Sunday, January 28, 2007
This is my first post after converting this blog to the new version of Blogger. That process is mid-stream, so you may notice glitches in the appearance of this page. When I finish or reach a stopping point with that, I will post again, to that effect.
From time to time, I have heard fellow Objectivists say that the Republicans are worse than the Democrats. Often, the implied sense is that it is the Republicans, because they hold themselves out as the "party of small government", who can most easily get away with expanding the welfare state. A Republican state senator from North Carolina demonstrates that fact today by calling for state censorship of films made with government "incentives" in North Carolina!
Citing the controversy surrounding the Dakota Fanning film Hounddog, the leader of the state Senate Republicans says he wants the government to review scripts before cameras start rolling in North Carolina.The incentive in question is a tax credit that enjoyed bipartisan support before it was signed into law in 2006 by Democratic governor Mike Easley. It is touted by the North Carolina Film Council, a state agency that is supposed to promote the production of movies in the state through a "partnership" between private industry and government.
That system, said state Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, would apply only to films seeking the state's lucrative filmmaker incentive, which refunds as much as 15 percent of what productions spend in North Carolina from the state treasury.
"Why should North Carolina taxpayers pay for something they find objectionable?" said Berger, who is having proposed legislation drafted. [bold added]
But as in any "partnership" where one side wields force, it is the side with the guns that will win any argument that comes up, as we see here. When the operating premise behind North Carolina's film "incentive" is that the tax money confiscated in the first place from the film producers is the government's to keep or give back, then it is only a matter of time before the government will decide that strings might need to be attached.
This is what we are seeing when Phil Berger -- a Republican -- calls for submission to government censors before a film can receive this "incentive". Notice that he does this even though the state isn't even actually funding the production! And notice further that he does this in a way a Democrat could not. Although he accepts the premise that the tax revenue belongs to the government (like any Democrat), he dresses his call for censorship in small-government clothing, by alleging that receipt of such an incentive is the same as forcing his constituents to fund something they do not like!
If Phil Berger were not such a huge fan of the welfare state, he would point out that these incentives are at best a baby step in the right direction, which would be the complete abolishment of involuntary taxation. He would also acknowledge that the government not only should not take property, it should not dictate its use by private parties. The film industry should neither be taxed nor should it be subject to government scrutiny of its productions as a matter of routine.
Berger could have taken this controversy as an opportunity to note that if there were no government interference (via taxation) in the film industry, there would be no question of whether the public is being made to fund something it does not approve of. Instead of making this principled stand, he does just the opposite: He uses the one form of government interference (taxation) as an excuse to call for another (censorship).
Berger ignores the fact that taxation as such is a violation of property rights while treating taxation of industry by the government as if it were a right. In doing so, he notices that the government will presumably make up for any shortfall in revenue by taxing ordinary citizens more. This, he equates with the government confiscating their money to fund activities they find objectionable. He is worse than partly right. The government shouldn't be taking anybody's money.
If Mr. Berger really were so concerned about ordinary citizens having their money stolen from them to pay for others to say things they may not like, his time and energy would be far better spent in abolishing public education, which accounts for a far larger part of the public tax burden than this tax abatement program and is far guiltier of forcing people to fund ideas which they find offensive. He would also support a truly free film industry in his state as I have already noted. This last would be a far better "incentive" than the small break from government looting his state trumpets so loudly now.
But State Senator Berger is not concerned with the economic or personal freedom of his constituents. Instead, like so many other conservatives, he has accepted the notion that we should have a conservative welfare state rather than abolishing the welfare state altogether. Unsurprisingly for a member of the political party that supports censorship of "obscenity" (which is already part of this "incentive") and works nonstop to bring about more intrusion of religion into our government, Berger is taking the opportunity to subject films made in North Carolina to higher taxes if they do not meet with government approval.