Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
Here's the RSS feed or subscribe to our FFF Email Update to receive Hornberger’s Blog daily.

Why Should States Be Funding Movies?


A good example of what passes for debate in this country occurred this week in a New York Times article entitled “State Backing Films Says Cannibal Is Deal-Breaker” by a reporter named Michael Cieply.

The article is about state government subsidies for movies produced in the state. Controversy recently erupted in Michigan because the state denied a subsidy for a horror movie about cannibalism. The state’s rationale was that the movie would be unlikely to encourage tourism for Michigan. The article pointed out other states that are faced with the same issue, including Texas, where the upcoming movie “Machete” is being filmed.

In the article, the reporter presents “both” sides of the debate. Liberals are concerned about “censorship.” Conservatives are concerned about family values.

So, there you have it: a classic ideological battle between the left and the right. One can almost imagine a mainstream television talk-show host bringing together a liberal and a conservative to present their opposing sides on this important issue: What criteria should be used to determine which movies receive a government subsidy?

Do you see the problem though? Do you see what has been omitted from this picture? Can you see why such “debates” are nothing but sheer nonsense? Do you see why they are always so boring? Do you see why there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between a liberal and a conservative?

Notice something important about this controversy: No one questions whether the state should be subsidizing movies or, for that matter, any of the arts. It’s just a given. It’s a standard statist mindset.

That is, both liberals and conservatives believe that the state should be forcibly taking money from people through taxation in order to give it to other people, e.g., movie producers. The only “debate” is over the terms under which the subsidy is going to be granted. Big deal!

This is where libertarians come into the picture, but of course you’d never know that a libertarian perspective even existed after reading the New York Timesarticle. Libertarians say: People should be free to keep their own money and decide for themselves what to do with it. If they wish to invest in a movie or make a donation to help bring it into existence, that’s their right since it’s their money. But the state has no moral right to forcibly take money from people in order to provide a dole for other people, including movie producers.

Why didn’t the Times’ reporter include a quote from a libertarian in Michigan or Texas that would have declared “The state shouldn’t be providing a dole to any movie producer”? After all, there are plenty of libertarians in those two states.

Undoubtedly the answer is because the reporter considers the libertarian perspective to be “extreme” or “out of the mainstream” or “unreasonable” or “radical” or “not respectable” or “not credible” or “irrelevant.” So, Americans who read this type of article remain mired in the left-right statism that has come to characterize our age.

The movie-subsidy debate also serves to point out the rank hypocrisy of both liberal and conservative statists. Conservatives love to employ their old 1950s mantra “private property, free enterprise, and limited government” but, of course, are unable to reconcile the mantra with a socialist, redistributive, tax-and-dole scheme. Liberals loves to say they love the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged” but, of course, are unable to reconcile that mantra with forcing the poor, through taxation, to fund the production of movies, including ones intended to make a profit.

Notwithstanding the mainstream press that continues to pretend that liberal statism and conservative statism are people’s only choice, the fact is that libertarianism is on the rise. Increasing numbers of people are breaking free of the statism that has our country in its grip and recognizing the strong moral case for libertarianism. They are coming to the realization that libertarians are correct: People do have a moral right to keep everything they earn and to decide for themselves what to do with it, and the state operates immorally when if forcibly extracts money from people in order to provide a dole to movie producers or anyone else.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.