Tuesday, August 23, 2011

About Those Libertarian Islands

"America: Love it or leave it!"

As I've said before, I would love to live in America; my problem is that unless America is dirt, the US isn't America. But of course, those who take offense at my rants against their government mean simply, "The way things are is good enough for me. If you don't like it, shut up, and if you don't like that, go somewhere else."

That's fair enough, I suppose, but seriously, where would I go? Uncle Sam has his armed forces in 150 or more countries and would speedily deploy them anywhere else he cared to, with a clear conscience and essentially (for the moment, anyway) no financial constraints. Can I really expect to get away from him anywhere on this planet?

"Would you really want to go anywhere Uncle Sam isn't? Isn't everywhere else worse?"

That's an overly broad question. With enough money and depending on your definition of living well, one can live well anywhere on earth, probably even including hellholes like Myanmar and Burkina Faso. If living well can mean having Kim Jong-Il as your best friend and fancy booze at dinner, it's probably not impossible to live well even in North Korea. But that's not America.

Of places that are now reasonably well off and are likely to survive Uncle Sam's death throes—which, for better or, more likely, worse, are now imminent—Mexico and Argentina are two places I know of to which those with the resources to expatriate have done so with no lowering of their standard of living. There's something to be said for moving from a situation that you know will get worse to one that's not as good but likely stable.

For those not afraid of risk, it may well be that what today are much less free and so poorer countries will be better places to live after the collapse of the US. Foreign aid has often been described as money taxed from the poor and middle-class in the US and given to the rich overseas, and one might be forgiven for thinking that after Uncle Sam gets his come-uppance those who are now oppressing their subjects at our expense will receive in this life some of what their wickedness deserves, and that their victims today might even pity those in the US tomorrow.

Meantime, however, one is moving from a tolerable but worsening situation to a bad situation that might or might not improve. And, as those who bought one of the islands ruled by the king of Nauru only to be evicted by the Royal Nauru Navy found out, even tin-pot dictators can overwhelm a small colony, and they will do so even if the colonists ask only to be left alone.

Some of those unable or unwilling to expatriate, like the New Hampshire Free State Project, have been banding together with like-minded people with the goal of forming an electoral majority and seceding to some degree. I see two problems here: One is that the more a place is one in which many people can actually make any kind of a living, the harder it will be to garner the electoral majority to effect worthwhile change. Another is that, as anyone from Georgia or the Shenandoah Valley could have told you until recently, Uncle Sam doesn't take kindly to people excusing themselves from his rule, as shown by his deification of the president responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of those who wanted only that.

It's safe to say that if the most desolate ward in the poorest county in the least important state in the union voted to secede, Uncle Sam would be there in full force to burn their women and children, as he did the Branch Davidians.

So if there's no place to go and no place to stay, what do you do?

Some entrepreneurial types have decided to go someplace of which it could be said that "there's no there there" and build one: man-made islands in international waters. Will it succeed? I don't know. But we can make some reasonable guesses.

The most important questions are the basic ones: Can the islands endure the tides and weather? How will the residents meet their survival needs?

I would expect that the people who are investing enough money to build the islands have done so only after extensive feasibility studies. These aren't telemarketers who have sold their used cars and widescreen TVs and gone out in rowboats; they are successful businessmen, successful because they are good at risk assessment and contingency planning, among the other rare skills needed to run a profitable business over the long term. (Or they are crooks, in which case they are doomed.) They would most likely harvest a lot of marine flora and fauna, but if they have the money to build the islands, they might well have the means to import land-based food. How or what they will trade with the world at large to maintain their standard of living, I don't know. My guess is that the islands will be a sort of Galt's Gulch to which the denizens repair when they can get away from their remunerative activities.

The biggest problem they will face will be piracy, and the worst pirates will be government. The more successful the venture is, the more likely Uncle Sam is to go over it with a fine-toothed comb for the sole purpose of finding some way to shut it down, especially if there is reason to believe the residents are hiding taxable income. If the reesidents need to do business to survive, Uncle Sam will be there to take what he can, even if they do no direct business with US entities. Renouncing US citizenship is not as simple as saying, "I renounce you" three times, and if the residents have ever been US citizens, they will have the IRS on their case for the rest of their lives.

The Feds produce thousands of small-print pages of regulations every year, and no one can stay abreast of them. I find it entirely reasonable to suppose that some obscure passage on a page only ten people in the world have ever read could be used to send the US Navy off to wreak havoc on the islands.

And, of course, there are garden-variety pirates, many of whom have heavily armed warships manned with skilled marksmen and hand-to-hand fighters.

Freedom isn't free, and these pioneers will have to work hard at building the facilities, building a cooperative community, and defending their turf if they are to have any freedom at all. Indeed, they may not ever be able enjoy what freedom they can forge; their lot may be to build a legacy that they can pass on to those who come after them.

Suddenly what at first blush sounds like a bunch of dreamers running off to fornicate and inebriate takes on a different hue, doesn't it?

And who will come after them? And what about the poor?

The first group will be wealthy, pioneering entrepreneurs, and the poor and the faint of heart will be left behind. But as it was with automobiles, air conditioners, air travel, and video cameras, as the first mistakes are made and learned from, the cost of entry goes down, and the number and proportion of the population able to get on board increases. Soon someone will find a way of making a profit by bringing the poor on board, and they too will benefit.

You may be thinking of Dubai and Kathmandu, where unscrupulous agents deceive poor laborers into leaving home for a workplace where not only are the conditions abominable but the laborers are in debt for travel expenses and unable to return home. The same could happen on these islands, but if the pioneers made their money through repeat business, I would expect them to guard the reputation of the islands as a good place to work and to do business. Libertarians consider contracts sacred, so if the islands are truly libertarian, recruiters would be expected to deliver what they have promised.

Where does the gospel fit in?

Christian libertarians are rare, so there will be few ambassadors for Jesus there at first. There will probably be some substance abuse and promiscuity for a while, but life will be difficult, and those without strong moral fibre will not last. As time goes on, if the island society fulfills the libertarian ideal of people and their property truly being safe from violence and fraud, Christians from all economic classes will be taking their families to the islands. And if they live up to libertarian standards, which should be natural fruit of the new nature in Christ, they will be welcome there and have ample opportunity to spread the gospel.

So I wish Peter Thiel and his friends well. I will probably not live long enough to be part of even the difficult years, but perhaps my grandchildren will inherit their parents' entrepreneurial spirit, ride a later wave to the islands, and cultivate fruit there that will last.


  1. Or you could go to Belau (or Palau, not sure whether the B name stuck after independence.) Or Ponape, or Truk. They are all formerly under the U.S. but are basically free today. I tried to talk Karen into relocating to Rota, in the Northern Marianas, to teach English in the high school there. I've never been there, but it is the island above Guam - which was my home for 17 years.

    The interesting thing about Guam is that there is basically three cultures: the military, dominated by the SAC air force base and several navy bases; the international community, which includes the better off and political Guamanians, and lots of other expats (including non-military "statesiders"; and the common people, almost all of which are Guamanians. The third group has a lot of secrets, and the other cultures haven't a clue. Because of the peculiarities of my life on Guam, I was able to participate on the edges of the third culture. But, now I'm just a "stinking statesider," and not likely to find much in common.

    Which is to say that, libertarian or not, to succeed free societies often have to exist underground, within other societies. Did you know that after Magellan landed on Guam, the RC church (not to be confused with RC cola) set up some churches with a bishop on Guam. A Chinese fellow told the Chamarros (original inhabitants) that the water used for baptism was poison. After the bishop secretly baptized the head chief's baby son, the chief killed the bishop. This led to the Spanish Chamarro wars. Final result: over the several islands, no Chamarro males over 5 were left. This explains somewhat the situation today.

    SO, if you want to move somewhere, try the islands of the Pacific. Seriously. The Marshalls wouldn't suit you. Yap, or even Ulithi - so remote the only way on, last time I heard, was by boat, might just suit.

  2. OK, my bad. Ulithi now has an airstrip http://www.pacificworlds.com/yap/index.cfm