Subsidizing Millionaires

In the LA Times today, Michael Kinsley rails against the modern version of “chasing smokestacks,” namely states competing with each other to offer subsidies to film and TV companies who bring productions to their states:

New Mexico under [Bill] Richardson was a pioneer in this field. In 2002, it began offering a credit of 15% — later raised to 25% — toward the cost of making a movie in New Mexico (not counting star salaries and the mite paid to writers). Now, 42 states have followed its lead. New York has gone as high as 30%. These credits are generally transferable, savable and usable for other things, so it’s no problem if the particular movie doesn’t make money.

In less than a decade, the absurd notion of welfare for movie producers has evolved from the kind of weird thing they do in France to an unshakable American tradition. “I’m proud that New Mexico has been a leader in this effort,” Richardson says.

Kinsley is right that this race to the bottom does nothing except reduce tax revenue for everybody. He’s also right that the figures used to justify these subsidies (Movies bring a billion dollars a year into our economy! Movies create 5,000 jobs for our great state!) are almost certainly bogus. Ditto for the same kind of voodoo accounting used to pretend that massive subsidies to millionaire owners of sports teams pay for themselves in increased business.

This isn’t the biggest deal in the world. But it’s certainly ridiculous and we’d all be better off if it stopped.