The thought receptacle

Stephen's mental dustbin

Tue, 27 Jul 2010

Film cuts

Ever since the current government took office, I've been reading details of proposed spending cuts with interest. It's clear enough that the cuts are primarily ideologically motivated, and at each turn a government official has been on hand to claim that the cuts will deliver overall improvements thanks to private-sector initiative. This is clearly not true nearly as much as our Conservative friends would have it---contrary to the mantra claiming that the market is some sort of responsive, elastic, optimising miracle-worker, in fact it is a dumb machine that gets stuck in all sorts of ways, from arms-races to price-fixing to short-termism to simple unimaginativeness and the dull plasticity of human thinking.

Nevertheless, I can sometimes read details of cuts and wonder whether that one specific case or other might not be a bad idea. Having a periodic search for the dead wood and hardened inefficiencies is not a bad thing. Some of the earliest cuts announced, to ministerial expenses (like cuts in chauffeur-driven cars and suchlike), while absolutely miniscule in impact, seemed like good ideas to me and an indication that there was scope for at least some some latent inefficient habits to be shaken up. It's a bit like how our unfortunate cultural treatment of job losses means that a recession, in giving companies an “excuse” to let their ill-employed staff go, can rather unfortunately fill a useful role by improving resource allocation in the longer term, where these changes would be somehow unpalatable in “normal” circumstances. This is an unfortunate norm which needs to be changed, but one thing at a time.

Arts funding is the latest issue, following today's news that the UK Film Council is being axed. The general reaction has been very negative, but again, it's worth considering the alternative viewpoints. Two particularly iconoclastic positions have appeared recently: Mark Ravenhill provocatively argued that the arts budget should be cut because a lot of it is wasted on “development”, while Alex Cox with characteristic free-spiritedness claimed (scroll down) that the Film Council's mistaken treatment of Bond and Harry Potter films as “British” has cost independents their share of lottery funding.

The conclusion of all of this seems to be that the reality of an organisation is often quite different from its overt intentions. In turn, this means that the consequences of policy decisions are incredibly complicated. It's not necessarily true that schemes with sensible mission are necessarily worth the money, but the converse is almost certainly true too: apparently less useful schemes might have all sorts of complex indirect benefits. We should therefore be very sceptical of any but the best-qualified commentators. We should certainly be sceptical of politicians.

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