There is new hope for people who enjoy watching movies and television without propaganda being shoved down their throats. Governor Ron DeSantis strikes back at Disney for embracing a woke agenda and meddling in Florida’s politics. In this matter, the governor may be using the force of his office in a manner inconsistent with the principles of American democracy, but could the recent turmoil spark the return of the entertainment industry to neutrality? Disney might have the rights to Star Wars, but DeSantis will do anything in his power to ensure that Disney does not deprive Floridians of the right to self-govern.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sparked enormous controversy in April when he announced that Florida Republicans were dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) as repudiation for Disney having taken a political position at odds with his administration. While the bill did not specifically name RCID, DeSantis has made it clear that the decision to retract the special privileges afforded to Disney was motivated by their competing values. Bob Chapek, CEO of Disney, responded to the Parental Rights in Education Bill by denouncing it publicly and indicating that Disney was engaging in the political process behind the scenes. Objections have also been raised to videos that show Disney executives discussing the infusion of a progressive political agenda into programming for children. While many Floridians share a distaste for the positions taken by Disney and its efforts to indoctrinate children, there are concerns about the practical implications of integrating the enormous debts and public service expenses associated with Disney’s operations with local municipalities. Furthermore, the action raises concerns over the issue of free speech.
Let’s look more closely at why Disney received special treatment in the first place, and what those privileges were. The RCID was a special district created by the Florida government in 1967 to give Disney greater autonomy over its theme parks. It can issue bonds to finance major projects including maintenance of its 134 miles of roads and 67 miles of waterways. The RCID also eliminates red tape, allowing Disney to undertake construction projects without the restrictions and bureaucracy of public municipalities. Logistically speaking, it makes sense why an enormous resort and amusement park would be granted greater autonomy, but do other large amusement parks receive the same benefits as Disney? At the bare minimum, all resorts and parks can all apply for these benefits. In practice, not all amusement parks reside in special districts, and none have the same extent of privileges as Disney. However, this could be attributed to the uniquely large land footprint that Disney has in Florida. It should also be noted that DeSantis’s claim that Disney is the largest recipient of Florida tax subsidies is accurate. Although, these subsidies are amassed through pro-business policies open to all investors.
While Disney was receiving special treatment, it is not clear that they were receiving preferential treatment. The RCID was created both to encourage more investment and commercial activity while alleviating substantial responsibilities associated with a gargantuan theme park from local municipalities. It was a great deal for everyone. Although no detailed resolution has been proposed yet by the DeSantis administration as of July, it is possible that the RCID will be reinstated with similar autonomy from the state government as before.
Dissolving the RCID under the pretext of a political disagreement was an error by Ron DeSantis from the perspective of someone who believes in the concept of limited government and freedom of speech. The same principle of limited government should apply to the ways that government both regulates and promotes businesses. A free market implies that the government should not pick favorites – or least favorites. One might even argue that in a free market, the consumers have a right to decide how much political propaganda they consume.
However, the complaints of DeSantis, conservatives, and many liberals are not unjustified. The controversial and partisan stance taken by Disney has sparked boycotts and repudiation because a large portion of Americans believe that corporations shouldn’t play such an active role in politics. A corporation is an economic institution. It makes money by producing scarce goods and services for the ultimate purpose of bringing value to shareholders. There are instances where regulations affect a corporation’s ability to produce, but Florida’s education policies are not of financial concern to Disney.
When a corporation engages in political activism, it is exercising political power over the electorate regardless of whether the policies it supports impact its business. When Disney financially supports political campaigns, it dilutes the political contributions made by the electorate. Voters decide how much money they wish to spend on political activism, and which campaigns they want to donate to. When Disney takes revenues and spends it on influencing politics, they are repurposing money that voters had explicitly set aside for entertainment and using that money to advocate for the political views of the wealthy and powerful company executives. Not only do the executives have more political influence due to their titles and personal wealth, but they use the money of others to expand it further. Moreover, the money Disney spends in Florida is revenue generated from people living around the globe; even the consumers do not represent local interests.
Naturally, voters in Florida are upset that Disney is using resources received in exchange for entertainment to impose a political agenda upon them.
Disney is one example in a much larger trend of corporations being corrupted by a political agenda. Although Florida Republicans may have lashed out inappropriately at Disney, their bold actions reflect the discontentedness of consumers and have put radicalized corporations on notice. In the wake of the backlash to Disney’s woke agenda, Netflix released a company culture memo to employees announcing that the company will support projects representing “very different tastes and points of view,” and it suggested that employees unwilling to work on such projects seek employment elsewhere. Despite the announcement of 15 new shows to premiere on their platform in 2022, Netflix has lost subscribers in two consecutive fiscal quarters, and its partisan content may be to blame. While the political climate across the nation remains highly polarized, there are signs that the pressures companies are facing to go woke have their limitations. However, we live in a capitalistic society, and without additional pressure from consumers to abandon agenda-driven activism, there is no reason to expect corporations a return to neutrality anytime soon. // Josh Polevoy
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