A big flaw in the GOP tax bill

The GOP tax bill, otherwise known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was meant to reform the tax code – but unfortunately, because it retained many of the special carve-outs and write-offs that have plagued our convoluted code, it has had some unintended negative consequences.

One of these is the little known Section 199A of the bill, introduced into the tax code in 2004 and initially written out of the new bill but added back in after pressure from lobbyists.  The section ensures that farmers, private entities, and cooperatives are not taxed at the individual rate.  When the section was added back in this time, it included language specific to cooperatives only and did not include private businesses such as farmers.  As written, farmers can deduct 20 percent of the gross total sold to co-ops, whereas if they sell to a private seller farmers are eligible only to deduct 20 percent of the after-costs net profit – a difference that equates to tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Whether this was a planned or accidental bureaucratic bungle, it represents a huge disincentive for farmers to sell to private buyers.

Besides illustrating the folly of government using the iron fist of the tax code to create winners and losers, this example highlights an ongoing problem within the U.S. agriculture industry.  It is hamstrung by all kinds of special tax breaks, subsidies, pass-throughs, and the like.

Instead of having to subsist through profits and losses, agriculture relies heavily on government for its daily bread.  Through something called direct payments, farmers are paid to grow crops that will go completely to waste – or not to grow anything at all.  In fact, according to the the Congressional Budget Office's projections, between 2015 and 2023, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) will shell out around $41 billion in payments for commodities like cotton, feed grains, oilseeds, peanuts, wheat, and rice.  That's regardless of what the market price for those crops are, and sometimes regardless of whether the crops were planted at all.

Another heavily subsidized crop, sugar, costs taxpayers nearly $3 billion.  Consumers paid $10 for every dollar of sugar-growers' income in the 1980s, the Panama Post reports.  "The USDA ceased tracking sugar farmers' income, but a University of Minnesota study estimated that sugar-beet farmers in that state lost an average of $300 per acre in 2013," reports the Post.  "Actually, the sugar program imposes costs on other farmers, since heavily-subsidized beet farmers bid up farmland rental prices higher than they would otherwise be."

In a nutshell, this illustrates the problem of government interference in the marketplace – whether that comes through tax subsidies, tax deductions, and special carve-outs or write-offs or other forms of corporate welfare.  It's a basic rule of economics, but it bears repeating: prices are dictated by demand, and there must be freedom in the marketplace from government interference for prices to function efficiently.  Ultimately, when politicians meddle with prices through the tax code and direct payments, both farmers and consumers are hurt.

Barbara Boland is the former weekend editor of the Washington Examiner.  Her work has been featured on Fox News, the Drudge Report, HotAir.com, RealClearDefense, RealClearPolitics, and elsewhere.  She's the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General Patton in World War II, and is a summa cum laude graduate of Immaculata University.  Follow her on Twitter at @BBatDC.

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