Archive for January, 2010

My recent Twitter stream on corporate "personhood", limited liability, risk-shifting, rent-seeking and growth of corrupt government

January 25th, 2010 No comments

My Twitter comments can be found here and here, both in reverse chronological order (most recent posts first).

Below I`ve copied, in chronological order, just those comments that relate to the recent Supreme Court decision on the ability of Congress to regulate the “free speech” of corporations.



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More insights on what’s wrong with Haiti and how it can be fixed

January 22nd, 2010 No comments

What needs to be done? Simply, an end to corrupt rule and heavy taxes and regulatory burdens, central planning and intrusive foreign aid “development” schemes (that feed local elites and foreign contractors), and free and open trade with foreign nations.

Further to my prior post, here are some additional resources on Haiti:

Walter Williams, Only Haiti can end its deeper tragedy (Columbia Daily Tribune, January 20, 2010)

Jonathan Finegold Catalán, Haiti: Two Hundred Tragic Years (Economic Thought, Jan 19th, 2010)

Garrett Glass, A solution in Haiti: Try Freedom (Digital Freedom Network, Mar 3, 2004)

Regarding the issue of past responsibility of other countries, I also thought this reader comment to David S. Landes piece, Slaves and Slaughter; Haiti’s horrible history (TNR, March 10, 1986) to be telling:

What the professor of economics fails to discuss was the fact that
European and American countries almost completely cut off trade with
Haiti in the aftermath of its revolution, given its status as a nation
governed by freed blacks in an era of pervasive slavery. International
isolation was what ultimately crushed Haiti’s export economy

Further insightful academic resources can be found at The Digital Library Of The Commons (Indiana U.), by searching through titles for Haiti. Here are a couple:

Smucker, Glenn R.; White, T. Anderson; Bannister, Michael, Land Tenure and the Adoption of Agricultural Technology in Haiti, 2002

White, T. Anderson; Gregersen, Hans M., Policy Lessons from Natural Resources Projects in Haiti: A Framework for Reform, 1994 


As a bonus, readers might be interested in this paper, written by a seventh grader, that was the Junior Division Winner of the National
History Day’s 2000 student research paper competition; the paper lucidly describes many of the US responses to and repercussions of the Haitian slave rebellion:

Jim Thomson, The Haitian Revolution and the Forging of America (The History Teacher, 2000)

[Update] Some food for thought on who (US/UN/others/Haitians) and what is responsible for making and keeping Haiti poor

January 19th, 2010 No comments

[Note: Richard Ebeling`s piece on the Jan. 19 Mises Daily page (“Real Economic Reform for a Hurting Haiti“) is the most thoughtful libertarian take so far.]

I found these four pieces (two post-quake, two before) interesting.

Haiti Didn’t Become a Poor Nation All on Its Own — The U.S’s Hidden Role in the Disaster  (Carl Lindskoog, AlterNet, January 15, 2010)

Exporting Misery to Haiti: How Rice, Pigs, and US Policy Undermined the Haitian Economy (James Ridgeway, Reader Supported News, Jan.18)

Haiti: the land where children eat mud (Caitlin Moran, Times Online, May 17, 2009) (a fairly graphic report, with references to international debt, starting with France)

Of course, there is plenty of blame to be shared by Haiti`s rulers, as poor Haitians obviously desperately need what most of us take
for granted (and what Dominicans on the other half of the island have):
property rights and some semblance of rule of law.  Most of the country is a government-“owned” commons (that is,
unprotected), and the state of property rights protection of the rest
of the land is extremely poor. Apparently the nation faces a widespread tragedy of the commons situation.

See this very insightful analysis:  Apocalypso: Haiti’s Chosen Poverty (Joe Katzman, WindsofChange.Net, January 7, 2005).

It is heart-warming to see the current level of interest in the US and elsewhere in helping the Haitians. But the very real question is, how can the tragedy of the commons be ended in Haiti?

Is a roll-back of the "War on Drugs" brewing? US House unanimously approves bill to establish study commission

January 19th, 2010 1 comment

i ran across the following article in the UK’s Independent, but surprisingly the news doesn’t seem to have aroused the slightest interest in the US media:

US waves white flag in disastrous ‘war on drugs’

After 40 years of defeat and failure, America’s
“war on drugs” is being buried in the same fashion as it was born –
amid bloodshed, confusion, corruption and scandal. US agents are being
pulled from South America; Washington is putting its narcotics policy
under review, and a newly confident region is no longer prepared to
swallow its fatal Prohibition error. Indeed, after the expenditure of
billions of dollars and the violent deaths of tens of thousands of
people, a suitable epitaph for America’s longest “war” may well be the
plan, in Bolivia, for every family to be given the right to grow coca
in its own backyard.

The “war”,
declared unilaterally throughout the world by Richard Nixon in 1969, is
expiring as its strategists start discarding plans that have proved
futile over four decades: they are preparing to withdraw their agents
from narcotics battlefields from Colombia to Afghanistan and beginning
to coach them in the art of trumpeting victory and melting away into
anonymous defeat. Not surprisingly, the new strategy is being gingerly
aired in the media of the US establishment, from The Wall Street
Journal to the Miami Herald.

What “white flag”? The article refers to a bill passed unanimously by the US House of Representatives in December (Dec. 8) to establish an independent commission (the “Western
Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission”) that will be charged with evaluating U.S. policies and programs
aimed at reducing illicit drug supply and demand in the Western
Hemisphere an independent commission. It’s rather pathetic that Congress needs an “independent commission” to hash out a change of policy in this area, but presumably no Congresscritters want to look like they are “soft on crime” in advance of mid-term elections.

Maybe I just haven`t been reading carefully (I was aware that the Obama administration had announced it would no longer be raiding state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries), but this is a BIG story, and GREAT news!

So where’s the coverage? Perhaps no one really cares to cover the story at home because it requires facing how disastrous our policies have been abroad, but at home as well, and shows how much prestige and influence the US has lost during the Bush terms?

In any case, I hope that libertarians will examine, critique and cheer on these developments.

I did find a little bit of domestic contemporaneous coverage of the US House actions last year.

Maybe Obama will be able to find other uses for War on Drugs authority and budgets?  It would be nice to see the states start to wrest control back over this matter, but it is hard to expect any easy devolution of hard-won federal authority.

Categories: drug war, federal contol, states Tags:

Avatar’s theme of self-determination proves too subversive and successful in China and is abruptly yanked by censors

January 19th, 2010 No comments

I noted in my previous post – Avatar resonates in China – where standing up for property rights (and against “progress”) can be downright subversive – that Avatar had hit a surprising chord in China.

Perhaps not so surprisingly. China’s censors have said they have seen enough of the band-together-and-fend-your homes-by-standing-up-to-bullies movie – which has been playing since January 4 to record breaking audiences – and have ordered all theaters to stop showing it after January 22, weeks ahead of its scheduled February 11 closing.

Avatar will be replaced by a state-approved movie on Confucius. As a result, Avatar will not be shown nationwide. (Avatar can continue to be shown only at the very limited urban locations with a 3-D projector – there is no 3-D version of the Confucius movie).

Most reports are based on the following report from Hong Kong`s Apple Daily (I was unable to find the original) (emphasis added):

China Film instructed all locations to stop showing the ordinary version of Avatar and to show only the 3D version. The Central Publicity Department issued an order to the media prohibiting it from hyping up Avatar. Reportedly, the authorities have two reasons for this check on Avatar:
first, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from
domestic films, and second, it may lead audiences to think about forced
removal, and may possibly incite violence.

A mainland source close to China Film confirmed that the company had
recently issued instructions ordering the 2D and film version of Avatar to be taken down this week, leaving only the 3D version still showing.

Because there are so few 3D cinemas on the mainland, the order effectively prevents the general distribution of Avatar. The source said that the order had come from SARFT [China’s State Administration of Radio Film and Television]: “It may be a political decision.” Reportedly, even the 3D version will only be able to screen for three to four weeks. Avatar premiered in China on the fourth of the month.

According to the source, the Central Publicity Department has
ordered propaganda departments to ensure that the media does not hype
up Avatar, and that they correctly guide public opinion. At the
same time, it instructed the entertainment news media to shift its
attention to the upcoming domestic blockbuster Confucius. Confucius, starring Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat, will premiere across the mainland on the 22nd.

More reports are here and here.

I imagine bootleg copies of Avatar, which were apparently on sale in China even before the movie opened, will soar.

Next up on the censors’ agendaLooks like Google.

Evidence of ethical and inethical behavior among bacteria

January 15th, 2010 No comments

See Michael Gilberson, co-blogger with Lynne Kiesling at  Knowledge Problem, discussing recent research:  “Cooperation and cheating among bacteria“.

I think we are beginning to see that ethical issues, that is, “problems” of cooperation between individuals, permeates life, and that evolution and experience provide differing capabilities for cooperative behavior across the spectrum of life.

Humans, being the most “advanced” and self-reflective of life forms, are privileged to include fights over “property rights”  and “objective” universal moral codes, etc. among our daily battles over how to advance our personal interests.

[The post title is tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but the study of the why and wherefor of cooperation is a serious matter, indeed. Perhaps it is the underlying theme of this blog.]

Resources on Elinor Ostrom

January 15th, 2010 No comments

[Note: This is a work in progress]

Elinor Ostrom is the guru of CPR regimes; anyone interested should look into her fascinating and highly-regarded work, particularly
her seminal and extensively researched Governing the Commons (1990). Here is a review.

A profile of Ostrom, who is a member of the National Academies of Science and and Editor of its Proceedings, is here:

Her work can be found here:,+Elinor&hl=en&btnG=Search


and here:

[She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society,
and a recipient of a number of prestigious awards. Her other books include Rules, Games, and Common-Pool Resources (1994); The Commons in the New Millennium: Challenges and Adaptations (2003); The Samaritan’s Dilemma: The Political Economy of Development Aid (2005); Understanding Institutional Diversity (2005); and Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice (2007).]

Here is one link to get readers started:

Elinor Ostrom et al.,
Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges, Science 9
April 1999:

Here is one general bibliography on commons research:

1.  Here are the statements from the 2009 Nobel Prize committee:

a.  From the press release:

Elinor Ostrom has demonstrated how common property can be successfully managed by user associations. Oliver Williamson has
developed a theory where business firms serve as structures for
conflict resolution. Over the last three decades these seminal
contributions have advanced economic governance research from the
fringe to the forefront of scientific attention.

Economic transactions take place not
only in markets, but also within firms, associations, households, and
agencies. Whereas economic theory has comprehensively illuminated the
virtues and limitations of markets, it has traditionally paid less
attention to other institutional arrangements. The research of Elinor
Ostrom and Oliver Williamson demonstrates that economic analysis can
shed light on most forms of social organization.

Elinor Ostrom has challenged
the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and
should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized.

Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods,
lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concludes that the outcomes are,
more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories. She
observes that resource users frequently develop sophisticated
mechanisms for decision-making and rule enforcement to handle conflicts
of interest, and she characterizes the rules that promote successful

b.  The background explanation is useful and contains a pointed criticism of many centrally-directed approaches to common pool resources (emphasis added):

If we want to halt the degradation of our natural environment and prevent a repetition of the many collapses
of natural-resource stocks experienced in the past, we should learn
from the successes and failures of common-property regimes. Ostrom’s
work teaches us novel lessons about the deep mechanisms that sustain
cooperation in human societies.

It has frequently been suggested that common ownership entails excessive resource utilization, and that it is
advisable to reduce utilization either by imposing government
regulations, such as taxes or quotas, or by privatizing the resource.
theoretical argument is simple: each user weighs private benefits
against private costs, thereby neglecting the negative impact on others.

However, based on numerous empirical studies of natural-resource management, Elinor Ostrom has concluded that common
property is often surprisingly well managed. Thus, the standard
theoretical argument against common property is overly simplistic.
It neglects the fact that users themselves can both create and enforce rules that mitigate overexploitation.
The standard argument also neglects the practical difficulties associated with privatization and government regulation. …

There are many …. examples which indicate that user-management of local resources has been more
successful than management by outsiders. …

[T]he main lesson is that common
property is often managed on the basis of rules and procedures that
have evolved over long periods of time.
As a result they are more
adequate and subtle than outsiders – both politicians and social
scientists – have tended to realize. Beyond showing that
self-governance can be feasible and successful, Ostrom also elucidates
the key features of successful governance. One instance is that active
participation of users in creating and enforcing rules appears to be
essential. Rules that are imposed from the outside or unilaterally
dictated by powerful insiders have less legitimacy and are more likely
to be violated. Likewise, monitoring and enforcement work better when
conducted by insiders than by outsiders. These principles are in stark
contrast to the common view that monitoring and sanctioning are the
responsibility of the state and should be conducted by public employees.

2.   Miscellaneous recent materials

On December 16, Spiegel Online ran the following interview with Elinor Ostrom

NPR’s Planet Money: Podcast: Elinor Ostrom Checks In (October 23, 2009)

Lecture at Cornell University: “Collective Action and the Commons: What Have We Learned?” (September 17, 2009)

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smh.addParam(“quality”, “high”);

3.  These following earlier posts:

Elinor Ostrom? Austrians praise the Nobel laureate’s work on how human communities successfully manage resource conflicts

by TokyoTom

Elinor Ostrom awarded the Nobel prize in economics? Who? no doubt some
of you are wondering. Well, sharp-eyed readers will have noted that I
have referred to her any number of times (which I will reprise later,
as this post has gotten too lengthy). I excerpt below some of the
praise Elinor Ostrom has…

sum games: Get yer Elinor Ostrom here! A reprise of posts on rolling up
our sleeves to address real problems that “markets” (& govt.) now

by TokyoTom

I excerpt below, in chronological order, portions of my prior posts
here that refer to Elinor Ostrom (the political scientist who recently
was awarded the Nobel prize in economics) and are indebted to her
thinking. Perhaps items 3 and 10 are most accessible for readers in a
hurry to find links to her…

Elinor Ostrom: Another Nobel Laureate jumps the climate shark (Proceed at Own Risk)

by TokyoTom

On December 16, Spiegel Online ran the following interview with Elinor
Ostrom , whose 2009 Nobel prize in economics (shared with Oliver
Williamson ), was widely applauded by Austrian economists (and whose
work I have referred to any number of time previously ). Der Spiegel
asked some good questions,…

Tragedy of the panicked enviro III: learning from Elinor Ostrom about cooperative action

by TokyoTom

This is the second follow-up to my post ” Grist and the tragedy of the
panicked enviro “, where I try to clarify the institutional frameworks
for understanding and addressing resource problems, in response to
confusion in comments by others. T Worstall Posted 5:27 pm 27 Aug 2009
TokyoTom makes…

John Quiggin plays Pin-the-tail-on-the-Donkey with “Libertarians and delusionism”

by TokyoTom

John Quiggin , a left-leaning Australian economist and professor at the
University of Queensland, has noted my recent post on the penchant for
bloggers and readers at the Mises Blog to attack climate science – are
” almost universally committed to delusional views on climate science
“, as he…

Not Climate Change Welfare, But Capitalism and Free Markets

by TokyoTom

… is what poor countries need. So corrrectly argues Keith Lockitch of
the Ayn Rand Institute , in a new article that responds to the
agreement, by the delegates of industrialized nations at the December
climate change conference in Bali, to activate an “adaptation fund”
that would help…

Libertarians to lefty-enviros: without community-based property rights, sustainable fisheries are impossible

by TokyoTom

Readers from RealClimate , thanks for your visit. Here`s my comment
with embedded links: #188 / 245: Neal & Jim, thanks for the
references to the successful experiments in Iceland, NZ and the Alaskan
pollock fishery to replace the tragedy of the government commons with
property rights approaches…

Ron Bailey of Reason congratulates Al Gore

by TokyoTom

[updated] A great new post by libertarian Ron Bailey of Reason here:
Congratulations to Al Gore But be wary of the man’s proposed solutions
for global warming. Ronald Bailey | October 12, 2007 1. Here are some excerpts
(emphasis added), followed by a copy…

Using the State to solve common resource problems?

by TokyoTom

How exactly do you transfer commons into private ownership in a fair
way, even for easily divided up stuff like land? That’s the trillion
dollar question that someone asked me on a recent thread ( ) regarding my
suggestion that better definition…

Jon Bostwick agrees on another post that “Man is clever but not wise
(“homo sapiens” is a misnomer)”, but further comments (emphasis added):
“True. But humanity is wise. Men create cultures, economies and law.
“Man’s flaw is that he is over confident of his own intelligence…
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Avatar resonates in China – where standing up for property rights (and against "progress") can be downright subversive

January 14th, 2010 No comments

It looks as if James Cameron`s Avatar movie –  which is seen by many in the West as predictibly shallow, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, pro-enviro and racially politically correct – has struck a home-owners` rights chord that is resonating in China, and may reinforce popular demands in China for the protection of private property rights against governments and politically well-connected developers.

These are “rebellious undertones“, claims the WSJ in January 11 editorial. This editorial, as well as coverage in WSJ`s China Real Time Report (January 8) and by Xinhua/ (January 13), are worth a look.

Here are a few excerpts (emphasis added):

WSJ in January 11 editorial

This is standard politically correct fare for a Western audience,
conveying a message of racial sensitivity and environmental awareness.
In China, however, it has more rebellious undertones.

That’s because Chinese local
governments in cahoots with developers have become infamous for
forcibly seeking to evict residents from their homes with little
compensation and often without their consent. The holdouts are known as
“nail households,” since their homes are sometimes left stranded in the
middle of busy construction sites. More often, however, they are driven
away by paid thugs. Private property is one of the most sensitive
issues in the country today, and “Avatar” has given the resisters a
shot in the arm.


WSJ`s China Real Time Report (January 8):

While the plot contains obvious allusions to colonialist
resource-grabbing, Li [Li Chengpeng, an apparently well-known blogger and sports reporter] instead sees “Avatar” as an allegory for the
exploitation of regular people by Chinese real estate companies.

In his post, titled “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” Li draws
a comparison between the tree where the Na’vi live and the homes of
people who resist eviction—known in China as “nail houses” because of
the way they stick up out of would-be construction sites (see articles,
with video, on the subject here and here).

Like the Na’vi, China’s nail house residents are often asked to
abandon their homes for little or nothing in return. Chinese real
estate developers, like the company in the film, are typically
quasi-governmental organizations, backed by the rhetoric of progress
and armies of hired thugs that can be brought in when negotiations fall

“The developer sees the tree as an illegal building, its residents
as rabble rousers who don’t support municipal development and aren’t
willing to sacrifice for the greater good,” Li writes.

The post has been viewed more than 200,000 times and attracted
nearly 2500 comments, the vast majority supportive, since he put it up

Others have jumped on the idea, including The Beijing News, which called the film “a nail house parable,” and twenty-something literary star Han Han, who defended
the film against charges its plot is weak: “For audiences from other
places, barbaric eviction is something they simply can’t imagine–it’s
the sort of thing that could only happen in outer space and China.”

So what lessons does the film hold for people in China facing
eviction? “Communication is worthless,” Li writes. “You can only fight
fire with fire.”


Xinhua/ (January 13)

While most of the global audience are enjoying the dazzling 3-D experience of the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar, some Chinese see it from a very different angle: a successful battle against forced eviction. …

But in China, the story has aroused a
sympathetic response among many spectators, as they see in the film a
familiar social conflict — forced demolitions by real estate
developers and urban administrative inspectors.

“They are very much alike. For
instance, the conflict in the film also starts with land,” a posting by
“A Cup of Green Tea” said in an on-line forum operated by the

“When real estate developers want a
piece of land, the local residents must move away; if they decline to
leave, then real estate developers will resort to violent ways,” the
posting said.

Forced demolitions have always led to
opposition and resistance from local residents in China and have given
rise to the term “nail house” in China, in reference to a nail refusing
to be hammered down.

In southwest China’s city of
Chongqing, a couple battled for three years from 2004 to 2007 to stop
developers from razing their home. Their neighbors left one after
another, leaving their two-story brick building standing like a tower
surrounded by a 17-meter deep construction site. Their fight finally
came to an end in April 2007 with a negotiated agreement that
nevertheless saw the demolition of their house.

In June 2008, Pan Rong and her husband
stood on the roof of their house in Shanghai and threw Molotov
cocktails at the approaching bulldozer. Pan’s efforts to protect her
home failed at last when the bulldozer destroyed the walls, forcing the
couple out.

In November last year, a 47-year-old
woman, Tang Fuzhen, in the southwestern city of Chengdu, set herself on
fire to protest the forced demolition of her house and died later.

In both cases, the local governments insisted that the forced demolitions were lawful and accorded with regulations.

“I am wondering whether Cameron had secretly lived in China before coming up with such an idea of writing the story of Avatar, but with a promising ending in the film,” said renowned football reporter, Li Chengpeng, in a blog article on

“In a word, I think the film is a successful eulogy of the fight of ‘nail houses’ against forced demolitions,” he said.

The Chinese central government is increasingly aware of the negative impact of and public discontent toward forced demolitions.

China passed its landmark property law in 2007, highlighting the protection of private property.

On Dec. 7 last year, five professors
from Peking University claimed in an open letter to the National
People’s Congress, the country’s top legislature, the Regulation on
Urban Housing Demolition Administration was unconstitutional and
violated the property law.

The existing demolition regulation
took effect in 2001, allowing forced demolition. The government has
finished a draft revision to the regulation.

The draft revision, with its content
still unknown, put more restrictions on the government’s administrative
power in demolition procedures, and was aimed at easing growing
tensions caused by forced demolitions, legal experts said.

“To audiences of other countries,
forced demolitions are probably beyond their imagination,” said young
writer Han Han, well known for his always controversial remarks, in one
of his blog articles on

“So I think Avatar is a great movie. I give it a full mark of 10, also taking into consideration the 3-D and IMAX,” he said. …

However, “A Cup of Green Tea” voiced a
note of warning: “I strongly advise real estate developers and urban
administrative inspectors see the movie and learn from it.”


This relatively surprising reception of the Avatar movie in China is obviously something to be welcomed by all those who favor markets and freedom – as well by evil greenies (and Japanese and others downwind/downstream) who want cleaner air and water – since it is clear that  enforceable and transferrable property rights is one of the key mechanisms by which developing societies move along the “Kuznets environmental curve” from pollution to a cleaner environment.

Let`s also hope that the Chinese also start to recognize that their consumer demand is (like that of Western consumers) fuelling Avatar-like destruction elsewhere around the world, and choose to act as responsible consumers, by insisting that indigenous rights elsewhere by protected.

Avatar at Home? Those pesky Somali pirates have hampered the pillage of East African seas, leading to higher fish catches by locals

January 12th, 2010 1 comment

As a follow-up to my earlier posts (note: link fixed) on how the rape of East African fisheries ($200-300 million per year) & ocean dumping by Western nations led to the rise of Somali piracy, I just ran across this interesting recent report by AP (“Kenya fishermen see upside to pirates: more fish“) on how the presence of the pirates has boosted local fisheries.

Nice Post by David Henderson on "Avatar", property, corporatism & right of natives to live as they please

January 12th, 2010 No comments

David R. Henderson has a nice post up at, titled “In Defense of Avatar”, in which he takes issue with reviews of Avatar by Reihan Salam and Edward Hudgins. (My earlier comments on Stephan Kinsella`s review of Avatar are here.)

I would just note that Henderson has presumed that the Avatar natives – non-humans – have “rights” that we are obliged to respect.. I think that history tells us that, even for humans in other civilizations, “property rights” are respected only when it suits the purposes of both sides (viz., can be protected by the side claiming them, as I`ve noted on several occasions, most recently here).

A few excerpts:

I don’t think Avatar is an attack on capitalism. One could leave
the movie and have no idea, based on just the movie, about James Cameron’s
view of capitalism. And while it did have some clichés (most movies
do), I didn’t find it loaded. So what is Avatar? In fact, Avatar
is a powerful antiwar movie – and a defense of property rights. For that reason,
I found it easy to identify with those whose way of life was being destroyed
by military might. …

“But here’s the crucial question, a question that neither Salam nor Hudgins
addresses: Do savages, noble or otherwise, have rights?

If given a choice between high-tech, with all its creature comforts, and the
jungle life of Tarzan, I, like Salam and Hudgins, will take high-tech every
time. But that’s not what the movie’s about. It’s about people from a high-tech
civilization using technology to make war on people from a more primitive society
so that they can steal their stuff. That’s a very different choice. I would
choose not to kill them and take their property. What would Salam or Hudgins
choose? They don’t make their answers clear, although they show zero sympathy
for the victims of the attack. …

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. Hudgins and Salam could argue that that’s implausible.
Surely there would be some finite price that the Na’vi would take in return
for the Unobtainium. Maybe, maybe not. But once the Na’vi have made it clear
that they’re unwilling to exchange it, that should be the end of things, shouldn’t

Hudgins argues that James Cameron is claiming, “That’s capitalism for
you.” As noted earlier, it’s not clear that Cameron is so arguing. But
if that’s what Cameron believes, shouldn’t Hudgins’s response be, “No,
that’s corporatism for you.” …

Read through everything Hudgins has written on Kelo
and you won’t find a wisp of discussion about how low-tech or high-tech, savage
or civilized, Mrs. Dery is. And that’s because it doesn’t matter. People
in high-tech societies have rights. So do savages. It would be nice if Hudgins
showed even one tenth of the concern for the “savages” over whom
the “non-savages” of the U.S. military and CIA roll as he shows for
an old woman who lives (or used to live) in a house. …


Avatar is an eloquent defense of the right of people in other civilizations
to live as they please.