Magazine article USA TODAY

A New Land of the Free

Magazine article USA TODAY

A New Land of the Free

Article excerpt

SURGING GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE is motivating high-profile Silicon Valley leaders to seek (literally) new frontiers where innovation can flourish. PayPal founder Peter Thiel, for instance, is funding "seasteading," man-made sea colonies. The concept is not new and innovators can find a valuable case study in the short-lived Republic of Minerva.

As revealed in Willard Garvey: An Epic Life, Minerva was the brainchild of international developer Willard Garvey (who was my father), pioneering global investor John Templeton, and entrepreneur and yacht designer Seth Atwood. Like today's Silicon Valley tech leaders, the three friends saw the ill effects of governments quashing opportunity and dreamed of an alternate environment where individual rights would be respected and entrepreneurship could flourish unabated. They set out to find an unclaimed piece of property well outside the territorial limit of any country.

In 1970, Atwood identified the Minerva reefs, 260 miles from Tonga, and 450 miles from Fiji. The three agreed they would keep the project under wraps, and Garvey contacted Michael Oliver, who had been involved in previous new country efforts. Oliver took the lead on the project, with Garvey, Templeton, and Atwood bankrolling the efforts, including the purchase of a dredging vessel to build up a permanent land mass that could support 25,000 inhabitants. Oliver, however, proved far less reserved than his backers and, in early 1972, despite not yet having established a habitable toe-hold, he filed a "Declaration of Sovereignty" with the U.S. State Department. As reported by The New York Times, the following month, Tonga--some think at the behest of the State Department--laid claim to the reefs.

Sovereignty, of course, remains the hurdle in any attempt to establish a new nation, and the Seasteading Institute's "Poseidon Award," offered for the first established sea colony, rightly includes de facto political autonomy as a criterion. Yet, it hardly is in the interest of the world's established nations to bestow recognition on a new country setting itself up in competition for the world's entrepreneurs and taxpayers.

Garvey and his partners abandoned Minerva and, for the remainder of their lives, devoted considerable energy to efforts that would establish the principles and practice of liberty, free markets, and individual rights in the U. …

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