Government is a science. Political science is, according to Aristotle, the study of the state. But if governance is a science why don't we see more experimenting with the state? Why aren't we trying new things in government? Certainly, there's a great handful of think-tanks and professors conducting research into public policy, but how about some good old fashioned scientific experimentation? Why don't we model our theories of society and test out their reality in controlled environments? Why don't we experiment with civilization and political systems? What I want to know is why, in an age of increasingly rapid progress, we haven't created a system that allows us to actually innovate government?
The problem, I think, is that there's this great misconception that we're stuck with what we've got-- that we've somehow already considered every possible political organizational structure that might exist, and that we've settled. Somehow, it seems we have found ourselves, as a culture, with a great deficiency of ambition to find new solutions.
It's this invisible resistance to progress that has stifled change. Even 200 years ago our founding fathers realized this, with John Adams eloquently declaring that, "While all other sciences have advanced, that of government is at a standstill- little better understood, little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago."
But what if we could experiment with government, and with all of society? What if we could create new countries as easily as we create new companies? And what if those countries competed for citizens the same way websites compete for users and products compete for consumers? Wouldn't the country that offers the greatest product rise in popularity while inferior systems crumbled to bankruptcy?
That's what the Seasteading Institute believes. In fact, they're well on their way to creating a full legislative incubator in the only unclaimed territory left on earth-- the ocean. According to their mission statement, "The Seasteading Institute is a nonprofit working to enable seasteading communities - floating cities - which will allow the next generation of pioneers to test new ideas for government." The most successful can then inspire change in governments around the world. There really isn't a better description than a legislative incubator. The seasteading concept relies on the idea that public policy, like the consumer market, will have a concrete feedback meter-- the number of citizens, the customer demand for living on a particular seastead. These people would be free to stay, or to leave for an alternate, perhaps neighboring, seastead. This way, the most popular systems can be determined-- and put to practice. And the idea isn't limited to the ocean or to governmental experiments. Many seasteading activists were motivated by Larry Page's recent call for more free-experimentation zones, which he likened to Burning Man. Answering questions at Google I/O, Page declared,
There's many, many exciting and important things you could do that you just can't do 'cause they're illegal or they're not allowed by regulation. And that makes sense, we don't want our world to change too fast. But maybe we should set aside some small part of the world ... I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out: What is the effect on society? What's the effect on people? Without having to deploy it into the normal world. And people who like those kinds of things can go there and experience that.
Amongst seasteading activists, Page was preaching to the choir. To show their support, the Institute" created an online petition that outlines their goals to improve government and create spaces like the ones Page spoke of, on land and at sea. The petition reads,
The last great advance in governance technology was the American experiment with democracy more than 200 years ago. While democracy has brought health, wealth and happiness to billions of people, we also sense that modern governments are slowing down meaningful reform with one-size-fits-all policies. The clash of old rules and rapidly evolving technology leads us to believe that innovative systems of governance" could serve humanity better than modern governments do today. We believe a new frontier is needed to once again test out new ways of living together.
Opening the ocean frontier would enable a plethora of scientists, engineers, psychologists, and entrepreneurs to each imagine better ways to run a civilization than our existing system. Why shouldn't they have their fair shot? May the best country win.
Support the creation of free-experimentation zones and seasteads by signing the petition here.