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I don't think it is just a matter of resource allocation within a society. A better analogue is Britain taxing the colonies/confiscating wealth.

That is, I'm not sure why the blue people should pay the aliens so that they don't steal/destroy their property. Should Canada have to pay the rest of the world money in exchange for them not coming and taking all our water, wilderness parks, etc.?

Andrew F: Framing things in terms of nations is a recent invention. Why should there be unlimited right to tax within some arbitrarily drawn geographical boundaries, but no right to tax beyond those boundaries? It is hard to see any ethical justification for such a distinction.

Is Canada not part of a global society? Could the British aristocracy not claim to belong to a separate society? Who is an alien, and who is a citizen? More importantly, who gets to decide?

I knew this was totally a Hollywood production as it attempted to violate the Gaia Economic Pie Slice Traders Hypothesis(GEPSTH) by extending the boundaries to the moon Pandora - a place where the Navi live in a completely different environmental/economic system. In a way, it was a criticism of the current economic objective of continuous and maximized growth.

In a nutshell, Earth has run out of energy and a private concern has found deposits of unobtanium on Pandora worth $200 million/ounce or some outrageous amount. It can be mined profitably elsewhere on Pandora, but the mother-lode is coincidently right under the centre of the Navi's civilization, a huge massive tree. The Navi live in concert in the jungles with all of the other beasts etc - so they are primitive by today's standards, and have no earthly possessions - no currency, no countries per se -though differing tribes occupy different parts of Pandora.

So, I'm not sure this is a great movie to draw analogies about economic theories on earth. If anything, I suppose you could compare it to the history of North America post 1492 and its "colonization".

...Think of Dances with wolves with native blue people, the herds of "tatunka" as their tree of life, and the union soldiers pushing ever westward to exploit more natural wealth by force, at their expense.


The natural resource in question is of no value to the blue people. There is no basis for exchange or trade and because the center of their civilization sits on top of the resource, and they'd rather not have the humans dig it up. So instead of walking away, the humans decide to kill the blue people and take the resource. And the humans don't actually want to live on the moon in question anyway; they can't breathe the air and the flora and fauna is pretty hostile.

It'd sorta be like finding oil on land occupied by Amazonian natives who had no need or desire for oil, but who needed the forest for food and shelter. Would we walk away, or would we force them off their land and take the oil anyway?

And the movie is not really very good. It's very long, and it's a parody of itself; a techno-triumphal achievement that bemoans the evils of techno triumphalism.

So the blue people really are filthy rich, sitting on top of piles of wealth. And don't do anything at all with their vast fortune? What a waste! At least the British aristocracy acted as celebrities, and their antics provided a sort of spectator sport for the other classes. Bunch of selfish NIMBY's?

Their wealth was in the tree above it. The earthlings should have just tunneled beneath it with no one the wiser, or provided the means to safely move tree. Somehow it was valuable, just not that valuable, or they couldn't manage that.

If you look at it from a Pareto efficiency angle, we're trading off a small increase in welfare for billions of people on Earth (slightly lower prices for a valuable commodity) against a very large decrease in welfare for a smaller group of people, by destroying an irreplaceable asset that is critical to their lifestyle and culture. Of course that's an ethical decision, and I don't think economics is going to give you a satisfactory answer.

Seems like the question you're asking, Nick, is whether the more technically powerful civilization should eradicate any competing civilizations. Historically, this has more or less been the case, but I think many would agree that it [i]should not[/i] be so.

Now that I think of it, this theme was also explored in one of the later Star Trek movies... Insurrection? Anyway, there is a planet that has some valuable resource (anti-aging/fountain of youth-esque), only harvesting it would make the planet uninhabitable for the few residents. Is their sacrifice justified by the fact that billions will benefit?

Patrick, I think when Europeans found silver and gold in S. America, it was a no-brainer: force them off their land and take the silver and gold anyway - well, actually enslave people and make them dig up the silver. There's a graphic description in the first chapter of Niall Ferguson's "The Ascent of Money." But perhaps this was your point?

Nick you wrote: "Is Canada not part of a global society? Could the British aristocracy not claim to belong to a separate society? Who is an alien, and who is a citizen? More importantly, who gets to decide?" Profound. Answers: yes, yes and I haven't a clue.

Interestingly, the US health care debate ended up getting framed in some quarters in racial terms - as in headlines like "Obama Imposes Selective Race Tax against Whites". The issue is that many of the folks without health care in the US are black or brown, and many of the people who would be paying the taxes to finance the health care would be white (the selective race tax referred to in the headline above is a 10% tax on tanning salons).

I think most Canadians at some theoretical level realize that we're now a multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial society. But I don't think we're prepared to admit that as a consequence of this, any one of us might see people in The Home Country as citizens, and other Canadians as aliens (some of my students use the word "Canadian" to refer exclusively to people outside their own racial group, while those in their own group are, say, "Blue people").

There's papers out there suggesting that heterogeneous/multi-racial communities or societies tend to have lower levels of public good provision than more homogeneous communities/societies ("Public Goods and Ethnic Divisions" A Alesina, R Baqir, W Easterly - Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1999 - MIT Press).

Nick : "so the blue people really are filthy rich, sitting on top of piles of wealth. And don't do anything at all with their vast fortune? What a waste!"

That's certainly how most of the humans see it. The blue guys disagree because they don't value the resource at all. I suppose they'd probably let the humans have it if getting it didn't imply wrecking stuff they do value.

Frances: The Amazonian natives thing was hypothetical.

taxing them in what units?

you want to force taxation on them? why go thru that trouble? just take it, if u can.

if u have the military might to tax, u have the military might to take it.

"Framing things in terms of nations is a recent invention."

Huh? You mean recent in the same sense that civilization is recent? Geographically distinct groups of people claiming possession of the resources located in the land that they occupy is as old as humanity itself, no? (not to mention characteristic of many more species beyond just humans)

"Why should there be unlimited right to tax within some arbitrarily drawn geographical boundaries, but no right to tax beyond those boundaries? It is hard to see any ethical justification for such a distinction."

Not really that hard, actually. Taxation is dependent on the ability to impose physical force on those who won't pay the taxes, and it is difficult to physically coerce someone who isn't physically present. The geographical boundaries are not arbitrary (do you really believe that they are?) but instead reflect the ability to project decisive force over a given piece of territory.

Nick, you are assuming that the Avatarland ecosystem can be divided up and parceled out without reducing production complimentarities. The eco-activists and aboriginals claim that can only be done at enormous environmental costs. In some cases back on earth, they are right. Modern industrialization has left the most fragile areas for last.

It is up to multinational resource companies to generously co-opt the locals because in any resource conflict the locals can credibly commit to fight to the finish whereas a private company cannot credibly commit to fight to the finish. Cleansing is rarely an option. And that's what happens. In the real world outside Hollywood, multi-national resource companies are setting up clinics and schools and gifting other goodies.

Avatar is a misleading portrait of modern colonialism where nation states typically drive the agenda.

Declan: "Not really that hard [to justify limitation of taxation by national boundaries], actually. Taxation is dependent on the ability to impose physical force on those who won't pay the taxes, and it is difficult to physically coerce someone who isn't physically present. The geographical boundaries are not arbitrary (do you really believe that they are?) but instead reflect the ability to project decisive force over a given piece of territory".

Fair enough that the ability to tax is constrained by the physical limits that you have to be able to compel people to pay taxes. But that doesn't really address Nick's point. After all, in Avatar the Humans were capable of physically "taxing" the blue people (i.e., taking their wealth, by force if neccesary), just as in 1909 Britian the government was capable of taxing aristocrats (the blue-blooded people). The question comes back to why is one form of "taxation" legitimate, while the other is not?

The best that I could come up with at a theretical level is that, in the latter case, the people being taxed are part of the same society that is taxing them, while in the former they aren't. But even I know that's pretty weak since, in practical terms, no British Aristocrat circa 1909 would think of themselves as being part of the same "society" as the progressives supporting the "People's Budget" (although they were undoubtedly part of the same, arbitraly defined, nation state). Moreover, why couldn't the human's argue that they were part of the same "society" as the blue people (come on, we're all basically carbon based life-forms). Perhaps the better answer, suggested by Andrew F, above, is that in the case of the People's Budget taxation was utility maximizing (at least at the societal level), while in the case of Avatar maybe it isn't (although those conclusions may not be obviously true). Still, that's a somewhat disastisfying answer, as it translates the essentially ethical question on whether you can "tax" people into a purely utilitarian one.

I wonder if people would have taken a different view of Avatar had the blue people worn tails (instead of having them), monacles and top-hats, spoke with goofy accents (Ok, Ok, I know, that's how English is supposed to be spoken, we're the ones with goofy accents), and played incomprehensible sports. Would people see it differently if the blue people were portrayed as being filthy rich (however pleasant they might be, and however simple their lifestyle) while the humans (despite being technologically sophisticated) were portrayed as impoverished which, relative to the blue people, they might well be. Had Cameron set up Avatar along those lines, it might well have made for a really thoughtful film.

@Nick: I look forward to your explanation of why and how the US should tax Canadian people into giving up our aristocratic wealth of tar sands and fresh water reserves.

Had Cameron set up Avatar along those lines, it might well have made for a really thoughtful film.

I saw an interview (the balding older guy with glasses - does the celebrities like SCTV's Brock Linehan did) and Cameron was asked: "Why do the female Navi have breasts?". He replied: "Because the movie was made for humans." I think I know which demographic he was targeting. Not the thoughtful film watchers...

Gabby: "taxing them in what units?"

Anything you like, really. Most governments insist on payment in money, but sometimes in labour (military draft, or corvee). Sometimes the UK government has accepted real estate and art in lieu of taxes. Church tithes were often paid in kind. It doesn't really matter, since the blue people could have sold stuff if they needed money to pay taxes. or they could have given the stuff to the government, and the government sold it.

"you want to force taxation on them? why go thru that trouble? just take it, if u can. if u have the military might to tax, u have the military might to take it."

Agreed. Is there really any difference, except in the framing?

Bob Smith is making as good or better a job of my argument as I could. Maybe I would add that people in one's own society ought, if anything, to be accorded more rights against unjust taxation, if "society" means anything.

Leo: "@Nick: I look forward to your explanation of why and how the US should tax Canadian people into giving up our aristocratic wealth of tar sands and fresh water reserves."

You just read it ;-)

It's an interesting question. But I wonder, were the British aristocrats not the beneficiaries of the military, infrastructure, legal system, etc.? Was that not why taxes could be imposed on them? I haven't seen the movie, but from what I can tell, the Na'vi do not benefit in any way from being part of the same social system as the humans. Even if the aristocrats wanted to declare themselves a distinct society, it seems that they would have little choice but to interact with the rest of British society, and thus have to negotiate rules including appropriate taxation. Again, the Na'vi don't appear to be in a similar situation.

Brett: I think that's a good argument, in principle. (Is it called the "benefit principle" in Public Finance? Frances would know.)

But, you may remember we tried the same argument on the American colonists around 1776, and they didn't buy it, and many of them rebelled. (I wonder if their descendants might try the same argument on Canada one of these days?)

I think the British aristocracy could also have claimed that they were already paying for and contributing to the legal and military infrastructure from which they benefited. I think I read they lost a disproportionate number of sons in the Great War, for example.

Brett, while I'd agree that the Blue-blooded people of 1909 Britain had little choice but to interact with the people around them, I'd think the same argument would apply to the Blue people in Avatar who, notwithstanding their desire to be distinct from the humans, had little choice but to interact with the humans (if only because the humans could come to their planet and take their stuff).

I suppose, at the end of the day, the argument that taking another peoples planet is bad, is really just a distant (or not so distant) version of the libertarian argument that taxation is theft. In either case, the objection is that the use of force (or the implicit threat thereof) to take another person's property is objectionable. You wonder, thought, how many ardent anti-imperialists would accept that principal in the context of domestic taxation.

Declan says: "Nick, you are assuming that the Avatarland ecosystem can be divided up and parceled out without reducing production complimentarities."

Many who have watched the movie would, I think, agree - although, like me, they might try to get a definition of "production complementarities" first. I think I would agree with Declan, although I never did find a concise definition that I could reference.

It's interesting to note that in the movie, there are corporation people, the combat people, and the scientists (who, depending on your source, might be botanists, xenobotanists, enthnographers, or anthropologists). What isn't there are physicists. Good thing, too, as it would have made the movie completely unbelievable for a physicist to be there and not jump up and down screaming at everyone. The scene where they are flying over those giant stone arches? The physicist in me is having trouble keeping my eyebrows down - because those look EXACTLY like frozen magnetic force lines, similar to what you see in solar prominences. The implications regarding typical energy patterns on this moon are scary. Not to mention that *everything* in the forest glows at night. This entire moon and ecosystem appears to exist with (and be dependent on) levels of energy flux that are unheard up in our ecosystems.

The Pandora economy (and it does have one!) would be a gold mine for energy economists (*1) to study. They and the physicists would note that it's quite likely that the "valuable natural resource" that the humans want is more akin to the steel beams in a building. It's fully utilitized already, in that the large store of the material (most educated guess is a superconductor) leads to specialized and local envronmental conditions that allow for the existence of the society in question. You think it's co-incidence that this one fantastic tree-like structure sits on top of the single largest deposit of this material? Removing that material likely takes away the local populations' ability to exist.

Back to the point - do economists make a habit of making economic suggestions like this with almost no care for the interactions of the economic system? Even a moderate degree of investigation of the existing system would likely show that your suggestion would do more harm than good.

In it's own way, Avatar is an interesting movie *about* economic systems. You really should go see it in order to think about that aspect of it.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_economics

Whoops - the comment ""Nick, you are assuming that the Avatarland ecosystem can be divided up and parceled out without reducing production complimentarities." belongs to westslope, not Declan.

My apologies.

(Any way that you could get a bigger horizontal line between posts? The current formatting results in this error being really easy to make.)

Historically, nations have often regarded it as perfectly legitimate to conquer other nations where this was feasible, sort of a 'might makes right' philosophy, and historically the Americans did try to use military means to seize Canadian resources, much as they seized the rest of their country by force (as the Canadians also did, of course).

In more modern times, sentiment has changed (somewhat) towards recognizing the right of nations to peacefully occupy the territory they reside in. Generally, nations are seen as having little positive obligation to help other nations, although as Andrew notes above, sci-fi has often explored situations where the balance is so stacked (small sacrifice for the nation that could help, big benefit to those it could help) in order to explore where the line is between ignoring other people's problems and helping them out.

So two frameworks, on the first, 'might makes right,' who we cheer for depends on whose side we are on. I haven't seen Avatar, but I assume the movie directs us to cheer for the blue people using the standard mechanisms.

On the second framework, 'finders keepers', we cheer for the defendant against the invader. Presumably the blue people are the ones who are there first and get invaded by the humans. This is a 'mind your own business' philosophy which says the problem is not that the blue people won't share their resource but that the humans are mismanaging their own resources. So either way you will root for the blue people.

The example of the British aristocracy is irrelevant, since they are occupying the same territory as the rest of the British. The rules are different for groups occupying the same piece of land vs. groups occupying different pieces of land (since people occupying the same piece of land will be subject to the same government - basically I am seconding Brett's point here), although this can break down in the case of civil war.

The two trailers on this site
http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/fox/avatar/

will give some background. As Chris S. pointed out, unobtainium is a superconductor, as described in the bottom Experience the World of Pandora clip.

National Energy Program

This isn’t just a framing issue it is a question of historical justice. The English aristocracy gained their land and wealth as beneficiaries of a system of coercion and serfdom.

If in future generations that tide changes against them and they are required to contribute towards their society it is not an issue of theft, it is redress.

The question of strangers showing up and demanding tribute (or ‘taxes’ in this post) in exchange for not rampaging the land does not fit within an inheritance tax framework. This is Genghis Khan economics.

I don't think the analogy works. In 1909 everyone agreed what was valuable, but they disagreed on what should be done with it. The situation in Avatar is different. It boils down to A wants a resource that B doesn't care about, but for A to take the resource he destroys stuff B does value. Of course, A can get a big gun and kill B and the problem goes away (or similarly B can get a big gun and kill A). Seems to me that the fundamental problem problem is the inability to arrange for mutually beneficial exchange, or alternatively arranging for A to get the resource without wrecking B's stuff.

I really like how comments on this thread are running. Just a couple of responses:

q: "National Energy Program"

Great example! (For non-Canadians, the Blue People are the Albertans, who had the oil. The Federal government under Pierre Trudeau taxed it, with the National Energy Program. Albertans have never forgiven Trudeau and the Liberal Party.)

Chris S: "Back to the point - do economists make a habit of making economic suggestions like this with almost no care for the interactions of the economic system? Even a moderate degree of investigation of the existing system would likely show that your suggestion would do more harm than good."

Well, we like to think we are better than other people about thinking about the interactions of the economic system. There was a whole economic system built up around the British aristocracy too. And it got destroyed. And a new one emerged to take its place. A few mourned, but many cheered. 100 years later, they even banned fox hunting completely. Unlike the blue people's economic system, it wasn't seen as cute.

William: "This isn’t just a framing issue it is a question of historical justice. The English aristocracy gained their land and wealth as beneficiaries of a system of coercion and serfdom.
If in future generations that tide changes against them and they are required to contribute towards their society it is not an issue of theft, it is redress."

Yes, but is any natural resource anywhere owned by people who can trace a legitimate claim all the way back to the origins of time? (The only possible counterexample that comes to my mind, ironically, is the Falkland Islands.) I bet the blue people in Avatar stole their resources from someone or something else. See Declan's comment above. Even among the 'civilised' ancient Greek city-states, I think, victory in war meant kill all the men, children, and old women, and carry off the young women as wives/slaves. Finders keepers, for people, as well as all other goods.

"The question of strangers showing up and demanding tribute (or ‘taxes’ in this post) in exchange for not rampaging the land does not fit within an inheritance tax framework. This is Genghis Khan economics."

I bet the British aristocracy looked on Lloyd George as a Genghis Khan.

Patrick: I see your point. But I think that most disparities of wealth have a similar origin. The wealthy have or can produce something the poor value highly, but the poor do not have and cannot produce anything the wealthy value highly. So the poor, if they can, tax the wealthy.

Something else not pointed out here is that the planet itself was suggested to be some kind of intelligence/sentient being, and that extracting these resources could be construed as assault on a person, just like it would assault for me to drug you and take one of your kidneys to sell on the organ market. You don't really need two kidneys, and your quality of life reduction ought to be more than offset than the increase to the recipient (who presumably would die shortly without the transplant).

So, why don't we tax organs?

Adnrew F: "Something else not pointed out here is that the planet itself was suggested to be some kind of intelligence/sentient being, and that extracting these resources could be construed as assault on a person, just like it would assault for me to drug you and take one of your kidneys to sell on the organ market. You don't really need two kidneys, and your quality of life reduction ought to be more than offset than the increase to the recipient (who presumably would die shortly without the transplant)."

There is a school of thought which suggests you might tax a person's natural endowments on the basis that "owners" of those endowments are no more morally deserving of the benefit derived from them than persons who had the misfortune to be born without such endowments. . The obvious form of this is an inheritance tax for those born into rich families, but that's only one form of a tax on endowments. After all, people who are born with high IQs are no more deserving of the benefits thereof than those born with low IQs. Those born with two kidneys are no more deserving of their health than someone born with kidney problems. That doesn't mean that you might cut out 10% of the kidneys or brains of smart people with two functioning kidneys (if only because Laffer curve would probably peak at zero with such an "in-kind" tax), but the smart people with two functioning kidneys might pay a special tax that the dumb people with only one kydney are spared. If you're a fairly comitted egalitarian, it's hard to argue with the moral logic, and to the extent that you're merely taxing endowments (rather than, say, income, which is a poor proxy for a person's natural endowment) it should, in theory, be a pretty efficient tax.

Extending that logic, the Blue people are not morally more deserving of the resources that they "own" (does anyone really own a planet?) than the humans, they simply happen to have been lucky enough to be born on a planet with an abundance of such resources while the humans have not. (Incidentally, back in the real world, there are those who make precisely this argument to justify the transfer of wealth from the wealthy on this planet - i.e. people who live in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia - to the poor on this planet, i.e., more or less everyone else. Like the greedy Blue People, though, I don't see us doing that any time soon.)

"Like the greedy Blue People, though, I don't see us doing that any time soon"

Much like the ant didn't share with the grasshopper...

(For non-Canadians, the Blue People are the Albertans, who had the oil. The Federal government under Pierre Trudeau taxed it, with the National Energy Program. Albertans have never forgiven Trudeau and the Liberal Party.)

Oh, give me a break! Having actually seen the movie, and having been actively recruited on campus as were many others across Canada to work in Calgary after the NEP came into effect, I can tell you that the analogy is ridiculous.

The only thing "Blue" about Albertans in the context of Avatar is the colour of the provincial political party's logo, one they keep re-electing year after year by perpetuating these NEP myths.

(Nick probably doesn't remember when Peter Lougheed and PET negotiated the final prices and terms of the Made in Canada price for oil that Lougheed stated was good for both Albertans and Canadians. The subsequent revisionism came after the world price for oil collapsed)

My NEP video rebuttal, once again:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op6XLJCXagk&feature=email

'Just visiting' has a point about the NEP. Still it's a good example of the difference between a transfer across geographical boundaries vs. a transfer within the same territory. To the extent that people identified as Albertans rather than as Canadians they viewed the NEP similar to an invasion vs. a government transfer to fellow citizens.

Oil and gas prices and volumes had been regulated by the National Energy Board for quite some time prior to the 1980 introduction of the NEP. Two tiered pricing (a made in US and world price for oil) had been introduced after the early 70's Middle east oil embargo by the Republican White House, and copied in Canada.

If Alberta wanted to shut off its spigots to Eastern Canada (which Lougheed did as a negotiating tactic after the initial introduction of the NEP) it could as it still controlled the resource. Canada only really went to the world price for oil and unfettered exports in the late 80's.

In as much as there was some capital flight out of Alberta for the period from late 1980 to 1986, in hindsight it probably saved more people from going under when the world oil price did collapse, and prolonged the boom when they recovered.

In any event, the parallels aren't even close to Avitar.

I'm pretty much exhausting my economics vocabulary here, but what about externalities?

So, should we make the fans of Avatar and Robin Hood square off against each other?

Brett: I don't see any particular angle here for externalities. From a Coasian perspective, it's a question of the assignment of property rights. Who *owns* the valuable resource? Do the blue people own it, or not. Redistributive taxation, of course, does infringe on property rights.

RJ: That's a lovely idea! Totally contradictory framings.

By the way, I'm not sure if RA, from the Economist, understands irony. Or maybe I was too subtle? http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2010/04/property_rights

Isn't it all about negative externalities? The blue people don't claim ownership of the resource, and they don't care if the humans take it. What they object to the negative externalities caused by the human's exploiting the resource - specifically the destruction of the flora and fauna. The humans don't care about the flora and fauna (it's all poisonous and/or dangerous to humans), so they don't think twice about destroying it.

Presumably, if the humans could get the resource without the negative externalities to the blue people, the blue people wouldn't object to the humans taking it.

Patrick: good point. Ignore what I said, Brett.

Presumably, if the humans could get the resource without the negative externalities to the blue people, the blue people wouldn't object to the humans taking it.

They do already. And it's free. There's no scarcity of it elsewhere on Pandora - just more profitable at this particular location.

see 2/3 in
http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/fox/avatar/experiencelarge.html

Re: Robin Hood, Avatar: "Totally contradictory framings"

Not really, leaving aside the different motivations (charity vs. greed), Robin Hood is robbing and redistributing within a jurisdiction, the attack in Avatar is across jurisdictions. Theoretically, the government of Nottingham had a duty to its (poorer) citizens that was being neglected, thus justifying Robin Hood's actions. The Blue people have no such duty to the humans since the humans have their own government and their own territory. Try again.

Careful, Nick. You are wandering down the road towards the idea that "taxation is theft" :)

I think the difference has something to do with 'the consent of the governed', but even that's not a complete answer: does everyone in a democracy really 'consent' to be taxed by that government?

Declan: but who says where jurisdictions begin and end? And why does jurisdiction have to be thought of in terms of physical geography? (The US taxes citizens regardless of their geographical location.) Couldn't the humans annex the blues' territory? Or just declare the blues to be citizens? And why should non-citizens be accorded more rights (to freedom from redistributive taxation) than citizens?

Darren: Yep. And I don't want to go all the way down that road, because we do need at least some taxes. I just really worry that what we think of as legitimate taxation, and what we think of as theft, might depend a lot on morally irrelevant criteria, like geography, or cuteness.

Hey, I may not understand a lot of theoretical economics. Theoretical plots of unseen movies are a bit easier to reconcile.

Avatar show times:

Kanata 24 (AMC)
801 Earl Grey Dr., Kanata
Sat, Sun: 10:50am, 2:30, 6:15, 9:50
Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu: 2:30, 6:15, 9:50

SilverCity Gloucester (Cineplex)
2385 City Park Drive (at Ogilvie), Gloucester
Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu: 4:00, 8:00

[HINT] :)

"why should non-citizens be accorded more rights (to freedom from redistributive taxation) than citizens"

In some ways redistributive taxation is like insurance against the risk of becoming poor. Only citizens qualify for the benefit, so only citizens pay the premium. The analogy isn't perfect though because progressive taxation would essentially charge the highest premiums to those presenting the least risk.

Though, societies with very high levels of inequality tend to not function particularly well. The peasants periodically chop off the heads of the aristocrats and burn all their stuff, so even if the probability of the peasants rioting is low, the potential loss is very high and thus it's worth insuring against it by paying progressive redistributive taxes.

To be able to sell off some of the valuable stuff (the unobtanium?)to the humans, the Blue people would have killed their tree, which was their thing of value. So they could say that taxing them would kill the whole value of their possession. It wouldn't have been progressive, it would have been confiscatory.

I wonder if the British aristocracy said the same thing about their possessions.

"Declan: but who says where jurisdictions begin and end? And why does jurisdiction have to be thought of in terms of physical geography? (The US taxes citizens regardless of their geographical location.) Couldn't the humans annex the blues' territory? Or just declare the blues to be citizens? And why should non-citizens be accorded more rights (to freedom from redistributive taxation) than citizens?"

So many questions! :)

"Who says where jurisdictions being and end?" - The government does, e.g. 54.40 or fight.

"why does jurisdiction have to be thought of in terms of physical geography?" - Like I said above, you can't physically coerce someone who isn't physically present (it's a lot more difficult, anyway). If you want a deeper answer, I'd suggest it relates to network (positive) externalities (which cause anything spatial in nature - e.g. hydro transmission wires - to be a natural monopoly). To be honest, I'm surprised there isn't more research on the topic (that I am aware of), people just seem to take it for granted. At any rate, historical examples where government was not defined geographically typically go by the name civil war, and aren't regarded as successful experiments in governance. I think Hobbes said it best on this topic.

"Couldn't the humans annex the blues' territory?" - I haven't seen the movie, but it was made by hollywood so I'm assuming they tried and failed to do so.

"or just declare the blues to be citizens?" - Without the ability to physically coerce them, this would just be meaningless.

"why should non-citizens be accorded more rights (to freedom from redistributive taxation) than citizens?" - Nobody is free from redistributive taxation, they are just subject to the demands of their own government, not some other one.

"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."

Fundamentally I think they are a little different.

The presumption for land owners would be that they could pay the poll tax without selling land - so they have a choice. All that has changed is the opportunity cost of owning the land, and the ability to keep the land is still in their choice set.

In the blue person case the tax ensures that they have to sell land or die - in some sense it feels as though they have no choice.

It is the concept of choice, which in turn gives us some idea of (or at least a boundary for) the associated welfare cost of a policy, that is the driver here. Methinks.

JVFM: Thanks! But my daughter went to see Avatar, and said it was just "Pochahontas(?) in 3D", and terribly predictable what would happen. The thing that annoys me about the movie (from what I've heard) is that the moral question is so cliched, and hypocritical. My guess is that many who think of themselves as "progressives" and watched the movie and supported the moral message have no qualms whatsoever about redistributive taxation. It really brought out the contrarian in me. Which is why I adopted the persona of a crude redistributionist, pretending to be oblivious of any question of property rights, and limits on the legitimacy of taxation.

Some commenters (on the Economist Free Exchange) totally missed the irony, (or is it satire?) of my post, and assumed I really was some sort of raving Marxist redistributionist!

Rogue: well, the British aristocracy could perhaps argue that the inheritance taxes destroyed a whole culture and way of life (theirs).

Declan: your answers aren't really satisfactory (they often come down to "might makes right"). But then I can't provide any better answers either!

Matt: I think it's just a difference in degree. If land was a large enough proportion of their wealth (for many it was), and if the taxes were high enough relative to the annual rents (and they often were), then it would have been very hard to pay the taxes without selling land.

Very true Nick. And also I guess that the opportunity cost placed on land would only really make a difference through the "income effect" on the land owner in the first place.

Guess it all has to be value judgments - most people prefer blue aliens to the British I guess ;)

Hey Nick, I was thinking of your Avatar/Alberta analogy this morning while reading an op-ed piece from a former Calgary Herald editor.

First the background (someone beat you to the punch, but in a different context):

‘Avatar Sands’ backers see a Canadian plot

It is the year 2154 on planet Pandora, and the Sky people are desecrating the land of the indigenous Navi population as they hunt for a buried mineral called unobtanium.

Rewind 144 years, and this movie plot is precisely the scenario playing out in Canada's tar sands, according to a cohort of environmental groups that ran a full-page advertisement in Variety magazine yesterday.

The ad, which runs under the headline ‘Canada's Avatar Sands,' is an obvious reference to the Oscar-nominated Avatar, an animated film centred on the plight of the Navi people and their quest to save the sacred Hometree.

Now today's article:

Oilsands a sitting duck for critics

An ecologist who had been mining government documents disclosed that 164 animals – including black bears, foxes and deer – had been killed over the past eight years at major oilsands' operations. Very embarrassing news for the industry, especially in light of ongoing coverage of the trial in Edmonton where Syncrude is defending itself against charges by both federal and provincial prosecutors that were laid after 1,600 ducks drowned in the company's tailings ponds last year. The same ducks coated in black goo that turned up on our television screens as Alberta's deputy premier was returning home from a visit to Washington designed to calm lawmakers' anxiety about Alberta's so-called dirty oil.

The industry PR bandwagon suffered another hit when it was revealed that the Long Lake oilsands operation south of Fort McMurray owned by Nexen and Opti Canada plans to tap up to 17,000 cubic metres of water a day from the nearby Clearwater River – almost twice as much as it had originally proposed.

Those darn externalities!

Within a given jurisdiction, might does make right (government = monopoly on force) as long as that might is used justly (it is a simple matter to explain what 'justly' means, of course :), across jurisdictions we have switched over time from 'might makes right' to 'mind your own business'

An example of 'mind your own business'

@Darren:
How is taxation imposed without your consent different than theft? I mean really, is it just that nation states are the ones doing it.

In other news, the US could end much of its trade imbalance by annexing Alberta.

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