Maybe the Most Valuable Ocean Resource
The most valuable marine natural resource in the world’s oceans may be what isn’t there rather than what is. What isn’t there is state regulation. Just offshore, beyond the reach of state and federal regulations, is a land–or sea–of economic opportunity.
The Seasteading Institute works to develop this sea of opportunity for entrepreneurs, innovators and everyday seasteaders.
The Seasteading Institute is … working to enable seasteading communities – floating cities – which will allow the next generation of pioneers to test new ideas for government. The most successful can then inspire change in governments around the world.
Offshore medical research and treatment is the goal of a one marine project developed by a University of Houston graduate student, and described in a Seasteading Institute blog post:
Their primary business model was based around offering proven but non-FDA-approved medical treatments on a floating medical facility located just beyond the territorial waters of the United States, utilizing a ship as a platform. This first phase was intended to demonstrate the economic viability of the business model, setting the stage for a more ambitious second phase, which envisioned the conversion of a decommissioned offshore drilling rig to house a more ambitious scope of medical treatment and a variety of research facilities.
A video animation shows the concept. The “economic freedom as ocean resource” idea with this project turns on the success of medical tourism. Patients Beyond Borders estimates $24-40 billion will be spent for medical tourism by 900,000 Americans traveling outside the U.S. for medical procedures in 2013.
I don’t wish to stretch topicality for students debating reform of federal marine natural resource policies, and maybe calling economic freedom a kind of “natural resource” is a stretch. Still, students should understand the key role of property rights and the rule of law.
The status quo starting point for the MNR topic is government ownership and regulation of marine natural resources. The status quo for MNR is similar to public schools. Students could spend a whole year debating how state and federal governments could better manage public schools. Many improvements can no doubt be made. But why have governments own and run schools in the first place? A similar argument can be made against government ownership and management of marine natural resources.
On government lands and in government waters, state and federal government agencies decide what activities are allowed, when they are allowed, who can participate. State departments of fisheries make fisheries rules, along with NOAA and other federal agencies. Decisions on who can look for and drill for oil or gas, and where and when, are decided by state and federal agencies.
Much of the western United States is still owned and managed by state and federal agencies, so decisions about harvesting trees, raising cattle, along with mining and drilling are decided by state and federal governments.
The United States government has direct ownership of almost 650 million acres of land (2.63 million square kilometers) – nearly 30% of its total territory. (Source: BigThink post.)
This land ownership gives federal agencies control over what economic activities are allowed, from farming, ranching and mining, to homesteading, camping, hunting, and hiking.
State and federal government agencies regulate economic activity on private property as well, including Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on medical procedures and drug therapies. Separate state and federal agencies and regulations limit medical schools which limits the number of doctors and nurses in practice, plus block low-cost hospitals and medical insurance options. These regulations raise medical costs and forbid therapies approved in other countries.
Patients Beyond Borders lists these most common medical fields that Americans travel to other countries for:
What are the top specialties for medical travelers?• Cosmetic surgery• Dentistry (general, restorative, cosmetic)• Cardiovascular (angioplasty, CABG, transplants)• Orthopedics (joint and spine; sports medicine)• Cancer (often high-acuity or last resort)• Reproductive (fertility, women’s health)• Weight loss (LAP-BAND, gastric bypass)• Scans, tests, health screenings and second opinions.
Higher costs encourage Americans to look to other countries for medical care, and maybe Seasteading enterprises will offer medical opportunities closer to home.
Various economic development projects are discussed in the Seasteading.org site, including this blog post on Ocean Fertilization.
The Seasteading Institute advocates for more rational ocean policy, both in terms of enhanced fishery property rights to curb the “tragedy of the commons,” as well proactive restoration approaches such as sustainable mariculture. We have listened to many ideas relating to this issue over the years, including a proposal delivered at the 2009 Seasteading Conference by Russ George, head of the Haida Salmon Restoration Project, which involves fertilizing depleted ocean zones with tiny iron filaments, to spur plankton growth that can lead to the creation of new marine food chains.
Law, however, is separate from States. Just because U.S. federal government regulations don’t reach to open ocean waters beyond 200 miles, doesn’t mean law doesn’t exist in these waters. Legal issues for seasteading are discussed on this Law and Policy page.