Friday, December 14, 2007

Bee Property Rights

Jerry Seinfeld's long awaited Bee Movie doesn't disappoint. It is a kids' movie so the true Seinfeld magic was never going to be repeated but it is written with the comedian's flair and is peppered with truly amusing lines and Seinfeldesque moments and observations. You know, "what's the deal with all this honey?" This is one movie you want to be taking the kids too rather than foisting the task off on other adults.

But what interested me was the subtle message underlying the whole movie. If we believed that Jerry Seinfeld was the sort of person capable of sending a message to the whole Hollywood system (much as we believed was the case with, say, Shrek or Ratatoullie) it was this: the whole obsession with intellectual property rights and their enforcement (rightful or not) has repercussions that can destroy the economic system and social fabric. Of course, we don't really believe Seinfeld is capable of that but that doesn't mean the message didn't get there anyway.

The main issue in the movie comes when our resident 'bucking the system' bee, Barry, finds that humans are enslaving bees, consuming honey and no value is going back to the bees. Barry takes it on himself to use the humanic legal system to enforce what he sees as bees legitimate property rights and secure the honey back for bees. He succeeds and with more honey than they will ever need, bees stop working, pollinating and so the whole environmental system breaks down.

Now the Coasian solution would have been to pay the bees to work but there doesn't see to have been a gain from trade; that is, they didn't seem to want to despite having done so for 27 million years. Indeed, rescue comes later in a wholly uneconomic way; but I won't give away that one.

The message for the kiddies is you might have property rights but that enforcing them may cause others harm, so think about that one. Now think about that people who might be downloading Bee Movie rather than dragging everyone to the cinema.