A Rebuttal to Ray McCarty’s Rebuttal
Ray McCarty of the Associated Industries of Missouri recently wrote an op-ed, “Film tax credit needs a real shot,” in the Springfield Business Journal as a rebuttal to my op-ed on the same subject. I realize that I have already written extensively about this, but I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to the points that McCarty made.
First, it is more than likely that the money spent by filmmakers via tax credits would have been spent anyway in the market, by private individuals. If a hotel hadn’t rented a room to a member of the film production crew, they could have rented it to somebody else. If the restaurant hadn’t seated the producers at a table, they could have given the table to another party. I think that it is fallacious to assume that, had it not been for the tax credits, these Missouri resources would have been unemployed.
Harbin also misses the fact that the movie industry is nontraditional.
Saying that something is a fact does not make it a fact. The only thing that makes an industry like filmmaking “nontraditional” is the fact that the government has intervened to such an extent that it has distorted the market. Health care is another industry that is often described as nontraditional, but as I have described previously on this blog, health care is subject to the same market mechanisms as any other industry.
McCarty also writes:
Lastly, Harbin mentions that it may be better for Missouri to leave the filmmaking to other film states “like California.” She may not know this, but California found itself weakened between 1998 and 2000. Between those years, the U.S. lost $10 billion worth of film productions to Canada, which passed film tax incentives. Southern California alone lost about 35,000 jobs due to the shift to Canada.
It makes economic sense that California would produce fewer films because it had to compete with states and other countries. Filmmakers like Jason Reitman are smart businesspeople, and they will go wherever they can get the best deal. I disagree that this refutes my statement that Missouri shouldn’t feel that it has to compete with other states for filmmaking, however.
Michigan has pursued the filmmaking industry particularly aggressively, and its state legislature is already discussing repealing the program. Missouri would be smart to specialize in producing according to its comparative advantage (i.e., in products that aren’t filmmaking), and then realize gains from trade with those states. Missourians will still be able to enjoy the benefits of the product (i.e., film), and at a much lower cost (i.e., the price an admission ticket at a movie theater vs. the price of subsidizing the production).
As another advantage of producing according to its competitive advantage, Missouri would have an opportunity to differentiate itself. Instead of producing the same products and services as other states do, Missouri could produce the goods and services that are uniquely Missourian.
Furthermore, McCarty did not dispute my argument that targeted tax credits hurt businesses in non-favored industries. By providing special advantages to a select industry, targeted tax credits force everyone else in the market to compete at a disadvantage. In a previous blog post on Show-Me Daily, Dave Roland explains this better than I do:
True economic development happens best when governments allow businesses to compete on a field that offers no special advantages to any of the players. The government does a grave disservice to its citizens when it assumes the responsibility for picking winners and losers in the market, rather than letting businesses succeed or fail on their own merit.
Another argument of mine that McCarty does not address is the one relating to the supreme opportunity cost associated with film tax credits. What else can Missouri do with this money? What is so special about the film industry, in contrast to other industries? Why doesn’t Missouri target hog farmers or economic research analysts or education or infrastructure?
Maybe in a couple of years, each state in the union will offer tax credits that are targeted to filmmakers, thereby negating the artificial comparative advantage that currently exists in states like Missouri. I can only hope.