Tag: Avatar

Is Madonna Eminent? Or Is This Just “Celebrity Domain”?

The AP reports:

In a land dispute pitting Madonna against African villagers, Malawi’s government has sided with the pop star who has pumped millions into the impoverished Southern African country and adopted two of its children.

Villagers have been refusing to move from a plot of land near the capital, Lilongwe, where Madonna wants to build a $15-million school for girls. The government, however, says it had originally planned to develop the plot, and only allowed the villagers to live there until a project was identified.

Lilongwe District Commissioner Charles Kalemba, accompanied by other government officials and representatives from Madonna’s Raising Malawi charity, on Thursday met with about 200 villagers and told them they would have to move. The villagers have been offered other government land.

“Government allowed you to occupy this land because there was no project yet. But now that Madonna wants to build you a school you have to give way,” Kalemba told the villagers. “You are lucky that Madonna has compensated you for your houses, gardens and trees.”…

Headman Binson Chinkhota urged residents to move, saying the school would benefit their children. But Amos Mkuyu said the $1 500 in compensation he received from Madonna for mango trees and three homes was not enough. He said his family had been living on his three-hectare plot for three generations.

Susette Kelo vs. Madonna – that would be a great battle. As usual, the government has a beneficent purpose in taking these people’s land. They took Kelo’s home for a development that would yield “new jobs and increased tax revenue.” They’re taking Amos Mkuyu’s home for a school.  But stealing land is not beneficent; it is not an act of kindness and charity.

In this case the Malawian government says that the villagers are living on government land. But Mkuyu says his family has been there for three generations. Sounds like they thought it was theirs. For a discussion of collective and traditional property inspired by the movie “Avatar,” click here. Hernando de Soto, author of The Mystery of Capital, has spent a career showing how the lack of well-defined property rights hurts the poorest people in the world.

Collective Property Rights in Avatar?

In response to my Los Angeles Times op-ed on the movie “Avatar,” in which I claim that conservative critics missed the central conflict over property rights, I’ve received some emails arguing that the Na’vi in the film lacked “well-defined property rights” or simply that a collective group cannot have rights to the property they live on.

So I went to some smarter guys to ask them what they thought about “collective property rights.” The political philosopher Tom G. Palmer (best known as an activist and traveling troubadour of liberty [see pictures in this very large pdf] but also a deep thinker about liberty, as seen in his new book Realizing Freedom) says:

Just because people did not have English freehold property rights is no reason to chase them off land to which they held a clear customary right.  Some people seem to assume that only English freehold counts as property, by which they mean individual property.  But there is family property, village property, and many other forms of property, which are defined by the exclusion of others.  (Elinor Ostrom has written extensively on how common property arrangements are governed and when they are efficient, and when not.)  The critique of “collective property” is certainly not Lockean.  In the Second Treatise’s chapter on property (paragraph 28) he writes (not entirely clearly), “We see in commons, which remain so by compact, that it is the taking any part of what is common, and removing it out of the state nature leaves it in, which begins the property; without which the common is of no use.” Then in paragraph 35, he notes, “It is true, in land that is common in England, or any other country, where there is plenty of people under government, who have money and commerce, no one can inclose or appropriate any part, without the consent of all his fellow-commoners; because this is left common by compact, i. e. by the law of the land, which is not to be violated. And though it be common, in respect of some men, it is not so to all mankind; but is the joint property of this country, or this parish.”

Thus Locke would say that the Na’vi, even if they do not have any separate plots, have a joint property in the land, “And though it be common, in respect of some men, it is not so to all mankind; but is the joint property of this country, or this parish.”

David Henderson, editor of the Concise Encylopedia of Economics, discussed this point about “collective property” in his own essay on “Avatar”:

Now, [Ed] Hudgins could argue that the analogy with the Kelo decision doesn’t make sense because this is tribal property, not individual property. OK. So imagine that some civilization more technologically advanced than ours discovers that there’s a rare mineral below the hills and mountains of Yosemite, which, in a sense, is tribal property. Our government has refused to sell. To get at the mineral, this other “civilization” must blast and bulldoze Yosemite down to nothing. If that more advanced group comes in and uses violence to grab Yosemite, would Hudgins say that was fine? I think not.

As I noted originally, “At least for human beings, private property rights are a much better way to secure property and prosperity. Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that the land belongs to the Na’vi, not the Sky People.”

P.S. For a French version of my article, click here. At UnMondeLibre you’ll find many more ideas about liberty, too.

Tuesday Links

  • Americans tuning out the State of the Union: “When Obama had to make way for ‘Lost,’ some lamented the fact that many Americans preferred trash TV over presidential enlightenment. But the public’s lack of interest in the SOTU is actually a sign of political health.”

‘Avatar’ Is about Property Rights

In the Los Angeles Times today, I write about “Avatar”, which has just become the biggest-grossing movie in Hollywood history, and how conservatives have missed the issue at its core:

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….

“Avatar” is like a space opera of the Kelo case, which went to the Supreme Court in 2005. Peaceful people defend their property against outsiders who want it and who have vastly more power. Jake rallies the Na’vi with the stirring cry “And we will show the Sky People that they cannot take whatever they want! And that this is our land!”

Economists may wonder about the claim that “Avatar” is the highest-grossing film of all time. The Hollywood Reporter estimates that so far it may only have sold half as many tickets as the 1997 “Titanic,” and Box Office Mojo says that adjusted for inflation “Gone with the Wind” remains the movie with the highest U.S. revenue, followed by “Star Wars.”