On Tuesday night, someone popped meth in my cocoa. Normally at 10pm on a weekday, I take a soothing draught of Beverley O’Connor, an ABC News 24 presenter whose delivery is always warm enough. She utters words like “Mosul” and “children” with such anxious compassion, I feel like I can sleep. Beverley takes things seriously. Beverley is vigilant on my behalf. She would never be upbeat, for example, about a gang of libertarian billionaires planning to build an Ayn Rand city state paradise in the middle of the ocean.
Oh, but she was. And that night, having some passing familiarity with the story about Billionaire Island, I could not sleep, knowing that Beverley was now unconscious.
To be fair to O’Connor, reports on a new development in French Polynesia have been almost uniformly anodyne. Outlets have reported breathlessly and lazily on the announcement by the Seasteading Institute, whose Silicon Valley founders have falsely promoted themselves for some time as philanthropists.
They are not philanthropists, despite their not-for-profit status and low-key crowd-funding posture. They are a group of wealthy chaps who, after years of presenting optimistic-seeming TEDx talks about innovation, have actually won the right to build an autonomous floating utopia off the coast of Tahiti. An organisation that claims to have “Eight Great Moral Imperatives” really just has one: doing away with the problem of marginal tax rates.
Aside from a piece buried in the US Guardian, there is no report I have seen this week that questions the creation of another tax haven. You can call this thing as “open source” and “agile” as you want, but none of this changes the declared intention of the institute, which is to legitimise the shitty behaviour one can read about in the Panama Papers — i.e. “I use national infrastructure and generous regulation to build my fortune. Then, I keep my fortune, because, fuck you.”
Actually, the hope that some of these “Seasteaders” have exceeds the simple dream of shoving one’s billions off-shore. These guys actually plan to live with their money in a sexy paradise where one’s ownership of property is one’s guarantee of a democratic voice. The Institute is at pains to describe itself as an ultra-modern form of “open government” for ultra-modern times, but the foundation for this island comes to us straight from 1689.
This stuff is pure, undiluted John Locke, which states the right to private property is an inviolable and natural one. Reading between the lines of Locke, which his greatest fans, the Founding Fathers, largely didn’t, this means those who hold no private property hold no rights. If you have not become a property owner, as natural law permits, then you are property. And it will be dismally fascinating to see how the bodies of impoverished Tahitians will be claimed in the manufacture of this island.
Of course, we can no longer expect our newsmakers to take any critical interest in the habits of rent-seekers or the historical thinking that allowed them to shit on the world. What we might expect, however, is that one or two reporters might Google past the headlines to learn a little about the Seasteaders.
The founder of the institute is — and I swear I’m not making this up — Milton Friedman’s grandson. Just as grandpa, largely acknowledged as the most influential thinker of the neoliberal era, got to test out his Lockean theories on the nation of Chile, Patri Friedman will soon have a luxury island to play with. At least this doesn’t involve a massacre of dissidents and a CIA-backed coup, I guess.
Friedman is also the author of a now-deleted blog on how to incorporate the “Game”, i.e. the misogynistic manipulations of the pick-up artist (PUA), into long-term heterosexual relationships. There is at least one other Seasteader who shares Friedman’s views about the “natural” roles of men and women. Former communications officer Joe Quirk has written a book inspired by shaky socio-biology originally titled, Sperm are from Men, Eggs are from Women.
Capital for the project comes from Peter Thiel, an entrepreneur you may have read about recently when Mark Zuckerberg was forced to explain to staff his position on the Facebook board. Thiel, known to make large donations to Donald Trump, was defended in a leaked memo with Zuckerberg’s characteristic lack of moral conviction. At Facebook, wrote Zuckerberg, we care deeply about diversity, which is precisely why we must embrace the thug from PayPal who once chose the front cover of Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as his Twitter avatar. Rich, white finance sector men need representation, too.
Another Seasteader, Joe Lonsdale, can be seen here talking to an enamoured Glen Beck. This PayPal alum illustrates, in person and in speech, the nature of the project. Yes, he tells the slavering Beck, we are all libertarians. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because you have to buy your way into our Lockean Love Boat and your property is your single guarantee of democratic participation, doesn’t mean we’re all Baby Friedmans.
It’s not really surprising that a group of immensely wealthy guys, led by the direct descendant of Milton Friedman, are looking to live on a defensible island — they just don’t feel safe in their gated communities any more. It is, sadly, not even surprising that an impoverished nation allowed it to occur. What does continue to surprise me, however, is that so few news outlets bother to see through the baloney philanthropic spin of Silicon Valley.
That Facebook, whose first iteration was a “Hot or Not” site designed to rate the attractiveness of women, can continue to posit itself as a caring corporate citizen is peculiar. That Uber is seen so warmly as part of a “sharing economy” makes little sense. That Apple, a company yet to cleanse the blood from its supply chain, is, post Jobs, seen as a defender of human rights is utter malarkey. In the current market, you can throw a few words like “diversity” and “climate change” around, and your documented past of misogyny or your documented present of tax avoidance just melts away.
The Seasteading Institute, whose backers bang on and on about how they’re going to save people in Bangladesh, is, perhaps, the most radical hypocrite going ‘round. This can be read not only in the personal histories of its Founding Fathers, just as white and male as the originals, but in the terrible fact that they are actually building a hot PUA love island in which they can avoid paying tax.