Thursday, March 29, 2012
Libertarians who are fond of so-called states' rights like to imagine that "data" produced from the success or failure of government schemes imposed by the various states will somehow, deterministically lead to more freedom when such schemes fail. As I have indicated in the past, all the data in the world is useless without analysis, and, in turn, all the analysis in the world is useless (or worse than useless) without the guidance of proper principles. That's too bad for them and their close cousins who fantasize about establishing "Libertarian islands", because a recent article in Ars Technica provides an enormous amount of data on the failure of just such an "experiment" in government.
The article is a lengthy look at the the dabblings of a former pirate radio operator in turning an abandoned naval facility off the coast of England into the "Principality of Sealand" and later, from this paradise of freedom from the laws of established countries, providing a base for a shady Internet content hosting company. Unsurprisingly, this micro-nation failed to protect the company from itself, much less provide it with the stability of being able to operate under rule by known (let alone proper) law.
The final straw came in May 2002, when Sealand's advisors decided against allowing HavenCo to host an unlicensed streaming-video service. (The scheme, which involved buying DVDs and streaming video from them to one customer at a time, bears a striking resemblance to the recently-enjoined Zediva.) [HavenCo's Ryan] Lackey saw it as exactly the sort of service HavenCo had been created to host, but the Sealanders decided that it risked undermining Sealand's relationship with the United Kingdom. A deal was negotiated, under which Lackey would be repaid the $220,000 he had put into HavenCo and continue as a reseller of HavenCo services but turn over day-to-day operational control.In addition, "Sealand" was also plainly unable to provide real protection from foreign invaders or any halfway sophisticated criminal enterprise, for that matter:
Lackey was barely off the platform when the deal broke down. In his view, HavenCo had been "nationalized" by Sealand. This locked him out, physically and virtually. The company even confiscated his personal computers. The newly reorganized HavenCo issued a statement that Lackey was no longer an employee, and it adopted a new and much more restrictive acceptable use policy. The next five years were a sad study in decline. [links dropped]
Even if Sealand were "officially" its own country, independence isn't worth much without allies. Any nation with warplanes -- no, make that any nation with an inflatable boat and an outboard motor -- could blow the place up. The only thing stopping it would be the United Kingdom's displeasure at explosions in its territorial waters. Any protection offered by Sealand's larger neighbor, however, would presumably come with enough strings attached to raise the question of why the servers should be on Sealand rather than onshore. The United Kingdom has been leaving the Bateses alone since 1968 mostly because they're such clever chaps that ousting them would be more embarrassment than it's worth.This all sounds remarkably like a point I once made:
One moment's thought about the viability of such islands as states should make the point. Even assuming one achieves a capitalist society on such an island, which is no trivial feat, what of self-defense? How would one stop the pirate island ten miles away from enslaving or laying waste to his? With weapons? Purchased from where? The now-socialist United States one fled? Before or after the pirates strike? Before or after Obama invades your island instead, seeing it as a threat to hope and change? You started out with nukes? How nice: So did the pirates. And Obama.In that same post, I went further about the premise behind such islands:
... It is, in fact, the people who want to build such island-states who are the pessimists: They are the ones not developing a solid understanding of the theoretical basis and justification for freedom so that they can make its case to the rational people in their very midst. (They do exist.) The island-builders are the ones giving up without a fight (of the intellectual variety).The author of the piece on Sealand sees at least a glimmer of this lesson:
Legal systems are like Soylent Green: they're made out of people. If you want to protect civil liberties using law, you need to get people on your side who share your vision of what law stands for. That's why the SOPA protests were so effective. They converted an argument about justice into real-world political power.Government, properly delimited, is necessary for the functioning of a human society and is, as such, a good thing. Escaping its long arm may be difficult, but attempting to create a society without it -- or reinvent it without understanding what it is and why it is needed is impossible.
One more story from pirate radio history illustrates the paradox at the heart of HavenCo. In the summer of 1967, the pirate radio ship Laissez Faire radioed a distress call. Two factions on board were fighting. There were threats of murder. The authorities did nothing, explaining that the pirates "had deliberately placed themselves outside the reach of the law." Touché. [link dropped, bold added]