Self-Determination: The Other Path for Native Americans

By Anderson, William L. | Freeman, January/February 2008 | Go to article overview
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Self-Determination: The Other Path for Native Americans

Anderson, William L., Freeman

Self-Determination: The Other Path for Native Americans Edited by Terry L. Anderson, Bruce L. Benson, and Tliomas F. Flanagan Stanford University Press * 2006 * 331 pages * $35.00

Reviewed by William L. Anderson

While driving across the American west in 2006, I passed through Indian reservations, their desert landscapes dotted with shanties, trailers-and casinos. It was a classic picture of wealth surrounded by poverty, a comparison that socialists often love to make when denigrating capitalism.

Yet, as former secretary of the interior James Watt so famously said 25 years ago, one need not go to socialist countries to observe failures of socialism; just go to the reservation. Unfortunately, the truth about Native Americans is as unacceptable now as it was then.

The myths surrounding Native Americans have attracted people who believed Indians were communalistic people who lived in perfect harmony with their natural environment. The Oscar-winning movie Dances with Wolves helped to popularize this view of Native Americans, whose idyllic way of life was destroyed by the invasion of whites who, as the main character claimed, "had no soul." The private-property ethos of these invaders ultimately resulted in Native Americans' being shunted to reservations, where they lost their way of life, "while whites plundered the environment and brought death, chaos, and the near-extinction of the buffalo.

While such beliefs may satisfy the romantic notions of modern political correctness, they are not true. Some important scholars not only are out to set the record straight, but also present alternatives for Native Americans that can give them a better life than exists today on the reservation. Terry Anderson, Bruce Benson, and Thomas Flanagan have edited Self-Determination: The Other Path for Native Americans. It is no accident that they use the term "the other path"; that is what Hernando de Soto urged South Americans to take instead of the "shining path" of communism and socialism.

Anderson is one of the founders of the Property and Environment Research Center, which promotes "freemarket environmentalism" (that is, environmental solutions sans the heavy hand of government coercion that goes with statist environmentalism). He long has researched the history of Native Americans and has found many examples of private property ownership among them, ownership patterns that existed long before the arrival of white Europeans. The contributions of Benson and Flanagan to law, property rights, and other such subjects are well known in the economics profession.

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