By Eric Crampton 27/01/2017


A new year brings a new New Zealand media and Twitter zeitgeist, thanks to the revelation that US tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel is a New Zealand citizen.

Tired:

Low-skilled immigrants from China and the Pacific are ruining our economy. They’re hurting New Zealand’s productivity stats, they’re making New Zealand a low-wage economy, and they’re stealing all the houses. We need to focus on getting higher skilled migrants, and especially ones from places with not-scary last names that sound more familiar. We wouldn’t need to think about maybe having some terraced housing close to downtown in a city of a million people if the low-skilled migrants went away.

Wired:

Rich, highly skilled and highly connected American tech immigrant investors who buy properties none of us could afford anyway are totally the problem. Why would anybody give citizenship to a rich entrepreneur who’s invested millions in Xero and who can help build connections between the NZ tech sector and Silicon Valley? That’s totally corrupt.

Here’s another one.

Boring 2016:

Democracy totally sucks because it managed to elect Trump. How can we build a system that protects rubes from their own voting behaviour?

2017’s new hotness:

Peter Thiel is an awful dangerous extremist because he said that democracy often doesn’t yield the policy outcomes he likes. Doesn’t he believe in democracy?

Last year’s take on immigration really was pretty tired. Next week, the New Zealand Initiative will be releasing a report showing just how tired it was – and how out of line it was with the evidence. But 2017’s isn’t an improvement.

Here’s a better alternative on the Thiel question: the government was right to grant New Zealand citizenship to Peter Thiel in 2011.

I make the case for it over at The Spinoff. Enjoy!

Taking to the seas

I don’t like Thiel’s support of Trump, but that’s all well after 2011. And his support for seasteading was great.

If we take a potted intellectual history of Seasteading, it would look like this. Chicago University economist Milton Friedman said that people were too optimistic about the government’s benevolence and competence, and so government needed to be kept to fairly limited roles. His son, David Friedman, a law and economics scholar at Santa Clara University, said his father was too optimistic about the potential for constraining government to doing only good things: anarchism was the more sensible approach. And Patri Friedman, David’s son, then said his father was too optimistic about the chances of government ever relinquishing control: we need to take to the seas.

Patri helped set up the Seasteading alternative, in which people could set up a wide variety of different ways of organising society could be attempted on the high seas. Think of a Seastead as being like a body corporate, but with complete freedom to set whatever rules it wanted – about everything. And its residents, if they didn’t like how things were panning out, could simply unmoor their boat from the Seastead and float on over to an alternative. Each of us gets to choose which store to shop at or which neighbourhood to live in; Patri wants us to have the same ability to choose which kind of governance arrangement to live under. It could be a socialist commune or it could be far more laissez-faire. But it would be the government you chose because it was right for you.

Artisanopolis, created by Gabriel Scheare, Luke & Lourdes Crowley, and Patrick White of Roark 3D and Fortgalt as a gift to The Seasteading Institute, in conjunction with the Institute’s Architectural Design Contest.

I’m sure you can quickly come up with a half-dozen different obvious problems, but the Seasteading Institute has done a fair bit of thinking about them. And, ultimately, you really don’t have to believe it will work. The only people who will try it are those who do – you don’t have to agree with them, and that’s the beauty of it. And Peter Thiel provided some of the funding to help things along. It’s a long-shot, but it’s interesting. Imagine what we could learn about the merits of different policy arrangements if this kind of experiment really got going.

I supervised Brad Taylor’s Masters thesis at Canterbury; he went on to do some work with the Seasteading Institute to flesh out the details. He’s now a lecturer over at South Queensland. Here’s his piece with Patri on seasteading.