The Planted Row: Don’t let inflammatory language cloud the issue

by Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

Anchorage, Alaska, sits on a triangular piece of land that juts into Cook Inlet. So, two sides of the triangle are bordered by water. The third side of the triangle is formed by the Chugach Mountains. Anchorage, spread across all the land in the triangle, has run out of room to grow. In order to get to a place that can be developed, you’re forced to drive a long way around Cook Inlet.

When I lived there, political leaders tried to get funding for a bridge across Cook Inlet to undeveloped land. What was once more than an hour and a half away would be reachable in minutes. That would have opened up a whole new avenue of growth for the city. New homes. New businesses. New jobs.

The project was making its way through Congress and seemed like a real possibility until a watchdog group named the project a “bridge to nowhere.” That one phrase basically killed the project. Who wants to fund a bridge to nowhere?

That’s when I learned the power of language.

I’d like to point out another sneaky use of language. Our political leaders are trying to repeal the Estate Tax. Only, they don’t call it the Estate Tax. They call it the Death Tax. Sounds insidious, right? How dare they tax death?

Well, they don’t. Our government taxes wealth when it changes hands. You aren’t taxed when you die. Your heirs are taxed when they receive the fruits of your risk and labor.

Of course, it’s more complicated on a farm where your heirs likely worked alongside you and helped grow your estate.

So, if we want to make changes to the way we tax the exchange of wealth in this country, let’s have a calm debate on the merits of the Estate Tax. After all, the estate tax is one the few things keeping a huge amount of our country’s assets from being concentrated in the hands of a very few ultra-wealthy families. Would you like the occasional option to grow your farm by purchasing a parcel of land? The Estate Tax helps make sure a parcel comes up for sale now and again. Also, the exemption is over $5 million, so it’s not like the tax is affecting the majority of Americans.

If the tax isn’t working for farmers, let’s talk reasonably about changing it so that it does. But let’s not use inflammatory language to cloud the issue so much that we can’t see some of the merits of the tax we might want to keep.