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No Free Market on Pandora


“Avatar”, James Cameron’s triumph of 3D visuals over 2D story and characters, has been described as a searing sci-fi indictment of capitalism. So much so, that the Free Agent’s friends and family have been turning cyber-eyes her way for an expected dissection and rebuttal. Well, I finally saw it a week ago, and all I can say is . . . it’s not capitalism.
The story follows a ruthless company’s war on the peaceful (aren’t they all?) indigenous population of planet Pandora. At stake is a deposit of subtly named unobtanium, the “sky people” need it to survive, the gentle, wise, culturally rich (aren’t they all?) Na’vi have it. During the opening half-hour of clunky exposition, we learn that the company has tried to buy or trade for unobtanium, but since the Na’vi live in harmony with nature and have all they need (of course), they have asked the sky people to beat it. Instead, the ruthless capitalists have built a vast crypto-military-anthropological city, the only traces of the Twentieth Century being slang (“you got no skilz!”) and a book of matches.
That’s a big investment for a company that seems to have exhausted its prospects of obtaining the unobtainiumable, unless, of course, they can also bring guns to the negotiation. Here’s where Cameron’s carefully crafted language—this is a private company, he tells us, these are hired mercenaries, not Marines, despite the usual ‘get some!’ jargon—looses, rather than makes, the case against capitalism. In a free market, if the gentle, wise, culturally rich, etc., locals won’t trade you the goods, your alternatives are to up your offer or go elsewhere. But on Pandora, essential elements of capitalism—property rights, free exchange, and pricing mechanisms—are totally absent. Coke can’t put a gun to your head to get you to drink soda, only thieves and governments take what they want by force.
So apart from the technological achievement, which I look forward to seeing put to better use, all Cameron succeeds in proving over the course of two hours and forty-two minutes is that it’s wrong to kill people for their property. The Free Agent agrees.

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  1. February 9, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    The difference between capitalism and gangsterism. Gangsters make you an offer you can’t refuse. Capitalist offers can be refused if they fail to benefit all parties to the transaction. Thanks for this post.

    I hear a rumor you live in Brooklyn. Join our Yahoo! group by sending an empty email to LPNY_Kings@yahoogroups.com and following the instructions.

    I hope to see you at our next meeting.

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