Sixty percent of the Earth’s surface is unclaimed territory.
Out past the shores of every country, international waters beckon. What will arise in the midst of the Pacific? How will these new pilgrims relate to the states of old? I suspect that human expansion into open water will reshape society, allowing vast experimentation in government and lifestyle, as well as a natural way to vouch for each technique. We will vote with our feet, migrating between marine metropolises as they suite us.
The construction of a floating city will be expensive, at first. Materials science continues to improve our options for floatation. Eventually, the added cost of a buoyant home will be less than the cost of land — at that point, seasteading will be for everyone. Until then, it will be a haven for the elite.
By residing on a floating island, the rich will be able to renounce their allegiance to any nation, and buck tax collection. Their mobile port-cities will be hubs of business and trade. Regular folk will find abundant occupations, there — the first foothold of commoners.
Eventually, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, corporations, will all have their own abode on the waves. While membership in a defensive federation is still in the interests of the majority of these groups, they will not seek greater federal powers. Each place will have its own laws, culture. And those that best manage our natures will be most successful.
Each city will be its own nation, and the mass of island nations will form a federation which protects their waters. As these city-states populate the seas, they will encrust larger sections of resources with their defense forces, neutralizing the mobility of land-based nations’ navies. The sea cities will manage international trade, and extract minerals from the sea water, rare metals from the ocean crust beneath them.
Each city will be surrounded by a chandelier of buoys, supporting a weave of nets, niches, and struts that acts as a vast, floating habitat — an artificial reef. They will feed the fish and fertilize the waters for algal growth. With seawater minerals, ore from the crust, and food in the waters around them, island cities will have the capacity to sustain themselves apart from us.
Where the rich go, so go profits. Islands encrusted with playhouses for the elite will pay well for services. Those bought servants spend their earnings at second-hand shops. Economic activity percolates, and regurgitates back into the system when those shops’ profits go to the rich.
Islands, being tax havens, will offer more and better jobs all down the economic pyramid. Wealth will flow to and accumulate there. There will be a vast disparity between the lifestyle available to islanders and that for land-dwellers. Whole nations will crunch to a stop, swamped by a rust belt. Islands will be centers of automation, as well. (Because wages will be generally higher there, the incentive to automate is greater.)
If the federation of islands is threatened, perhaps by a land-nation that seeks to mine an island’s valuable oceanic crust, the island federation will have the resources and political connections to wrangle an alliance against their enemy. Like Moore’s Utopians, the islands would be served best by gathering an army of mercenaries from among their neighbors.
This strategy is what kept every Frieberg safe. These free cities (Frie = free, berg = city) were places where trade went without tariff, and there was no obedience to a lord. The surrounding noblemen coveted the accumulated wealth of these Free Cities. Yet, whenever one nobleman rallied an army to invade the defenseless Frieberg, that free city would notify the surrounding nobles, who would rush to its defense to prevent the advantage that would be gained by the invader. Without an army of its own, Frieberg is kept safe by its neighbors because they all value it highly.
The Phoenicians set-up port cities all along the Mediterranean. Each city periodically gathered interested parties, who voted with their silver, to enact proposals for the public benefit. Because you could travel to any other port with ease, cities could not benefit from restrictions. Government was elective, not repressive. The island cities will be like the Phoenicians.
With each city evolving its own solutions, and seeing the public support for those policies by their migration rates, the collection of island nations will be hyper-adaptive. Long before democracies and dictatorships catch on, these islands will alter policy and plans to take advantage of new circumstances. Like a phoenix, the federation will rise higher after each foible, unfazed by any attempts to strike it down.