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Paypal Founder Funds Startup Micro-Nations

Floating Micro Countries

First, he launched Paypal, and then he went on to fund DNA sequencing, commercial space travel and Facebook. Peter Thiel is known for having big ideas and doing amazing things. Now, this self-made billionaire has his sights set on creating sovereign nations that will spring up from the ocean, free from the laws of any country.

Thiel is working closely with the Seasteading Institute to build these startup countries in international waters. He has invested $1.25 million to create what he sees as the next frontier. According to Thiel, a Libertarian, his islands will be instrumental in “experimenting with new ideas for government.” These new ideas include a society free of welfare, minimum wages, strict weapons restrictions and rigid building codes.

Another idea for the islands is called Appletopia, where a corporation would start the country as a business, increasing its real estate value as it becomes more popular.

To the skeptics, Thiel has this to say:  “We don’t need to really worry about those people very much, because since they don’t think it’s possible they won’t take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it’s too late.”

The new countries will be built on moveable, diesel-powered platforms similar to those that house oil rigs. Each island will accomodate up to 270 people, and the structures will be linked together to form a web of micro-countries.

Although the idea sounds like science fiction, Thiel already has concrete plans in place. He wants to launch a flotilla office park off the San Francisco coast next year, plans to fully settle his first island in 2019, and predicts there will be 10 million floating residents by 2050.

Is it wise for businesses to operate unfettered by rules and regulations? What do these Libertarian islands have in store for their inhabitants? And, how will the micro-countries be built in a way that is sustainable, considering the labor-intensive transport of goods that will be necessary to provide for them? These are just a few of the questions I have regarding the social ramifications of Thiel’s next big idea. What concerns/opinions do you have about the startup island nations?

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About the Author'

Meg Rayford is a communications consultant based in Northern Virginia. She previously spent two years as the Director of Public Relations for a nonprofit startup, where she learned a lot about providing clean water for impoverished countries, even within the confines of a bootstrapped startup. She is the editor of Tech Cocktail, and she develops media strategies for companies in Washington, DC and Virginia. You can read her most recent work in the marketing chapter of the upcoming book, "Social Innovation and Impact in Nonprofit Leadership," which will be published in Spring 2014 by Springer Publishing. Follow her @megkrayford.


27 Responses to “Paypal Founder Funds Startup Micro-Nations”



    Cool concept. I can see knowledge based businesses relocating there and recruiting talent from all over the world. I can’t imagine the lack of a minimum wage being a problem to start. With the limited number of of people on the floating country, a business would have to pay more to attract the right talent pool. Though typical lower wage service positions would be needed for the citizen’s entertainment, etc., so I’d be interested to see how businesses recruited for these jobs. Would the country be a democracy?

    If a corporation started the country, would each citizen be an employee and shareholder? If they aren’t, what say do the residents have in how the country is run?

    Perhaps only wealthy individuals will become citizens, and they will grant temporary work visas to migrant workers who commute each day?

    I can think of a ton of questions. I’m sure Mr. Thiel has too, and already has answers to some.

    I bet the insurance premiums are going to be high to cover possible hurricanes!

    I like the thinking…



    People…stay out of the oceans. It's bad enough Japan is leaking nuclear waste into them and all the cruise-ship goers flush their crap and garbage out at sea and we've swept all our plastic out into the gyres. Do we really need cities, diesel powered no less (hello, diesel spill) polluting the oceans. I think not. Give those poor sea creatures a break, stay on the land where you belong. And if it gets too crowded and polluted there, then change your ways instead of moving your problem to another part of the planet.



      People stay away from 70% of the earths surface because there is radioactive material in it. Russia is the country with the largest land mass, perhaps somewhere in there will be less radiated and safer.

  3. @matriarcme

    Sounds like a great idea. My issue is what happens when its a natural disaster such as an earthquake that possibly triggers a Tsunami or a Category 5 hurricane. On land you can inland. Not many options if you are stranded on an oil rig type doo-hickey. Nevertheless, I like the idea and there is plenty of Ocean-space.



      Tsunamis don't affect oceangoing vessels; as a phenomenon they are almost invisible until the shoreline contracts their wavelength and forces a compression of the wave. Thus earthquakes and tidal waves are actually more survivable at sea, barring the occasional rogue wave. Hurricanes and storms of all descriptions are another matter. The real peril of these experiments will certainly be social engineering and the consequences thereof.


    Meg Rayford

    Wow, I hadn't even thought about the effects of natural disasters on the islands. They would be very exposed out there in the middle of the ocean.


    Chip Kohrman

    My first reaction is, "Wow, cool! Sign me up!" – but living on an island is expensive. I'd be interested to learn how those diesel powered islands will be sustainable. What about food, resources, and clothing? What about simple things we take for granted, like plumbing? These startup islands will have to negotiate their own imports and exports.

    And just because you remove government and taxes doesn't mean that there won't be replacements. I'm guessing those will come in the form of investors and ownership. I love the idea of more freedom for innovation, but if it's not done well, they'll end up with tech savvy developing nations in need of allies. I think pirates would love these islands.

    But the optimist in me still thinks "I want to go to there."



    I just can't see seaseading working in any meaningful way. It'll just be some island resort. At last glance we have plenty of those.



      I guess it's no different than our current lives. I kind of find it funny, but with no government there might actually be some accountability here. What I mean to say is: we are all ruled by corporate interests, if my well being was tied to one corporation I could hold accountable, I may prefer that. Rather than all this finger pointing where no corporation is held responsible, and the government works for all corporations. Facing the truth most people already know: it seems I'd have more right's as a shareholder than a citizen.

  7. Alex

    You are one of the skeptics that the creators really don't care about. Love the irony in your comment.



    I can imagine a very profitable pizza delivery service and maybe a golf ball recycling center :)



    Paolo Soleri conceptualized seagoing communities in his work on the arcology concept. Those communities had designed infrastructure for minimizing the impact of community waste and resource consumption; however they were predicated on technologies we still won't have access to for decades, or centuries. These oil platform communities are in every likelihood going to fall far short of ideal resource conservation and waste management ethos; perhaps escaping the EPA was a part of the concept? Regardless, the project is clearly anthropocentric, and meant to lure the elite towards a utopian statehood free of taxation and regulation… bioshock may have been only a decade ahead of it's time


    Clayton E. Cramer

    The difficulty with this model was well explored in Niven & Pournelle's Oath of Fealty.

    The bigger problem is that once enough wealth accumulates (and I am sure that it will), pirates will show up–and what incentive does any government have to protect an operation that pretends that it is outside of an existing nation's laws? The size of these proposed islands means that you can defend yourself against half a dozen criminals showing up, but I can't imagine that organized crime is going to leave them alone.



      The first seasteads will be very close to shore. Blueseed (planning to launch in 2013) will be 12 miles from the coast of California, where pirate activity is nonexistent.


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  13. Ibis Fernandez

    Its an awesome idea, but a country has to be able to produce natural resources of some-kind in order be be truly self sustainable. They have to be able to import and export goods, and since these are synthetic structures you can't really grow much, can't mine, or produce anything other than maybe fish or maybe serve as a tech support office in the middle of the ocean. I find it hard to believe that a country could sustain itself based on pure digital goods and and tech support based labor.



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