Opponents of the estate tax complain that it will hurt small-time farmers, forcing some to give up farms that have been in their families for generations. As Alex noted in Tuesday's installment of Number of the Day, the argument seems to be pretty baseless. If the estate tax reverts to what it was before President Bush got into office, the average hit on family farms will be 12.2 percent of estate value.
Still, it may hit a very small number of family farmers hard. Should we worry about that? Reader IowaBeauty suggests maybe we shouldn't:
Disclaimer: I grew up on a midwest farm, on which my parents still live. When they pass away (soon, I suspect), their estate will be big enough that we'll get clipped by the estate tax, probably in the ten percent range noted above.
Children of farmers are not some sort of special case, salt-of-the-earth paragons of virtue and receptacles for values that automatically deserve to inherent their parents' farms with no social obligations. Where I live most of those farms have already massively benefited from subsidies - both direct crop subsidies, programs like CRP, and federally payed for land improvements. The notion that these families owe society nothing at the end of one generations' tenure automatically, because of their virtue as "family farmers" is bullshit.
There is nothing unfair about this. It may be unfortunate that in rare instances, the tax means a farm is broken up--unfortunate for would-be heirs at least--but even this is very selective whining. Most farms I've seen broken up at the owners' deaths have been so not by an excessive estate tax, but because they had to be split to pay the heirs who were no staying on the farm, or because the farmer was in debt up to their ears and so even a modest tax put them over the edge.
While we're on the subject, I'd like to be able to pass on cost-free what I've spent a lifetime building - my education and skills. When society thinks educating my children to the level I've attained is worth their investment, I might be more sympathetic to waiving the estate tax on farmers and small business people.