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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 Antiwar.com, 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
it?…

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.

Thoughts of an envirofacist avatar on "Avatar"; or Resources, Property Rights, Corporations & Government-Enabled Theft

December 22nd, 2009 1 comment

My pal Stephan Kinsella has a remarkably enviro-friendly post (“Avatar Is Great and Libertarian”) up regarding the new movie “Avatar”; his remarks and others on the thread prompted me to leave a few comments, which I copy below (in furtherance of my nefarious and/or insanely misguided agenda .

Many thanks to Stephan for aiding and abetting this. Ive added a bit of emphasis, fixed a typo or two, and a few additional comments, in brackets.

Published: December 22, 2009 2:38 PM

TokyoTom

Stephan, I welcome you to the dark, enviro-facist side!

– “you have to fight for and use might to protect your rights”

I see you are starting to buy into my real-world view of property rights, that “principles” and force are just two different ways we seek to protect what we consider ours, with the first being most efficacious within a community [and recourse to the later perhaps being necessary]. As I noted on a previous thread of yours,

“The deep roots of “property” are not in principle but in simple competition, physical defense of assets valuable enough to make the effort worthwhile, and in the grudging recognition by others – more willingly offered by those who share bonds of community – that yielding to others’ claims may be more productive than challenging them. This is as true for rest of creation as it is for man. While we have developed property to a very sophisticated degree, at its core property remains very much about the Darwinian struggle to survive and prosper, violence, theft and calculations as to when challenging control over an asset is not worth the effort.”

https://tokyotom.freecapitalists.org/2009/12/21/quot-property-quot-weird-thoughts-evolution-society-quot-property-rights-quot-quot-intellectual-property-quot-principles-structure-justify/

Sounds like this struggle over resources is at the core of Avatar, along with a boatload of Western guilt over our historical theft of land and assets from indigenous peoples, whom of course have also been involved for eons in bloody battles for resources with other tribes.

Far from being simply a dead relic of the past, however, the often violent struggle to take resources from indigenous peoples continues in many places, though out of sight from most of us (not simply those who are trying hard not to see) – oil & gas, minerals, timber, ranching, soybeans, oil palms, World Bank-funded dams and roads, fisheries – you name it, a violent conflict that the natives are losing to kleptocratic governments & elites can be found.

Western corporations are often in the thick of such conflicts, but even where not, modern technology (and growing consumer markets) provide the key tools and incentives for such conflicts, in which natives may be more or less hapless. Local governments typically either “nationalize” the resource or turn a blind eye, with the result that resource exploitation frequently takes on the appearance of a tragedy of the commons.

Western liberals sometimes exacerbate these problems – not simply by seeing “greed” and capitalism as the problem, and not kleptocratic regimes (often supported by the West and by aid money) or the lack of enforceable property rights – but also by demanding misguided policies such as “biofuels” incentives, which lie behind tropical forest destruction in much of SE Asia.

Libertarians should be familiar with these problems, which are a large part of the dynamics in petroleum-cursed nations and elsewhere. Such problems are also linked generally to “aid” efforts and to other centrally-directed development schemes. Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in part for her work in showing that local communities, if their rights are respected, can generally do a good job of managing their own resources [and how government efforts frequently go astray].

I’ve commented on these issues a number of times, but here are a couple of links for those who might care to scratch the surface:

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/09/28/too-many-or-too-few-people-does-the-market-provide-an-answer.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/12/16/bison-markets-the-tragedy-of-the-commons-and-the-indian-war.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/11/26/theft-and-the-tragedy-of-the-commons-mother-jones-ponders-quot-conservation-indigenous-people-s-enemy-no-1-quot.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/05/24/capitalism-the-destructive-exploitation-of-the-amazon-and-the-tragedy-of-the-government-owned-commons.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/01/07/somali-piracy-flows-from-the-greater-and-continuing-western-theft-and-abuse-of-somali-marine-resources.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2008/06/02/environmental-damage-as-theft-report-by-prominent-enviros-quot-highlights-the-need-for-secure-ownership-of-wildlife-resources-by-poor-people-quot.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/10/12/libertarian-reticience-other-than-to-bash-enviros.aspx

Stephan, if youve made it this far, let me remind you of our conversations about corporations [most recently here], which have very unfortunately been inescapably tainted with statism from the get-go, in ways that play out negatively both abroad and at home. Ive devoted a fair amount of time to examining the entanglement of corporations and government: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=limited

  • Our state governments were wrong to get into competition with each other to grant corporate status to investor-owned enterprises, in exchange for fees and later taxes. Corporate status freed owners from down-side risk, by limiting liability to the amount of capital contributed. This incentivized investors to encourage corporations to embark on risky activities that shifted costs to innocent third parties; the concentration of wealth in corporations (that now have unlimited lives and purposes, subject to survival in the market); the corruption of the court system that once protected third parties from damages caused by others (by replacing strict liability with balancing tests); and the ensuing battle over legislatures and courts to check corporate abuses.What happens abroad at the “Avatar” is pretty basic, but the same nonsense, with taxpayers, investors and consumers playing the role of victim, can be seen at home. Has anybody seen the jaw-droppingly appalling report that the WSJ has run on “Fixing Global Finance”, based on their “Future of Finance Initiative”, in which they cheerlead a bunch of financial firms in their efforts to abandon free markets and to structure global regulation and regulators, to be staffed by a revolving door of themselves? [I think Im being fair to see this as posing a threat to markets and freedom at least as great as what others see in the more multi-faceted climate change muddle.] Even Paul Volker was appalled, not at their willingness to create more regulation, but at their unwillingness to confront the moral hazard problems (tied to regulation of public corporations and the financial sector) that lie at the core of the financial meltdown. [Volker seems to overlooked the crucial role of government in driving and feeding the moral hazard problems.]Heres the link, for those of you who missed it:
    http://online.wsj.com/public/page/future-of-finance-121409.html

 

Property rights, corporations and government-complicit theft? Hmm. [Sounds familiar. Maybe some of those who want to battle corporate excesses might not be so crazy after all, even if they neglect to understand the risks of negative consequences of seeking help from government. And maybe someday libertarians will get a little more serious about addressing the festering concatenation of corporate-linked problems that are generating so much rot at the core of our government and public company/financial company sector.]

 

Oh, I almost forgot to remind everyone for the need for group holiday cheer (as alternative to productive engagement on a libertarian, Austrian-based climate agenda):

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/12/16/holiday-joy-quot-watermelons-quot-roasting-on-an-open-pyre.aspx

 

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

December 18th, 2009 No comments

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, and Ostrom provided interesting responses, though thoughtful readers of course are left asking for more.

I`ve tweaked the formatting, added my own emphasis, and interspersed a few bracketed comments of my own:

 

Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom

‘Climate Rules Set from the Top Are Not Enough`

The world is gathered in Copenhagen in an
effort to reach an agreement to slow global warming. Elinor Ostrom,
winner of this year’s Nobel prize for economics, spoke with SPIEGEL
ONLINE about shared ownership, local action and why we can’t sit around
waiting for politicians to act.

 

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Copenhagen summit is about setting new
global rules for how we treat the Earth. But are people willing to
change their personal lives
accordingly?

Elinor Ostrom: Under the right circumstances, people are willing
to accept additional efforts and costs. It all depends on trust in the
fact that others will also act.
Humans have the capacity to engage and
see that their own long-term future is harmed if they don’t change
their lifestyles. Under the right circumstances they understand: It’s
not me against you. It’s all of us against ourselves, if we don’t act.
So trust really is the most important resource.

[The multi-decade, global trust-building exercise has made a great deal of progress, despite being hampered by gamesmanship, domestic rent-seeking, partisan mistrust, legitimate worries about abuse of government, and the difficulty we all face in actually agreeing there might be a problem (as opposed to a big scam/mass delusion).]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How can we generate enough trust so that we all act in concert?

Ostrom: Rules set from the top are not enough. Successful
communities often have a few common design principles —
monitoring and
sanctioning of the participants, for example. They also have conflict
resolution mechanisms
in place and the people have some authority to
make their own rules
. Under those circumstances humans can develop some
trust in each other — faith that if they take a costly action that
benefits everybody in the long run, others will also invest.

[Yes, but does “community”-level action scale? How do we make a “community” with billions of people we have little interaction with? Is Ostrom suggesting we need more global-level “grassroots” community-building, in addition to leader-level trust-building?]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is it less effective if governments establish strict rules from the top down?

Ostrom: Because people will not identify with it. My research
has shown that forests managed by local communities are in a far better
state than state-run parks, where locals feel left out and officials
can be bribed.
Let us imagine, we live in a village and have all agreed
that none of us is going to be in the forest on Saturday or Sunday, so
that we can give the forest time to recreate. If I then see you in the
forest when you’re not supposed to be, I will probably yell at you. If
only the state is in charge, I will just walk on past.

[Now she`s talking; libertarians and a host of others almost completely reject even climate “science” out of a reflexive but understandable concern that climate “policy” is or will be sufficiently corrupt as to vitiate any intended/purported gains. The same is true with many on environmentalists and others on the left, who feel that powerful corporate insiders will make climate policy ineffective.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your research, you focused on local and
regional levels. What makes you think that your solutions would work
for the entire planet as well?

Ostrom: Indeed, the global scale is a challenge. Building that
kind of knowledge between the different parties is tricky. We need our
global leaders to take some of the decisions on a very big level.
Here
at the summit, those guys are talking to each other and gaining some
trust because they meet face to face. But then they go home — and
that’s when the real action starts.

[It`s tricky, but much progress has been made; even Sen. Robert “Coal” Byrd is signalling that coal states need to change, and China abd India both concede change is needed – though naturally they make an equity argument that they have a right to catch up with out per capita CO2 emissons (which are four times theirs).]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can money help to build trust between developing nations and industrialized nations?

Ostrom: Maybe, and it is hard to see a climate deal without
serious financial commitments.
But at the same time, I am very worried
and nervous about corruption. If we pour money into a country in which
the corruption level is very high, we would be kidding ourselves not to
think that some of it will end up in the wrong pockets.
At first, a lot
of the proposals on the table sound great. But four to six years later,
you have a lot of politicians who have money in Swiss bank accounts.
What we need are tight rules and controls to ensure that the billions
that might be put on the table here are used correctly.

[Ostrom is absolutely right, if understated – perhaps most “development” aid has been disastrous. Still, it might make sense for some aid money to go to climate adaptation projects, and to allow offsets for preserving tropical forests – if the money goes to indigenous peoples, and not corrupt governments.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, an anti-corruption task force
like the one that exists in Indonesia — might be the best
environmental protection agency?

Ostrom: Absolutely! If you look at the role corruption plays in
giving away forests to big corporations and in looking away if forest
protection rules are broken, you will see that bribery is one of the
main contributors to environmental destruction.

[A fruitful focus by libertarians and conservatives might be on simply helping to bolster law and order – including the property rights of locals – in developing nations.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it possible to save the climate with a single treaty?

Ostrom: One treaty will not solve the problem entirely. This is
why I propose a so-called polycentric approach to tackling climate
change. We need all levels of human society to work on this to be
effective in the long run. Cities, villages, communities and networks
of people have been neglected as players.

[I`m not sure I agree with Otrom here; there has been plenty of action on climate on individual, local, corporate and state levels, thanks in no small part to the stifling of climate policy at federal levels under the GWB/Cheney administrations. While such “thousand points of light” efforts may be bolstering mutual trust at various levels around the world, federal and international policy coordination is still needed, fraught with rent-seeking problems though it may be, ]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What happens if there is no agreement?

Ostrom: We need to get away from the idea that there is only one
solution on the global scale. There are many, many levels in between.
So we need to take action on smaller levels. If the politicians do not
agree in Copenhagen, I would like to embarrass the hell out of them
by
getting some agreements going where people are doing something —
essentially saying: “We are tired of waiting for you.” The city of
Freiburg is a very good place to see what that actually means.

[Politicians don`t embarrasss so easily; rather they see opportunities to jump on and use band wagons to bolster their own careers and to steer favors to rent-seekers.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why Freiburg of all places?

Ostrom: I spend quite a bit of time in Germany and I’m very
impressed by some of the local action I see. Local action cannot do it
fully, but just think about all the bicycle-paths that they have built
there. That is a case where the action of individuals is reducing
emissions. At the same time it is a very healthy thing. On Sundays
everybody is going to the woods and has a good time on their bikes —
and not in their cars. It’s good for your health and for the
environment. So everyone should ask himself: Why don’t I bike to work
and leave the damn car at home or get rid of it entirely?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, such a decentralized approach sounds
painfully slow. We need rapid action if we wish to limit global warming
to 2 degrees Celsius.

Ostrom: If we sit here and twiddle our thumbs and wait for these
guys up there to make a decision — that is what I would call painfully
slow. Should we just blame the politicians? I am not saying that we can
solve it entirely, but we can make significant steps. To some extent we
can challenge them. Everyone can contact foolish politicians like some
US Congressmen who oppose climate change action by e-mail or phone and
let them know that they are acting irresponsibly.

[Unfortunately, Ostrom doesn`t address how we figure out how to trust our own government, and how to mitigate/manage the problem of rent-seeking. But I`ve tried to note the types of policies that libertarians cand – and should – support here. Some Austrians might even want to consider the root cause of rampant renk-seeking and fights over the wheel – the corporate risk-shifting juggernaut that has its genesis in the grant of limited liability]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is the US so reluctant to fight climate change?

Ostrom: In the economic emergency we are experiencing, some
people think that we cannot afford it. I think it is the other way
around, if we don’t act now we will run into even greater economic
problems in the future. And of course we still have the bad legacy of
our previous president, George W. Bush.
For eight years, the White
House didn’t consider the issue to be important. We did not have
American leaders who understood that there is a scientific foundation.
Obama has a much higher chance of understanding the science. But even
for him it is just damn tough.

[It`s  even more complicated, obviously. The Bush administrtion actually DID work on building trust with China and India, supported the IPCC science process, etc. But they were also rather naked catering to coal and other fossil feul interests, while making political hay by labelling all concerned scare-mongering socialists. Not only is it extremely difficult to coordinate this issue globally, it`s also difficult politicaly to tell Americans that fossil-fuel-based energy is underpriced, to seek to undo public utility monopolies, or to address the favors to dirty coal in the Clean Air Act, or to streamline nuclear power licensing.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Worries about climate change have slowly
resulted in people seeing the Earth’s atmosphere as a common good that
we all must protect. Where is the next challenge?

Ostrom: The oceans! They are being threatened to an ever greater
degree. It is a disaster, a very difficult situation. The fish
resources are overexploited and waste, including CO2, is dumped in huge
quantities into the ocean. The law of the sea has not been effective at
all. A lot of fishing ships act like roving bandits. That’s why better
ocean governance is one of the top priorities for safeguarding the
future.

Interview conducted by Christoph Seidler and Christian Schwägerl

I would be remiss if I did not point out that Ostrom recently elucidated her views on climate policy in much greater length in a paper that she prepared at the behest of the World Bank. Yes, Ostrom`s trying to give the Beast indigestion – from the Inside. 

Here`s the extract of her paper,  “A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change”:

Abstract: This paper
proposes an alternative approach to addressing the complex problems of
climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The author, who won
the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, argues that single policies
adopted only at a global scale are unlikely to generate sufficient
trust among citizens and firms so that collective action can take place
in a comprehensive and transparent manner that will effectively reduce
global warming. Furthermore, simply recommending a single governmental
unit to solve global collective action problems is inherently weak
because of free-rider problems. For example, the Carbon Development
Mechanism (CDM) can be ‘gamed’ in ways that hike up prices of natural
resources and in some cases can lead to further natural resource
exploitation. Some flaws are also noticeable in the Reducing Emissions
from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries
(REDD) program. Both the CDM and REDD are vulnerable to the free-rider
problem. As an alternative, the paper proposes a polycentric approach
at various levels with active oversight of local, regional, and
national stakeholders. Efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas
emissions are a classic collective action problem that is best
addressed at multiple scales and levels.
Given the slowness and
conflict involved in achieving a global solution to climate change,
recognizing the potential for building a more effective way of reducing
green house gas emissions at multiple levels is an important step
forward. A polycentric approach has the main advantage of encouraging
experimental efforts at multiple levels, leading to the development of
methods for assessing the benefits and costs of particular strategies
adopted in one type of ecosystem and compared to results obtained in
other ecosystems. Building a strong commitment to find ways of reducing
individual emissions is an important element for coping with this
problem, and having others also take responsibility can be more
effectively undertaken in small- to medium-scale governance units that
are linked together through information networks and monitoring at all
levels. This paper was prepared as a background paper for the 2010
World Development Report on Climate Change
.

I left this earlier comment on the paper at the blog of libertarian-leaning water economist David Zetland:

TokyoTom
said…

David, I saw this elsewhere and read through this,but count me
unimpressed. It`s basically a recounting of what we already know – that
there are formidable barriers to reaching coordinated global decisions
on climate policies, that local, regional and efforts are proceeding
and will be needed in any event, both in mitigation and adaptation.

Nothing about whether local, regional and national efforts scale to the size of the problem.

Interview about Vampires – Wealthy Elites Misuse Government

January 22nd, 2008 No comments

In an interview, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston refers to “Corporate socialism for the politically connected rich” and discusses how the politically connected rich have gamed the system to line their pockets from the public purse and at the expense of free and open competition – the theme of his new book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill).


The interview is here:  http://www.alternet.org/story/74389/.


 


“I hope we shall crush … in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
–Thomas Jefferson, 1816.  http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff5.htm