that they could even call an approximation. The best that has been done are rankings on economic freedom by the libertarian Fraser Institute and the neoconservative Heritage Foundation.

  • The Fraser Institute ranked countries on an economic freedom-only scale of 10. The top 5 countries in 2016 were: Hong Kong (9.03), Singapore (8.71), New Zealand (8.35), Switzerland (8.25), Canada (7.98).[108] The median score is about 7.0, and most economically-developed countries are ranked not that differently than Canada.[108]:8-9
  • The Heritage Foundation ranked the top countries similarly on an economic freedom-only scale. The top 5 countries in 2017 were: Hong Kong (89.8%), Singapore (88.6%), New Zealand (83.7%), Switzerland (81.5%), Australia (81.0%), a near match.[109]

A problem with these rankings is that the countries that appear on the top tend to be exceptional more because of geopolitics than because of policy. Some of the countries are able to maintain smallish governments because of special circumstances: Hong Kong as a demilitarised gateway for investment to and operations in China, Singapore as a state capitalist regional entrepôt, Switzerland's historical neutrality, and mostly small populations.[106] Notably, the rankings did not consider some anti-libertarian aspects:

  • Hong Kong is ultimately controlled by a one-party state with poor scores on democracy and corruption. Hong Kong was ranked number 1 for "crony capitalism" in 2014.[110] In recent years, the CCP has cracked down on its freedoms and implemented a national security lawWikipedia that severely restricts its freedoms.[note 8]
  • Singapore is a "benevolent" state capitalist dictatorship in which 85% of housing is supplied by the government and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) produce 22% of GNP (international average 10% GNP). It deliberately portrays itself as a free-trade paradise so its SOEs, such as Singapore Airlines, won't be avoided by Chicago school-educated foreign investors who would assume that they were inefficient or corrupt if they knew who owned them.[111]:49 Singapore was ranked number 5 in the world for crony capitalism.[110] Singapore does not have press freedom (ranked 149 of 180 countries in 2023).[112] Singapore enforces a death penalty for drug traffickers.[113]
  • Canada and New Zealand have publicly-funded near-universal healthcare.
  • Australia, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Singapore have publicly-funded universal healthcare.

Ciskei[edit]

Ciskei was one of several a nominally-independent BantustanWikipedia that Apartheid South Africa carved out of its territory in 1981. The Bantustan system was created as a means for further segregating Black South Africans from White South Africans. The Bantustan became a dumping grounds for poor Black South Africans, many of whom had never lived in the territories before being displaced. Leon Louw,Wikipedia a libertarian White South African, chose Ciskei as a site for an export processing zone (EPZ or "free-trade zone") with its own separate rules and regulations than the rest of Ciskei.[114]:83-85[115] The EPZ concept had antecedants elsewhere dating back to the 1930s.[114]:85-86 Ciskei's EPZ was attractive to investors, but it was dependent on corporate welfare from the South African government.[114]:86-87 One feature of the Ciskei EPZ was violent suppression of labor organizers and protesters.[114]:87[116] During this time in 1983, the libertarian Reason magazine claimed that Ciskei was a "haven of prosperity and peace in South Africa’s back yard".[114]:87-88

In 1986, Louw proposed wrote a book with his wife (Frances Kendall) that was financially sponsored by Charles Koch and the Manhattan Institute.[117]:xii The book proposed turning the entirety of South Africa into Bantustans, privatizing all land ownership and education, and thereby enabling the perpetuation of private racial segregation.[114]:89-90 The book's proposal was likely the inspiration for the establishment of Orania in 1990, South Africa's last white supremacist holdout.[114]:91

Kowloon Walled City[edit]

View of one edge of the Walled City from a playground in 1993

Kowloon Walled City (KWC), a.k.a. The City of Darkness, has been called a libertarian experiment[118] or anarchy,[119] but rarely paradise. Anonymous posters placed within the city shortly before its destruction did however proclaim that it "was built with 'blood and sweat', and while to outsiders it might be a cancer', to those living there it was 'heaven'."[120]:209 It stands, though, as a good caution for the need for planning, but planning in itself doesn't make a paradise (see above).[121]

KWC had an inauspicious start in 1277 CE as a minor imperial fort of the Song dynasty on Kowloon Peninsula, existing with little notice until Britain colonized Hong Kong Island in 1841.[121] By 1847, China installed walls around the fort for the first time as a counter to British expansion from Hong Kong. The walls were ineffective in that regard, as the British eventually expanded throughout the Kowloon Peninsula with the exception of the fort.[121] Initially, KWC had direct access to the sea, but eventually land reclamation made KWC a landlocked exclave.[121] The Chinese and the British signed an 1898 treaty regarding the British occupation of the New Territories, but the Chinese did not want to give up KWC under any circumstances, and the treaty had ambiguous language with regard to KWC. KWC was known as a place for vices (initially gambling from 1890 until near the time of its demise).[121] During World War II, Japan removed the walls to expand the nearby Kai Tak Airport.[121] After the war, neither the returning British colonial government nor the new communist government of China wished to change the status quo for KWC, with neither power exercising much influence over it.[121] On the few occasions when the Hong Kong government attempted to exercise control over KWC, the threat of raising the issue to diplomatic incident was often enough for Hong Kong to back down.[121] What resulted from this situation was a largely ungoverned microstate within Hong Kong.

An alleyway in the City of Darkness: 'heaven' to some?

Some of the characteristics of KWC as it existed after the war until the 1984 treaty on relinquishment of Hong Kong to ChinaWikipedia did indeed resemble either libertarianism or anarchy. KWC was noted for no taxes, no government regulation, and minimal government intervention. It was also known for gambling, illicit drugs (opium and heroin), prostitution, organized crime (triads), no zoning or building regulations (with widespread use of asbestos[120]:199,211), no electricity in the earlier years, no organized waste or sewage disposal, difficulty accessing clean water (municipal water was only piped as far as the edge of the KWC), and unregulated industries (including food production, dentistry, and medicine with only rudimentary hygiene).[120][note 9] Filth, rats and cockroaches were widespread in KWC, but despite this, KWC was a major supplier for some food items to Hong Kong, (fish ballsWikipedia especially, which were regarded as being the tastiest).[120] Building heights eventually reached about 14 stories and were only limited by the proximity to airplanes arriving and departing at the nearby Kai Tak Airport.[120] A mutual aid organization (Kaifong associationWikipedia) developed, which also recorded property transactions and assured the terms of the contracts.[120] Hong Kong-supplied electricity was only installed after a major fire occurred from jury-rigged electric wiring that was illegally tapped into municipal power. Despite all this, people thrived in KWC, had a sense of community, and even considered it safer than other parts of Hong Kong.[120] The Hong Kong police had made occasional incursions into KWC, and the Supreme Court had asserted its jurisdiction based on a 1959 murder case, but full jurisdiction only began after the 1984 treaty.[121]

Liechtenstein[edit]

Vaduz Castle, home of Prince Hans-Adam II.

Despite not being mentioned at all by the Fraser Institute survey,[108] and mentioned but not ranked by the Heritage Foundation survey,[109] Liechtenstein is considered by some to be a libertarian experiment,[114]:144-147 however The Economist has called its government "democratic feudalism" without defining the term or citing any other examples.[122] Liechtenstein is a freak of history: a microstate (160 km2 with ~40,000 citizens), arguably the last remnant of the Habsburg Empire, and a constitutional monarchy currently owned by Prince Hans-Adam II.Wikipedia Hans-Adam once 'joked' that he could sell the country to Bill Gates if he wanted to,[123] but has implied that the royal family did have some sort of ownership of the country from having bailed it out of poverty.[114]:142[124]

Hans-Adam is a libertarian, having attended a meeting at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and indirectly referenced both Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard in his writings, and being a member of the Hayek Society.[114]:144 Hans-Adam is a Eurosceptic and has appeared with other European nationalists, including Bernd Lucke, the founder of Alternative for Germany.[114]:144

Liechtenstein's economy has been built around being a tax haven for foreign assets, and having even greater bank secrecy than Switzerland.[114]:137 Hans-Adam has argued disingenuously that the bank secrecy was due the history of protecting persecuted Jews during World War II, when the secrecy was instead known to have been used to protect Hitler's corporate allies.[114]:145 The Liechtenstein banking system has been blacklisted both by the OECD and the G8. The veil of Liechtenstein's bank secrecy was partly pierced starting with the 2008 Panama Papers and subsequent data releases.[114]:145 Liechtenstein's banking clients included a rogue's gallery of kleptocrats and autocrats: military dictator of Nigeria Sani Abacha,Wikipedia Robert MaxwellWikipedia who stole his employees' pension funds, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar,Wikipedia Zairean brutal dictator Mobutu Sese Seko,Wikipedia Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos of the Philippines, and Russian stooge and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.Wikipedia[114]:137-138

While Liechtenstein does employ a relatively large number of foreign workers, they can easily be deported during economic downturns.[114]:138-139 It is nearly impossible for foreigners to obtain Liechtenstein citizenship through naturalization, each case requiring the assent of a local jurisdiction, the parliament and that of Hans-Adam.[114]:138 For most libertarians, Liechtenstein would seem to be less than a paradise: a personal income tax rate of 22.4% in 2023,[125] a nearly impossible path to citizenship, and autocratic powers of the Prince who can veto any legislation.

The reliance on funds on autocrats and thieves to fund a a libertarian-headed microstate puts the lie to libertarian ideology: freedom for me but not for thee.

Somalia: failed state, loaded language, or paradise lost?[edit]

Somalia has been considered a failed state since the beginning of the civil war in 1991 that toppled dictator Siad Barre'sWikipedia rule.[126] Nonetheless in more recent years, parts of Somalia have shown economic improvement compared to the last years of the Barre dictatorship, and stabilization of the Somali Shilling despite not having government backing.[114]:163-164 Since 1991, the breakaway state Somaliland in the north has existed with no international recognition. Somaliland has its own currencyWikipedia that is also stable.

"annieli", writing for the Daily Kos, claimed that Somalia is a libertarian paradise. The evidence presented was that Somalia is a minimal state (minarchy) despite not being a state at all for most of its post-Barre existence, citing the Cato Institute ("Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others."). The negative effects presented were civil war and widespread violent conflict resolution.[127]

J. Andrew Zalucky has written that Somalia-as-libertarian-paradise is "not even a straw man argument".[128] Zalucky notes the rather un-libertarian aspects of Somalia: enforcement of a state religion and the centralized authoritarianism that preceded the civil war.[128]

Complicating matters, Dutch libertarian Michael van NottenWikipedia (1933–2002) viewed the traditional clan-based legal systems of Somalia and lack of central government as an ideal place to establish a foothold. van Notten had previously been involved in a failed coup in Suriname shortly after the country became independent from the Netherlands in 1975.[114]:153-154 van Notten's plan for Somalia would be to establish a port city based on selling the plan to Somali clan leaders that it would be based on the traditional law ("kritarchy", the rule of judges in van Notten's nomenclature), with a 499-year lease. Though Somali traditional law is based on kinship, van Notten had the farfetched idea that kinship for the clan of "White Somalis" (Soomaali 'Ad) could be purchased instead.[114]:156-158[129]:197

Van Notten and MacCallum were first-class anarcho-capitalist fantacists…
—Quinn Slobodian[114]:161

Despite van Notten's enthusiasm for Somalia as a libertarian destination, he was aware of several aspects of traditional Somali law that ran contrary to some libertarian ideologies:[129]:96,103-109

  1. Impairs individuals' capacity to save and invest money
  2. Prohibits the sale of land to persons outside the clan
  3. Inadequately protects the rights of women
  4. Requires that victims share their compensation with their families
  5. Fails to deal effectively with fraud
  6. Neglects victims who do not invoke the law instantly
  7. Forbids insult and defamation
  8. Lacks extradition arrangements with foreign governments
  9. Makes clansmen somewhat a prisoner of their clan
  10. Offers little protection to individual foreigners
  11. Lacks provision for compiling and publishing judicial verdicts

Not listed here, but listed in elsewhere van Notten's book as an example of 'case law', was the effect of Somalia's traditional homophobia, where the murderer of a gay man avoided punishment.[129]:175-176

In the late-1990s, van Notten teamed up with Spencer Heath MacCallumWikipedia (1931–2020) on the Somalia project. MacCallum was a libertarian anthropologist who had previously worked with Werner Stiefel on Operation Atlantis.[114]:160 Needing capital to create a port in Somalia, the duo teamed up with American businessman Jim Davidson to create Awdal Roads Company in Mauritius, for the purpose of building toll roads. The company was also linked to the comically-named Principality of Freedonia,Wikipedia perhaps unintentionally referring to the authoritarian state of Freedonia in the Marx Brothers' comedy Duck SoupWikipedia[114]:161-162 In 2001, a Somali living in Canada faxed a copy of the Freedonia website back to his home in Somalia. The website, run by some youthful Texans connected to van Notten and MacCallum, had falsely claimed that they had been granted coastal land in Somalia, and the elders in that region put an end to the entire scheme.[114]:162-163

The apparent success of 'stateless' Somalia is its dependent on other states: investments from Dubai, and remittances from the large numbers of Somalis who work overseas. Also, Somaliland, rather than being a libertarian enclave, has conducted successful democratic elections.[114]:165-167

Somaliland and Somalia had been largely ignoring each other until 2023 when Ethiopia and Somaliland signed a memorandum of understanding to use the port of Berbera in exchange for Ethiopia's official recognition of Somaliland. Ethiopia had been seeking greater access to the sea since it had become landlocked following the independence of Eritrea in 1993. Though the deal has not been finalized, Somalia has warned that should the deal go through that it would consider it an act of aggression by Ethiopia (for violating Somalia's territorial integrity).[130] Such is the danger that that van Notten and MacCallum might have faced should their pie-in-the sky have actually landed as a port enclave.

Dubai's Palm Islands[edit]

Map of the coastal area of Dubai, Palm Islands and related developments in pink

In 2001, the Emirate of Dubai began a massive land reclamation construction project in the Arabian Gulf, known collectively as the Palm Islands. So far, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Jumeirah have been completed. Palm Islands were organized as multiple free zones, each with their own laws and regulations independent of the main states of Dubai and the collective United Arab Emirates (UAE). UAE consistently ranks as one of the least free states in the world, where the are no elections, no freedom of expression and no rights for non-citizens.[114]:172[131] Theoretically one of the free zones in within the Palm Islands could incorporate with more rights, but why would they bother when business has become the sole ideology within Dubai?[114]:172 For wealthy foreigners who visit or work at high-paying jobs, the "Palm Islands" can appear as "Milton Friedman's beach club",[132] but for low-wage foreign workers (foreigners form 90% of Dubai's population), there are no protections against exploitation or frequent instances what amounts to slavery.[133][134]:845-849

UAE as a whole does rank moderately well in the 2016 Economic Freedom of the World index that was inspired by libertarian Milton Friedman (1912–2006), but Friedman himself never mentioned the Palm Islands as exemplars of economic freedom.[114]:172-173 Other libertarians, further to the right than Friedman however, have championed the Palm Islands as Hans-Hermann Hoppe and neo-feudalist Curtis Yarvin.[114]:171-173,185

As of 2023, other projects ("The World", Maritime City, and Palm Deira are still under construction). Construction had peaked towards the beginning of the Great Recession and DP World, the main organizing company behind the Palm Islands, was unable to pay its loans.[114]:182

Free economic zones: successes?[edit]

Architect Patrik Schumacher,Wikipedia an anarcho-capitalist libertarian, since 2017 has promoted free economic zonesWikipedia (FEZs, which would include those in Honduras, Ciskei, and Dubai) libertarian enclaves.[114]:225-226 Though these FEZs have their own laws and regulations, they generally do not offer anything approaching citizenship, and thus do not offer a true "libertarian exit". FEZs have been proliferating since at least 2020.[114]:232-234

In 2020, the European Union and the UK became concerned about the proliferation of FEZs, along with their "high incidence of corruption, tax evasion, [and] criminal activity", including "narcotics trafficking, the illegal ivory trade, people smuggling, VAT fraud, corruption and money laundering".[135]

Hypothetical[edit]

"Bitcoinistan"[edit]

If Bitcoin was a country — Bitcoinistan? — it would be like Somalia.
—Jim Edwards[136]

About 44% of cryptocurrency users self-identify as libertarian or anarcho-capitalist.[137] Jim Edwards pondered what a libertarian paradise would be like based on the realities of Bitcoin and determined that it would be "characterized by radical instability, chaos, the rise of a boss-class of criminals who assassinate people they don't like, and a mass handover of wealth to a minority even smaller than the 1% that currently lauds it in the United States."[136] Specifically:

  • There is little if any reason for ordinary people to use the currency, but very compelling reasons for criminals to use it.[138]
  • Despite one of cryptocurrency's main claims to intrinsic value being security, there is quite a lot of theft of cryptocurrencies, more that US$3 billion as of 2022.[139] There have also been some notable accidental losses of Bitcoins, including one man who lost $6.5 million in a landfill.[140]
  • The owner of Silk Road was accused of trying to hire hitmen with Bitcoins to kill people who stole from him.[141]
  • Bitcoin is a notoriously unstable currency.[136]
  • As of 2013, 47 individuals owned one-third of all Bitcoins, and 927 people owned one-half of all Bitcoins.[142]

In early 2022, two projects to purchase an island and turn it into "crypto-paradise", Satoshi Island and Cryptoland, caught media attention. Both projects had scant concrete details on how they would actually accomplish this task, but of course, both projects were already selling non-fungible tokens.[143] The "Cryptoland" project in particular (founded by a pair of YouTube personalities) received widespread mockery for its shitpost-style promotional video, idiotic and baseless legal threats against critics, stolen intellectual property within said shitpost video, references to an infamous Bitcoin Ponzi scheme called BitConnect,Wikipedia pedophilia-encouraging tweet that stated that on this island, the age of consent would be "mental maturity".[143][144][note 10] The sheer slapdash nature of the Cryptoland project led one reporter to the conclusion that this would either be a scam, or a disaster on the scale of the infamous Fyre Festival.Wikipedia[146] The projects seem to be oblivious to the fact that owning an island within the territory of a sovereign nation (Fiji and Vanuatu in these cases) does not free one from the laws of said nation.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017 in Puerto Rico and the failed disaster response under Trump,[147] crypto enthusiasts have sought to build a 'crypto paradise' on the territory.[148] Crypto enthusiasts have been accused of "vendepatria" (treason, literally "selling out the homeland"), and failing to help the island's residents.[148] Due to a 2012 law (Act 22), newcomers to Puerto Rico have been able to avoid Federal taxes if they live on the island 183 or more days per year, something that is particularly attractive to crypto speculators who wish to cash-out and dodge taxes on the profits.[148] Consequently, there have been calls for repeal of Act 22, and accusations that it is a form of racism in favoring interlopers over native-born Puerto Ricans.[148]

If this weren't all bad enough, the authoritarian-leaning president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, foisted Bitcoin as an official currency upon the country, with 71% of polled Salvadorans saying that they did not see any benefit from Bitcoin.[149] Also North Korea, the totalitarian dictatorship, has had an increasingly parasitic relationship with cryptocurrency, stealing US$1.7 billion in 2022, primarily to fund its nuclear weapons program.[150]

Liberland[edit]

The green section would be Liberland. Other disputed territories are marked in yellow, and are claimed by one or both of Serbia and Croatia.

Liberland is a micronation along the disputed border region between Croatia and Serbia. Curiously a sub-region of about 7 km2 named Gornja Siga was claimed by neither Croatia nor Serbia. A Czech Rothbardian[151] libertarian named Vít Jedlička decided to try to claim the land and create a micronation in 2015.[152] There are currently no residents of Liberland and no international recognition. Croatia has a policy of preventing anyone from entering Gornja Siga, and both Croatia and Serbia are staunchly against Liberland's existence.[153] Legal experts in both Serbia and Croatia reject Jedlička's claim.[154] Egypt has reported scams relating to emigration into Liberland.[155] Since Gornja Siga is low-lying land adjacent to the Danube River, it is on the floodplain and Liberland could get wiped out without proper planning.

Liberland is hardly the first attempt of non-state actors to seize control of unoccupied or unclaimed land (i.e., terra nulliusWikipedia).[156] The fundamental problem with doing this is that under international law, only states can assert sovereignty over land, the state must do so by occupying the space over a period of at least several years, and it must be recognized by neighboring countries.[157]

Bir Tawil[edit]

Bir Tawil satellite view

Bir Tawil,Wikipedia like Liberland, is one of the few areas of land that are unclaimed by any country. It lies in a land-locked area between Egypt and Sudan. The Egyptian army however, considers the area to be a restricted zone, and requires permission for people to travel there.[158]

Unlike Liberland, there it is not a terra nullius. There are traditional nomads who regularly pass through it. The land is arid with no arable land or surface water, so there are no permanent settlements. In 2014 Jeremiah Heaton, a libertarian farmer from Virginia,[158] obtained permission from Egypt to travel to Bir Tawil. Arriving in Bir Tawil, he hoisted a homemade flag and declared ownerhip, naming it the "Kingdom of North Sudan" and declaring himself "king" and his daughter "princess".[159] Heaton later explained, "It has been unclaimed for around 100 years. I just followed the same process as many others have done over hundreds of years, planted our flag, and claimed it."[159] Heaton left out the part that those "many others" also had armies.

Not to be outdone, two other pretenders to the "throne" have tried to lay claim to Bir Tawil: Suyash Dixit of India in 2017 (who named it the "Kingdom of Dixit")[160] and Dmitry Zhikharev of Russia also in 2017 (who called it the "Kingdom of Middle Earth").[161]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. To be fair, Romer did not participate in either of the 2009 coups.
  2. Próspera has been funded by Pronomos Capital, in which Peter Thiel is a major investor and Patri Friedman is the founder.[42][43]
  3. Romer's explanation was:[44] a large part Hong Kong's wealth had been due to the British Empire's opium trade.[45]
    For example, I stopped working on a project in Honduras because a group of people there is trying to create a system that establishes a type of aristocracy that will never be subject to local electoral control. They are doing this by establishing a government board that will re-appoint its own members. It will not be subject to political control by the people in the zone, nor by the citizens of Honduras, nor even voters elsewhere as was the case in Hong Kong. They are trying to create a true aristocracy in a small group of twenty or so people, who will appoint their own replacements, and who will always be in charge.
    There will be no flexibility, no ability to respond to future developments. And no accountability in the event that this small circle of self-appointed aristocrats misuses their powers. A core of appointees, all from the current governing party in Honduras, controls this board. As a result, the proposal there no longer passes my test: "Would I want to live there or want my children or grandchildren to live there?" So I have refused to have any further involvement in this project.
  4. Really, what else were they expecting? Naming your floating city project after a fictional city famous primarily for sinking is just asking for trouble. The removal of almost all of the ship's original gear for additional ballast and addition of an incredibly heavy concrete deckhouse didn't help.
  5. Due to the fact that he isn't considered an actual nation, none of the others take him very seriously. However, Sealand believes that someday he will become a huge empire that even his brother will bow down to.
    —Hetalia Archives[84]
  6. Tougher cruise ship regulation was the main upside to the sinking of the Titanic.
  7. Locke's writings have also been used in support of "philosophical anarchism".[107]
  8. Tankies (of all people) claim that the law somehow restores freedom to Hong Kong; but when they get into arguments about free markets, they claim that Hong Kong isn't free. Nice cognitive dissonance.
  9. An outbreak of a plant-based virus in humans was traced to a KWC doctor who had performed knee injections using an unsterilized needle onto which a potted plant had dripped.[120]:193
  10. For a more in-depth look, the sheer insanity of the Cryptoland video is documented in detail by software engineer and Wikipedia editor Molly White in a long Twitter thread.[145]

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  140. The Unluckiest Man In The World Has $6.5 Million In Bitcoin Buried In A Landfill by Joe Weisenthal (Nov. 27, 2013, 12:14 PM) Business Insider.
  141. Everything we know about Ross Ulbricht, the outdoorsy libertarian behind Silk Road by Caitlin Dewey (October 3, 2013) The Washington Post.
  142. 927 People Own Half Of All Bitcoins by Rob Wile (Dec. 10, 2013, 12:19 PM) Business Insider.
  143. 143.0 143.1 "Cryptocurrency Investors Try to Turn Private Islands Into Blockchain Utopias" by Edward Onoweso Jr. (2022 January 7) Vice.
  144. "Cryptoland: a glimpse into the future we all deserve" by Jemima Kelly (2022 January 7) Financial Times.
  145. "an up-and-coming crypto scam—er, project—has managed to dunk on cryptobros better than any satirist i've seen so far, with one of the most painful-to-watch youtube videos i've seen in a while. join me in hell as we watch this together: https://youtube.com/watch?v=RiHopGox5cU" by @molly0xFFF (2022 Jan 4) '"Twitter (archived on 2022 9 Jan).
  146. Welcome to Cryptoland: The Fyre Festival for crypto fans: Hell isn't around the corner, it's on a Fijian island by Callum Booth (January 6, 2022 - 1:35 pm) The Next Web'.
  147. New Watchdog Report Reveals Administration’s Failures After Hurricanes in Puerto Rico (Mar 30, 2020) House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
  148. 148.0 148.1 148.2 148.3 ‘Crypto colonizers’ in Puerto Rico try to sell locals on the dream: A new wave of wealthy investors is moving to the island. Locals are greeting them with excitement — and suspicion. by Nitasha Tiku (January 13, 2022) The Washington Post.
  149. El Salvador’s Bitcoin Paradise Is a Mirage by Nelson Rauda Zablah (July 2, 2022) The New York Times.
  150. Crypto theft: North Korea-linked hackers stole $1.7b in 2022 by Kelly Ng (2 February 2023) BBC.
  151. Welcome to Liberland: Europe's Newest State by Daniel Nolan (April 23, 2015 | 11:45 am) Vice.
  152. Liberland: How one man plans to build a new libertarian paradise in Europe. Exclusive: Vit Jedlicka is the self-proclaimed president of 'the youngest country in the world', a land free from regulation on disputed territory between Croatia and Serbia. He tells The Independent he now has too many backers to be stopped by Adam Withnall (17 April 2016 18:30 BST) The Independent.
  153. Liberland’s leader detained while trying to enter the country he just invented by Michael E. Miller (May 11, 2015) The Washington Post.
  154. Police in the Balkans block inauguration of Europe's new "mini-state" by Dusan Stojanovic (May 9, 2015, at 6:21 a.m.) AP.
  155. Foreign Min. warns Egyptians against emigrating to Liberland by Hanan Fayed (Apr. 19, 2015 17:39) Cairo Post (archived from December 29, 2015).
  156. This man is the latest in a series of travelers to declare ownership of a bizarre no man’s land in north Africa by Andrea Ma (Nov. 15, 2017, 10:09 AM) Business Insider.
  157. Virginia man’s claim on African land is unlikely to pass test by Ileana Najarro (September 7, 2014) The Washington Post.
  158. 158.0 158.1 Welcome to the land that no country wants by Jack Shenker (3 Mar 2016 01.00 EST; Last modified on Tue 28 Nov 2017 20.34 EST) The Guardian.
  159. 159.0 159.1 American plans to use 'his' piece of Africa for advancement of science: In June, Jeremiah Heaton planted a flag in small region between Egypt and Sudan in a bid to make his daughter a princess. Now he hopes it will improve global food security by Enjoli Liston (16 Jul 2014 05.16 EDT) The Guardian.
  160. An Indian claims kingship of Bir Tawil, declares it ‘Kingdom of Dixit’ by Priya Srivastava (Updated : Nov 15, 2017, 14:29 IST) Times of India.
  161. Battle for Kingdom of Dixit: Russian says he is true ruler of territory claimed by Indian, American: To stave off the new challenge for the patch of Nobody’s Land in northern Africa, India’s Suyash Dixit settles differences with Jeremiah Heaton of the US. by Devarsi Ghosh (Nov 30, 2017 · 10:30 am)