David R. Henderson  

Avatar Follow-Up

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I posted on Avatar as a defense of property rights in January. I commented that during the movie, I had whispered to one of my friends, "This is the Kelo decision." Various people pushed back on this site and on others here and here (in the comments).

I was catching up on articles I have clipped over the last 3 months and I came across this one I clipped from the L.A. Times while down in Palm Springs. It appears that the Chinese government agreed with me that Avatar is a defense of property rights.

Here's the relevant part of the story:

The communist nation's state-run movie distributor, China Film Group, unexpectedly began pulling the blockbuster science-fiction picture from 1,628 2-D screens this week in favor of a biography of the ancient philosopher Confucius.

According to the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, the switch was made at the urging of propaganda officials who are concerned that "Avatar" is taking too much market share from Chinese films and drawing unwanted attention to the sensitive issue of forced evictions.

Millions of Chinese have been uprooted to make way for high-rise buildings and government infrastructure projects in the fast-growing country. In "Avatar," human colonists try to demolish the village of an alien race to obtain a precious energy source buried under it.

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CATEGORIES: Property Rights

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Constant writes:

The movie doesn't defend property rights, but rather makes opportunistic use of instinctive enthusiasm for property rights to push a different agenda.

Similarly, if a politician makes a speech about how something needs to be done "for the children", chances are good that the politician isn't defending children, but rather making opportunistic use of our protectiveness toward children to push some other agenda.

noahpoah writes:

I find it implausible that Avatar would work as a defense of property rights if the native property ownership in the movie was established by contract and the enforcement thereof rather than by tradition and noble savagery.

Henry Milner writes:

"Property rights" may not be the right term to use here, because it bears all kinds of negative connotations for the people (like those in the comments section of the Ezra Klein post) whom we want to persuade.

I think there is a strong case that the movie supports a pair of much broader libertarian principles. First, noninitiation of force (that one's obvious). Second, the Hayekian idea of radical ignorance - that we are simple not qualified to determine the value of most things for other people, at least outside an intimate context. The value of the land for the Na'vi is something that is not easily understood by outsiders - humans are simply not equipped to make the physical connection to the Na'vi ancestor spirits which the Na'vi value so highly. Further, there is the obvious point that the humans have an incentive to undervalue this connection, since they want the land themselves.

This is, I think, the philosophical underpinning for our support of property rights - people are generally not qualified to say how much things are worth to other people, and therefore the power to say yes to an exchange should rest with the owner and no one else.

BZ writes:

Noahpoah - Contract with whom? Are you suggesting that, upon arrival of the humans, that the aliens had an obligation to negotiate the ownership of the big tree with the newcomers? On what basis did the humans even belong at the table?

To me, the troubling aspect was the whole "collective" nature of the ownership presented. The native persons didn't own the big tree, their government (chief and priestess) did, de facto. As in most wars, this wasn't a dispute between the individual humans and each of the thousands of native property owners, but a quibble among the leaders of a few states.

Marcus writes:

How 'bout this...

The unobtainium is health care. The company is leftists who believe they have a right to health care. The Na'vi represent the health care free-market.

Just a thought.

Marcus writes:

Building on my post above...

Colonel Quaritch would be Obama or Pelosi. Take your pick, I get a kick out of visualizing either one of them kicking the door open and shooting at the escaping plane. (take note how the statist can't breath in the free-market environment)

The escaping plane, of course, is full of free-market economists like Dr. Augustine. They came to the planet to study the free market in its natural state.

The free-market economists understand that you can't mine health care, I mean unobtanium, the way the statists want to without causing severe harm to the free-market environment.

The elders, of course, are Smith, Ricardo, Bastiat, Mises, Hayek, Friedman, etc.

Judging from the movie, it is apparently possible to convert a statist to free-marketer.

Kurbla writes:

I always thought that Avatar is about anti-colonialism, anti-globalisation, anti-deforestation etc.

But, we do not need to go to imagined worlds: what do you think about property of animals? For example, chimpanzees have their territories. Do you think that people should respect their property? If not, why not?

BZ writes:

Kurbla -- good point -- and what about the civil rights of Cows and Chickens? So many are being detained without due process!

Actually, on the monkey thing, I believe Locke would argue that they don't "mix thier labor" with it. Mises would add that their activities don't constitute forward looking action, so nothing is lost by taking it away. The nests of birds and the dams of beavers, on the other hand...

- Bo

Emerson Rumble writes:

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