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David Boaz on Avatar as a Defense of Property Rights

In a recent LA Times op ed, David Boaz of the Cato Institute joins economist David Henderson in interpreting the blockbuster film Avatar as a defense of property rights:

Conservatives have been very critical of the Golden Globe-winning film “Avatar” for its mystical melange of trite leftist themes. But what they have missed is that the essential conflict in the story is a battle over property rights….

But conservative critics are missing the conflict at the heart of the movie. It’s quite possible that [director] Cameron missed it too.

The earthlings have come to Pandora to obtain unobtainium. In theory, it’s not a military mission, it’s just the RDA Corp. with a military bigger than most countries. The Na’vi call them the Sky People.

To get the unobtainium, RDA is willing to relocate the natives, who live on top of the richest deposit. But alas, that land is sacred to the Na’vi, who worship the goddess Eywa, so they’re not moving. When the visitors realize that, they move in with tanks, bulldozers and giant military robots, laying waste to a sacred tree and any Na’vi who don’t move fast enough.

Conservatives see this as anti-American, anti-military and anti-corporate or anti-capitalist. But they’re just reacting to the leftist ethos of the film.

They fail to see what’s really happening. People have traveled to Pandora to take something that belongs to the Na’vi: their land and the minerals under it. That’s a stark violation of property rights, the foundation of the free market and indeed of civilization.

See also David’s follow-up post here.

As I explained in this post, I’m skeptical that this message was either intended by the filmmakers or perceived by most American viewers. On the other hand, in the same post I also noted that that [...]

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Avatar and Property Rights in China

Most commentators have interpreted the movie Avatar as having an anti-capitalist message. Libertarian economist David Henderson, however, claims that it is actually a defense of property rights. Though I must reserve judgement until I see the movie, I am skeptical that Henderson’s interpretation is either the message intended by the producers or the one most American viewers come away with. However, it’s interesting that Henderson’s interpretation is exactly how the film was perceived by many in China, where the government has forcibly expelled millions from their homes in recent years, in order to make way for various development projects [HT: one of Henderson’s commenters here]:

BEIJING: The bull-dozers await at the gates. An evil corporation sends its guards, using every possible threat to move the residents from their land. But all resistance is futile. The people watch in horror, as their homes get torn down to rubble and they are forced to relocate.

This is a not-so-unfamiliar storyline in China where forced land acquisitions by influential real estate companies are rarely away from the headlines. Here, home demolitions are arguably the most controversial of social issues, and widely regarded as the biggest cause of social unrest.

This also happens to be the plotline of James Cameron’s epic blockbuster film ‘Avatar,’ which opened in China last week and has seemingly taken the country by storm.

A week on after its January 4 release, the show is set to break all records at the Chinese box-office….

[M]any film critics and bloggers have also been struck by the close resonance the film’s plotline has had for many cinema-goers here.

“China’s demolition crews must go sue Old [James] Cameron, sue him for piracy/copyright infringement!,” one blogger wrote at the website Tianya.com.

At least a dozen movie-goers The Hindu interviewed after one

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