Hollywood's corporate welfare should be on the chopping block

On Monday, the New York Times published a sad tale about how corporate welfare subsidies for Hollywood haven’t been working out terribly well for Michigan.  It’s a story that could be told from many states.  Hollywood is full of anti-capitalist socialist crusaders who conduct their business as if they were robber barons of old.  Actors who bleat about the perils of offshore investments sock their own fortunes away overseas, and move from one country to the next in a lifelong pursuit of low tax rates.  Studios that churn out cinematic fatwas against the evils of predatory tax-cheating Big Business gobble up massive taxpayer subsidies, practice the most dishonest accounting imaginable, and treat their own employees like serfs.

But the Michigan story contains a particularly delicious bit of jumbo-sized irony:

Hollywood may make movies about the evils of capitalism, but it rarely works without incentives, which are paid for by taxpayers. Nationwide, about $1.5 billion in tax breaks is awarded to the film industry each year, according to a state-by-state survey by The New York Times.

Within two months, 24 movies had signed up to film in Michigan ??? up from two the entire year before. The productions estimated that they would spend $195 million filming there, and in return they would be refunded about $70 million in cash.

Before long, residents were rushing out on their lunch breaks to catch a glimpse of celebrities like Drew Barrymore, who was filming her movie ???Whip It??? in Ann Arbor, and Clint Eastwood, who was shooting ???Gran Torino??? in the Detroit area. Even Michael Moore, who was filming a movie about corporate welfare called ???Capitalism: A Love Story,??? sought and received incentives.

(Emphasis mine.)  Over $800,000 in incentives, to be more specific.  Michael Moore is basically a running satire of his own liberal audience, picking their pockets with absurdly dishonest propaganda films while he lives a millionaire lifestyle, and is notoriously hostile to organized labor in his own business practices.  If he didn’t already exist, a conservative blogger would have invented him.

Hollywood is what it slanders the rest of American business for being: a shell game where only the big millionaire fat cats make bank.  Even theater owners get screwed – they’ve got to sell popcorn at ridiculous prices to stay in business.  Cash-strapped local governments forever fantasize about luring that huge Hollywood money with taxpayer incentives, but the jobs and other promised economic benefits rarely live up to the hype.  Meanwhile, productive local businesses that would create more healthy, lasting jobs get soaked to the bone with taxes, even as the Tinseltown millionaires roll away with bulging bank accounts, and look for another star-struck state government to loot.  And it’s rather difficult to re-purpose some of what Hollywood requires local taxpayers to subsidize.  What do you do with an empty soundstage, once America’s entertainment royalty decides it doesn’t need them any more?

Republican budget negotiators are foolish if they don’t put Hollywood on the chopping block during these “fiscal cliff” negotiations.  Among other things, the excise tax on motion pictures from the 1950s – imposed to clean up World War 2 budget deficits – should be returned and expanded.  Let’s get all these tax-happy liberal celebrities and their pet politicians on the record explaining why this is the one “millionaire tax” we shouldn’t be considering.  It’s an especially bitter jest to make middle-class American taxpayers subsidize the transmission system for the ideology that has left them so much poorer.