Tuesday 13 April 2010

Avatar - again

I've still not seen Avatar, mostly on basis of the fine review linked here.

But Nick Rowe has excellent commentary, also not having seen the film:
The policy problem in Avatar is that some blue people own all of some valuable natural resource, and won't let anybody else have any.

Lloyd George, as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, addressed the same policy problem in his 1909 "People's Budget". The British aristocracy owned the land, just as the blue people owned the valuable natural resource in Avatar. I don't know if the blue people in Avatar used it for hunting foxes; probably they had peculiar customs of their own.

Inheritance taxes, and taxes on undeveloped natural resources, could have solved the problem in Avatar just as well as in the UK. Wealth taxes could have worked also. The blue people would have needed to sell off some of the valuable stuff, just to pay the taxes on it.

Progressives generally support such taxes. I don't know why Hollywood made such a reactionary movie. Maybe the blue people are just cuter than the British aristocracy, so we ought to be on their side, against progressives like Lloyd George.

Why are our ethical views so ethereal? Why are we all such suckers for framing?


  1. Hehe, funny stuff, even to someone like myself with little theoretical knowledge of economics.
    To touch on Avatar, you should probably do yourself the favour of actually going to see it. We went and saw it in 3D at Riccarton. It is truly a visual feast. If you can put aside the rather simplistic and predictable storyline (I've seen it compared to Pocahontas, or described as Dances with Wolves in space) and somewhat wooden acting performances it is actually a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Just disengage your brain and bathe in the beauty and spectacle of Pandora.
    It certainly wasn't deserving of a Best Picture Oscar, but I've seen The Hurt Locker, and also didn't think it was a worthy winner. To my mind District 9, for example, was a much better film than either of the above. But deserving of the Academy Award for visual effects? Definitely.
    Just my $0.02

  2. Interesting commentary and I believe a similar thing was done in NZ to break up some of the larger land holdings? However I'm not sure the analogy works for Avatar - perhaps a better one is the negotiations between the US government and native americans? I'm not sure it is easy or even possible to tax someone if they don't recognise your authority to do so? At least not without a great deal of 'persuasion' being required.

    Hence the options portrayed in the film:
    1) Give the cute locals some medicine/education (and probably beads and blankets) in exchange for the minerals.
    2) Smack the ungrateful sods on the head and take it.

    Yes, the political/military portrayal is rather one dimensional and pretty manipulative, but as Lats points out the portrayal of Pandora is quite spectacular.

    Of course not having seen the whole film, there may have been a whole lot of exposition towards the end of the film that clarified everything - maybe someone can enlighten me?

  3. ***SPOILER ALERT***


    Sorry to disappoint you, but no, the ending is about as trite and predictable as the rest of the film. The simple tree-hugging natives win against the overwhelming technological superiority of the evil greedy corporates.

  4. @Lats

    Yay, bows and arrows defeat powered exoskeletons that can punch things.....

    Oh well, I'll still probably go and see it, once the school holidays are over and it is back on at the cinemas in 3D.

  5. @Duncan and Lats: Note that the Chinese apparently take a very property rights view of the movie, with the central govt as the bad guys and the local property owners as Na'vi

  6. Don't see Avatar, you'll hurt your eyes. Not just because the whole 3d thing is a strain, but also because you'll be rolling them after every other line of the atrocious dialogue. I didn't even think the visuals were that great, sure the 3d was new but it made everything in the background blurry. Some scenes were very pretty but then others just looked like something from a disney cartoon.

  7. the characters were very one dimensional despite the 3d view.

  8. This isn't really a policy issue though, it's just a commentary on people's hypocrisy. James Cameron made pretty much the same film years ago: humans try to exploit a distant planet for their own purposes, locals fight back, humans send in the Marines to take what they want by force. It was called Aliens. The point is that the audience weren't expected to stand up for the property rights of those aliens, just because they weren't all shapely and Disney-eyed. But perhaps that's an indictment of Aliens rather than Avatar.