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The Floating Country

Updated: May 22, 2021

Remember watching the movie Waterworld?

Let me start off by reminding you, bear with me because this reference matters. Kevin Costner lives in polar ice melted post-apocalyptic world, with all of the land underwaters, also humans live in civilizations that float over water and there is a constant battle between these floating countries and pirates. Now, this may sound unrealistic, but here is food for thought. What if these so-called water countries were real? What if I told you they could be real? You probably wouldn’t believe me, but hold that thought. Again, if I were to tell you, Peter Thiel, the co-creator of PayPal, has invested in a company that is trying to create such an idea, would you believe me now?

Now if you already know what these floating countries exactly are, you can skip ahead because I want to lay down some foundation to where this story is going.

In 2008, two men – Patri Friedman, one the grandson of a Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and Wayne Gramlich, an engineer joined forces to establish an institute called ‘The Seasteading Institute’. The aim of the institute is to research and fund a network of ocean structures. These structures would be free of state control, will be self-governed, and self-sufficient. This movement did not pick up steam till Peter Thiel invested in the company. The project undertaken would be such that the structure would be an entire country with its own currency, its own sustainable energy solutions, its own waste disposal, and water system, its own gardens, basically, the idea was you never have to go outside the country for anything essential for its existence (already sounding practical).

Recently in April 2019, the United Nations Human Settlement Program (UN-Habitat) accepted the idea as a viable solution for future housing and climate change.

This is not the first time this aquatic “build a country dream” has been tried. In 1972 this utopian dream was tried by Michael Oliver, creating an island close to the island of Tonga.

The island was called The Republic of Minerva and Michael named himself the King of Minerva, which enraged the King of Tonga. The island needed constant dredging to keep itself “afloat”.

The country was dreamed up to stay free from politicians, drugs, and corruption. However, the dream soon failed as a neighboring country, Tonga, and some international organizations called foul on the creation of a new country, and a dispute between the founding fathers, which includes King Michael caused the project to fail. This legacy is continued through by the Seasteaders, Peter Thiel’s investment in The Seasteading Institute saw the institute attempt to create a new country by signing a deal with the French Polynesia which allotted a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) near its borders to create the floating country. This was soon met with protests from the country’s activists. The country looked at using cryptocurrency as their major currency, be self-sustaining by harvesting tidal, solar and wind energies, sustain with underwater gardens and waste disposal solutions. The project was claimed to be expired in the year 2017 (mostly because the country said the tenure of the contract ran out without provision for renewal) but the hesitation to renew was significantly contributed to by the activists.

Since the UN-Habitat report was released, the project has picked up steam again. It is doubtful if it would provide housing for the everyday citizen or would actually be aimed at the Uber Rich category. Peter Thiel envisions his first Flotilla office park, to be launched just outside the coast of San Francisco and hopes that the trend would catch on in the future. In 2019, a company called the Ocean Builders created the first Seasteaders home 12 miles off the coast of Thailand, welcoming a new era of homes on the ocean, but they were arrested by the Malaysian government. The founders of the company, Chad Elwartowski, and Supranee Thepdet are on the run from the Thai government, which claimed that the activities created a significant threat to the country’s security. Governments are strictly against the idea of building new countries in the ocean even though they do not own the waters where they are being built. There are a few reasons for this.

The first reason would be that any commodity that can be manufactured could cause competition for another. Where there is the production of a product, there is competition (imagine the competition to create a new country for sale).

Every person who can afford such homes can build a country for himself where he could reign as king (literally) and make rules according to his own liking. Maybe zero tax, use of drugs, own patent laws, you name it.

If you happen to be in anything illegal, the rule would be, make money, make the country, live like a king (again literally). This would also cause commoditization of making countries and the existing countries would struggle to keep money within their borders. Billionaires would choose to invest all their money in these countries and spare paying taxes. The second is the territorial rule.

According to current rules, a country owns about 12 nautical miles of Ocean from its coast. So if this practice of building a country is allowed then technically it would be difficult to find international waters.

The third is the difficult part to understand, rights and protection. To understand this, imagine if a company like Facebook decides to build an island nation and allow its employees to live there, have its own rule and cryptocurrency and internet regulations. With a company like Facebook being scrutinized for all the data they collect and use, this would be a haven for wealthy companies like itself. No restrictions on the collection of data and they could employ a country-specific operations strategy. Technically companies like these would have free reign over data, and as we know data is very valuable now.

The upsides to this might be huge, a close-knit community living together making rules for comfortable co-existence with nature, and minimizing overall carbon footprint. This sounds great and very beneficial. If you do not like any of the rules of a country, just move over to another where you find the rules according to your liking. The freedom, economic and environmental benefits are enormous.

These structures are also built to prevent natural disasters as well. The cities are to have a modular construction where each housing unit would be built into the country as per requirement, would have complete recycling – the country would produce the energy it needs to consume through the wind, solar and tidal energies. All waste would be turned to energy as well through scientific recycling methods, the construction would be such that the structures would actually strengthen over time, achieved by using locally sourced materials.

The country would use shared mobility and a community-first attitude. The environmental benefits are huge, most importantly this would reduce thoughtless construction activities in cities by ignoring sustainable environmental friendly measures.

During a time like this, we can’t help but wonder.

Although independent new countries may seem a little far-fetched, cities that are built like these in the future would make a difference to the spread of diseases, they would be less affected and the close-knit communities could stop the spread of a pandemic like Covid-19 in a much easier manner. Ideas such as that of floating hospitals which can be towed to any part along the coast of the country to help during a medical emergency would be something worth considering, again at a time like this. Considering all of these ideas, the concept may seem practical to pursue, but rest assured solutions like these are not for everyone.

It’s a popular notion now “the future is exciting”. Innovation such as creating a new country in the ocean pushing the boundaries of what was thought to be possible and the existence of people willing to contribute to achieving out-of-the-world solutions for the sake of humanity and the environment is amazing. This could see this opportunity as a solution to corrupt governments, politicians, taxes, and environmental problems or you may see these as problems that may help the uber-rich to live by their own rules. Whatever you choose, the future sure is exciting to think about.

Author: Aju Thomas

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