Monday, January 11, 2010

The defense of property rights in Avatar is so clear

that, at one point in the movie, when the bad guys are justifying their war on the grounds that they need "Unobtainium," I turned to a libertarian friend and said, "This is the Kelo decision." Recall that the Supreme Court, in Kelo v. City of New London, decided that it was all right to take Suzette Kelo’s property from its low-tech use as a house so that a major corporation could use it for a "grander" project.

Which brings me back to whether this movie was an attack on capitalism. I think not. To the extent that it makes any statement about capitalism, Avatar is a defense of capitalism. Capitalism is based on property rights and voluntary exchange. The Na’vi had property rights in the crucial tree and various other properties surrounding it. Did they own it as individuals or as community tribal property? We can’t be sure, but probably the latter. They had refused to sell the property to the outsiders. There was nothing the outsiders could give them that would make it worth their while. What should we, if we are good capitalists, conclude? That, just as in the Kelo case, the people currently sitting on the land value it more than the outsiders. The land is already in its highest-valued use.
I caught the movie this past weekend (IMAX 3-D, thank you very much). As a christian* libertarian** capitalistic*** military technology geek****, I thought the movie was great fun, and though the film seems to borrow generously from Star Wars, The Matrix, and Dances With Wolves, well worth the time and money.

Some caveats to Caveat:
*I aspire to even greater faith than I have right now, but believe science (not the Al Gore kind, of course, but the kind that has no personal or political agenda save liberating captive minds) is also an important lens to see truth

**I will consistently lean toward individual rights and freedoms and away from bigger government, but recognize that government is a good and sometimes best place to get certain things done. Should Jefferson have not pulled the trigger on the Louisiana Purchase?

***Capitalism does not work always and everywhere; an overly emphasized profit motive constrains human potential very quickly. But it also reduces poverty and inequality more effectively than all other systems. If you have to have an incomplete system, because transcendence and enlightenment is elusive, try to pick the best one.

****I haven't really kept up with military innovations for the same reason I am not as up on the music scene anymore: I got married and had kids. But those next-gen Scorpion helicopters, sort of like the Hornets in the game Halo or the Marine Corps' first-gen Ospreys, are pretty cool.

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