The visual effects business in LA is seeing numerous bankruptcies, and the vfx companies and workers are thrown together in a desperate struggle to exist. Two years, they have protested at the Oscars, and this year the message was “no subsidies”.
Before I continue, I must say that I support the VFX lawsuit. I think this conflict is significant to anyone working to produce digital outputs, within a global workforce, and can be outsourced via the internet. It’s also a site where we need more labor solidarity, because it’s one of the few non-unionized businesses in the local entertainment industry, which is mostly organized labor. I went with a small sign representing Bright Future Jobs, a lobbying organization for programmers and other IT workers. I also am employed by AFL-CIO, but wasn’t going to the march to represent them; it was on my own time.
The employment disclaimer is important because in the previous week, the IATSE had a rally to create pressure on the city of L.A. to spend money on a subsidy to keep production in L.A. So, I don’t want to sound like I’m either pro-subsidy or anti-subsidy. I support the subsidy in L.A., because I’m a resident, and I’d love to keep more production in L.A., and support the local economy by putting more people to work. It’s my tax money, and it should be spent to compete against other cities offering subsidies to the industry.
It would be fantastic if these subsidies were illegal, but they are not. To take a principled stand and refuse to pay probably means more production leaves the city.
I can also understand why the IATSE might not want to promote the VFX protesters “subsidies are evil” message. You don’t want to rally for subsidies, then march against them, and confuse everyone.
It’s really simple: their subsidies are evil, and our subsidies are good.
What gets me is that we’re even having slogans making a moral issue of a subsidy.
Ultimately, a subsidy is a government spending decision that benefits a private business, usually for the purpose of local economic development. It’s morally ambiguous. It’s also common.
The morality of a subsidy is most often brought up by people who advocate for laissez faire economic policies. They think all subsidies are evil. They distort “free markets”, which are inherently good, in their view. Their implied, or stated, solution is to eliminate all subsidies.
Good luck with that. Voters and politicians in the US cannot affect the politicians and laws in Canada and New Zealand; we can only affect our own laws.
Given that political constraint, the solution to these subsidies isn’t to eliminate them, but to establish a “countervailing duty” (CVD) which is a tariff or tax on work brought into this country from the other country that is paying a subsidy. It’s what the WTO uses as the solution to subsidies, and has the desired effect to prevent runaway jobs.
Getting caught in the “subsidies are evil” message can make it difficult to argue for or accept a CVD, because that’s arguably just a “reverse subsidy” (that also happens to raise money for the government, another potential bugaboo).
Personally, I would prefer a message of “Exported jobs, then imported artwork? Pay a fine!”
It’s a little wordy, but includes all the elements of the story of the global digital media worker, and ends with a solution that anyone can understand.