Hubris + ignorance = poor public policy

Hubris + ignorance = poor public policy

The Pittsburgh Film Office (PFO) is seeking a $5 million taxpayer grant to start developing what it calls the “Pittsburgh Film and Entertainment Industry Village” in Rankin.

As the Post-Gazette reports it, PFO head Dawn Keezer says “the state-of-the-art complex would give more movie projects the opportunity ‘to say yes to Pittsburgh’ instead of rejecting Pittsburgh for its lack of capacity.”

And here we thought all those very generous film tax credits – whose multiplier effect regularly is inflated – were all that was needed to make Pittsburgh “Hollywood West.”

“We do not have a purpose-built facility,” Keezer told the P-G. “We have been using repurposed warehouse space. Given the technology advances that have happened and the amount of work that wants to be in Southwestern Pennsylvania, everything requires a higher level.”

And this proposal is nothing short of grandiose – six sound stages, three production support buildings, a mill building for set construction and two commissaries.

But since when should taxpayers be responsible for such things, for any amount?

If there truly is the demand claimed by Keezer and, thus, the potential for profit, shouldn’t there be sufficient private investment capital to negate the need for public subsidies that have no business being given?

Sadly, and much like dandelions, public subsidies beget public subsidies. “The State” has no business turning taxpayers into unwilling venture capitalists.

If those supporting a taxpayer bailout of Pennsylvania’s nuclear power industry had been around at various stages of this commonwealth’s development, we’d still have government-mandated horse-drawn carriages, elevator operators and block-ice deliverers to keep ice boxes chilled, among many other professions overtaken by marketplace advances.

A bill introduced this week in the Pennsylvania House would dive into taxpayer pockets to extract an estimated $3 billion over the next six years to “rescue” the Keystone State’s nuclear power industry. That’s half-a-billion dollars a year.

As the P-G reports it, “Nuclear plants are struggling in regional electricity markets to compete against new, efficient plants that burn low-cost natural gas.”

Oh, the horrors of it all – allowing the marketplace to dictate power generation efficiency! We must intercede! If only more enlightened minds had prevailed more than a century ago, the Pennsylvania carriage-making industry would be alive and well today! Our horse-housing stables would be thriving! Smithing would not be a lost trade!

Silly? Of course. But no less silly than propping up an industry that no longer can compete.

Why is it that so many people refuse to heed the lessons of markets and insist that they know and/or can do better, only to fail – predictably – then promulgate successive government interventions to cover up the lie of each prior intervention?

Such a marriage of ignorance with hubris always makes for poor public policy.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (