National chooses “sexy” movie protectionism

Bah, I come back from a conference to this.  Film subsides/protectionism is back in vogue I see.  Not happy with just spending other people’s money to get to go to functions about the new Avatar movies, our politicians have decided to increase the amount of other people’s money they will give to all people who decide they feel like filming here.

From Dragoliz’s deviantart

Protectionism in of itself is bad enough, but film is especially insidious.  Essentially, we have an industry that has complete capital mobility, and is using it to extract all the surplus from any agreement with a given government (and from large numbers of its workers).  Given that people view this as a sexy product, and like to pretend their are “social benefits” that no-one has been able to find, this implies that governments are massively willing to overspend.

Now, the economic advice they’ve received has pointed out that this doesn’t really make sense.  As Eric notes Treasury saying don’t do it here.  And as NZIER seems to be heavily implying here.

But I will add one other thing.  We may say “the government is doing it, because people feel good having a movie shot here – it makes us proud!”.  Yeah sure, that is relevant – so we need to think about it.

Ok, so who are the people who get all this “pride” from the movies?  Generally, middle class New Zealanders.  Who is paying, generally wealthier New Zealanders (as they pay most of the tax).  What spending is likely to be sacrificed in order to pay for subsides, poor New Zealanders.  Directors law, once again.  If you don’t agree with how I’m conceptualising it, then why don’t we get government to get private New Zealander’s to pay into a fund based on the “pride” they get?  You may complain that people will “free-ride”, but then I would quickly point out that merely imposing a preference for “pride” on everyone in order to get them to pay for something you want is problematic!

It is inconsistent, nah hypocritical, to support this type of protectionism and then complain about inequality and poverty in New Zealand.  And yet, that is what I see a bunch of people doing as they see it as “sexy” – and also because they don’t actually know what the terms “poverty” and “inequality” mean.  If only more people thought clear, transparent public  policy based on the positive economics that allows it was sexy instead …

  • Andrew F

    Yeah my instinctive reaction is to call this protectionism. However, to extend a little on the point you made about social benefits is the (admittedly tentative) links to the arts. Arguably film making is an art form in the broader sense. albeit one that has become very commercialised. I guess this is what distinguishes it from other arts (such as performance art). perhaps a better comparison is with TV which is also subject to some significant government support.

    So I’m wondering 1) what makes art special and b) if they are, where is the line that means something (i.e. film making) should not be viewed in the same way?