A Fistful of Our Dollars

Clint Eastwood is perhaps the icon of macho film stars, and certainly one I would avoid duelling. He is a self-declared libertarian, stating in USA Today, “I like the libertarian view, which is to leave everyone alone.” He made his name through hard work and talent, going from low budgets to fame and a career as an Academy-Award-winning director. However, I must respectfully enter a standoff over his recent appeals to save the UK Film Council, which represent a distinctly inconsistent and socialist position.

The UKFC contributes funds to two types of films: those that are commercially viable and those that are not. The former, films like Harry Potter, don’t need government support. The latter lack the public appeal to make them commercially viable for investors. It takes extreme arrogance to ignore the preferences of the public and spend their money regardless on something they have not chosen. Furthermore, the subsidy of non-commercial “artsy” films represents a regressive transfer to the wealthy “cultured” class and contains the patronising intellectual supposition that UKFC knows which films are best for us.

For all public money that is spent on the UKFC there is an opportunity cost. The money could have instead gone to help save soldiers’ lives, treat cancer patients, and/or to develop primary schools. Furthermore, government has left us with a terrible burden of waste and debt. So where should government focus its limited resources?

In the UKFC’s defence, many note that “for every pound invested [by UKFC], the country gets £5 back.” However, this ignores private investment or crowding out. Much of the funding went to commercially viable films; hence, the positive return is no surprise and the support unnecessary. Supporters of the UKFC should put their own money on the line if they want to support British films, rather than taking from the public pot and imposing their choices.

14 thoughts on “A Fistful of Our Dollars”

  1. Posted 11/08/2010 at 10:09 | Permalink

    Fortunately, the demise of the UKFC seems politically inevitable. The UK Film Council, its supporters, and Clint Eastwood have to face reality and … ‘ask yourselves one question: Do we feel lucky?’
    ‘Well, do ya punks?’

  2. Posted 11/08/2010 at 10:21 | Permalink

    Good riddance to the UK Film Council. As well as burdening taxpayers, the UKFC appears to have a political agenda, which is pretty overt on its website. Taxpayers should not be funding cultural propaganda.

  3. Posted 11/08/2010 at 10:27 | Permalink

    Glad it has gone, and I love British cinema. Eastwood is just a hypocrite – don’t interfere with my life, unless you’re going to subsidise my films and friends.

    You’ve also got to account for negative effect it has on cinema by politicising the output. The death of UKFC will do more good than harm for our films.

  4. Posted 11/08/2010 at 11:36 | Permalink

    “It takes extreme arrogance to ignore the preferences of the public”. Yes indeed. But what if the public is becoming increasingly stupid ? Just have a look at the first minutes of the movie “Idiocracy”… “Commercially viable” is NOT a criterion by which I judge the quality of a film. And by the way, I’d like to know of the author of this article defines “socialist”.

  5. Posted 11/08/2010 at 12:42 | Permalink

    @Josegaut – a ’socialist’ is someone who wants the means of production to be publically owned; that’s what the UKFC is effectively doing, even if only partially.
    I think your judgement of the public as ’stupid’ is probably offensive, but worse, it is a value judgement which cannot be scientifically proven – so therefore it has no validity to any reasonable debate.
    A film doesn’t have to be commercially viable – as it might receive funding from private donors. Removing the UKFC will not mean an end to non-commercial (but private) funding of films. In fact, it might mean more of it. How you judge a value is as irrelevant as how I or a bureaucrat does and should have no bearing on the matter

  6. Posted 11/08/2010 at 12:51 | Permalink

    Full Fact have an interesting analysis of the claim “for every pound invested [by UKFC], the country gets £5 back”. In short it determines it to be an unjustifiable claim. See this link for more details: http://www.fullfact.org/articles/does_the_taxman_benefit_from_the_uk_film_council

  7. Posted 11/08/2010 at 12:57 | Permalink

    @ Josegaut

    ‘-But what if the public is becoming increasingly stupid?’ – Next time you imply the public is stupid and that you, the luvvies, and arrogant socialists moulded from finer clay than the average man know better, you might consider writing a post that makes sense … ‘I’d like to know of the author of this article defines “socialist”.’

    Idiocracy may have a cult following but it lost money. Sure some people enjoy things that are not commercially viable. If the government made a big budget movie about how wonderful the nazis were, showing them slaughtering jews, as if Goebbels has been resurrected, it would lose lots of money and be rejected. But some bigots would enjoy it.

  8. Posted 11/08/2010 at 13:01 | Permalink

    @Ed M – yes this is typical of a bureaucratic organisation fighting to hold onto its funding; there’s a full campaign on, celebrities and media mobilised, propaganda put about. And all to protect the interests of the few at the expense of the many! We’re going to see this again and again over the next few years, so watch the pattern play out. That government in this country is entirely arbitrary and whimsical will be shown by some areas surviving and others not, according to expediency; instead we need a consistent approach to what government should and should not do.

  9. Posted 11/08/2010 at 13:01 | Permalink

    There’s definitely a public good aspect to arts productions. It gives expression to minority groups of society and develops new ways of thinking we all benefit from whether we see the film/art/book or not. Without the state we wouldn’t lose all “risky” art production but we would lose some of it.

    But with the UK’s austerity drive it’s hardly worth it – UKFC should be reminded, “$200,000 is a lot of money. I’m going to have to earn it”

  10. Posted 11/08/2010 at 13:04 | Permalink

    @ Josegaut

    Government should not be about living at others peoples expense. Finding ways to have our expensive tastes funded by everyone else.

    My guess it the author defines ’socialist’ in a similar way to anyone else. Socialism is public control of the means of production. A socialist policy is thus one which takes control of the means of production, either through an absolute change in ownership, or interferes (e.g. a subsidy/ tax/ regulation).

    The film council is only about 10 years old. We had a movie industry and artsy films that were risky and not guaranteed to make a profit before it came along. The entrepreneurial process is inherently risky.

  11. Posted 11/08/2010 at 13:08 | Permalink

    @Ben you don’t seem aware of what a public good is! The term has a specific economic meaning and you’re misusing it. You might suggest that there are positive externalities to state subsidy, but that’s not the same thing. I sincerely doubt that fewer ‘risky’ productions would take place without the UKFC; private enterprise and philanthrophy are better takers of ‘risk’ than the state. You need to look at this in the round; how can you know that the money which has been confiscated to pay for UKFC wouldn’t be put to causes which would have a more valuable impact? The best way to encourage UK Film industry would be to lower taxes and disincentives to film-making across the economy in general!

  12. Posted 11/08/2010 at 13:11 | Permalink

    Finally and most importantly:

    -What is your criteria for judging films? What criteria should we use to decide if a proposed film should receive funding?

    Should a ‘wise’ planning body control the funding of films?

    Why not let wise planning bodies make our choices for all things that involve tastes?

    If a wise council tells us turnip and mud soup is the tastiest, and part our national identity, and better by their criterion, should our wish to eat tomato soup, or leek & potato be ignored? Should we take money from the other consumers to support fans of turnip soup? Equally, should we take money from consumers to fund carrot and coriander soup, because it already makes lots of money?

  13. Posted 11/08/2010 at 13:14 | Permalink

    @ all


    “”For every pound invested [by the UK Film Council], the country gets £5 back.”

    Guess that means we can now just give the UK Film Council a few £billion, and the deficit disappears.

    That said, I’m puzzled as to why all the folk who know the UK Film Council is such a money spinner aren’t willing to put their own money into it and see it increase five-fold. “

  14. Posted 12/08/2010 at 00:15 | Permalink

    … Philistines.

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