Friday, July 1, 2016

Spatial Metapolitics Wk3: Riversteading Waterworld

On the potential for affordable small-scale seasteading:
On the Mississippi River, the barge traffic is neverending in both directions. Docks on the miles-long industrial riverfront are like hives, with buzzing tugboats constantly looping and drifting around queues of barges lined up for filling or emptying. This massive industry is utterly attached to federal corporate welfare - Washington picks up more of the cost of riverborne shipping than any other type of logistics enterprise in the US, and subsidies generate as much revenue as actual profits (current statistics: river traffic moves less than 5% of american cargo, while taxpayers foot 90% of the bill - in contrast, rail is entirely self-funded, while highway/trucking is subsidised at around 20%). As the global and local social fields become more and more unstable due to factors such as climate change, viral political madness, and class warfare, an industry so significantly reliant on a government increasingly unwilling or unable to foot the bill I predict will inevitably fall victim to catastrophic failure to provide the services or the revenues that would be necessary to keep these businesses afloat. This pressure toward collapse already has a serious manifestation in the fact that both flooding and drought generate ridiculously dramatic dropoffs in the ability of a barge to navigate the river, and both have become more common as local weather has become more erratic.

These insights generate the possibility that a forward-thinking group could obtain incredibly cheap rates and well-leveraged bargaining positions on river-transport materiel and that the potential buyers’ position will only grow stronger over time. Currently, used flat-bottomed, open-topped, barges are roughly the cost of a used car, and towboats have been consistently dropping in price as the number of companies operating on the river drops due to failure to compete with multinationals like Cargill. One has but to look toward the better parts of a movie like Waterworld or an experiment like Sealand to imagine the possibilities in a modular, mobile system capable of holding 1400 tons of cargo per barge (soil for farming operations, housing structures?) at costs incredibly far below the average island, or yacht, or WWII weapons platform off the coast of England, or custom-built waterborne structure. That these barges and towboats are already designed to house people for long periods and be modularly (dis)connectable on a large scale increases their potential utility, while every day more of these units are discarded, abandoned, fall to ravages of disrepair. Every major city along the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Missouri rivers has a transport industry of significant size, and it is showing cracks at every stage of the process. I contend that this industry is ripe for pillaging and repurposing, and that it is only a matter of time before the river economy hits a startling bottom that, while destructive and fragmentary to the extreme for certain industries and industrial zones, could be very fruitful indeed for the intrepid seasteader.

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