Film Subsidy Money Has to Come From Somewhere

Actress's defense a case study for why movie program is an economic failure

Erin Cummings is a Los Angeles actress who worked on the television show "Detroit 1-8-7," a short-lived series that was shot in Michigan and received money from taxpayers as part of the state’s film subsidy program.

The legislature has scaled back the Michigan film tax credits, which previously awarded up to a 42 percent subsidy to select filmmakers. Most of this money went to Hollywood studios and productions.

Though she is back in LA and a native of Texas, Cummings has a place in her heart for Michigan from her time working here and is an advocate for the subsidy. In an interview with MLive, Cummings had the following exchange:

What was your experience like filming the show in Michigan and seeing what kind of impact the state's film credits made during a down economy? 

"It was fantastic. (Critics of film credits) keep saying they want to give the money (otherwise used for film incentives) back to the state, but the state is the people. People kept saying (the state) was giving the (incentive) money away to Hollywood, but there were a very limited number of people from Hollywood who came to Michigan to work on the show. A majority of the people — the catering people, the seamstresses, the extras, a lot of the day players (the smaller roles) — those were people living in Detroit. 

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What she sees as a defense is actually a case study in why the film initiative was such a massive economic failure. It may sound good to "give the money back to the people," but in practice this means taking money from taxpayers in the first place to give to state bureaucrats to hand to select film projects.

My colleague Michael LaFaive refers to this as “feeding sparrows through a horse”:

Imagine that a central planner wanted to help sparrows grow and prosper. The central planner can dump feed on the ground evenly and let sparrows partake of it directly, or he can run the feed through a horse first, and let the sparrows pick through the pile that the horse leaves behind. The horse in our example represents the government bureaucracy created to maintain economic development programs. The bottom line is that it costs money to pay bureaucrats to take your money and redistribute it to someone else. Spending millions to support these programs just deprives entrepreneurs of the resources they could be using to create more jobs on their own accord.  

One of the Mackinac Center's "Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy" is that nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own. Michigan residents can surely spend their money — on movies and in other ways — much better than politicians.

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