The House Ways and Means Committee is working on a tax reform bill, which sounds like a great idea in the sense that it involves the words “tax” and “reform.” But as you know, one person’s notion of reform can be another’s Scarlet Letter, and alas, that seems to be the case with an unfortunate provision in the proposed bill that would “[prevent] makers of violent video games from qualifying for the R&D tax credit.”
In addition to lowering the corporate tax rate to 25% (itself a controversial move), the tax reform bill would alter the R&D Tax Credit. That credit, alternately known as the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit, has been around since 1981. It’s a straightforward enough incentive for companies that generate R&D expenses in the U.S. It was supposed to expire in 1985, but it’s been renewed or extended over 20 times. The proposed tax reform bill would make it permanent, and according to the executive summary, “finally [give] American manufacturers the certainty they need to compete against their foreign competition who have long had permanent R&D incentives.”
Make that all American manufacturers who don’t make violent video games. What about businesses producing books, movies, music or visual art with thematic violence? Green lights, every one. But for companies that make games where violence plays a role: do not pass go, do not collect your R&D incentive payback come tax time.
This isn’t the place to have the “Do violent video games harm us?” debate (for more on that, see here). This is the place to have the “How could anyone be that blindly biased about one art form?” one.
And there’s not much to debate: either you discriminate against art in general or you’re a hypocrite. This notion that you’d shut out the makers of games like BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us, but not Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead or Fifty Shades of Grey, is just delusional — as silly in 2014 as it was in the 1950s when Congress embarrassed the United States by holding hearings on comic books and “juvenile delinquency.”
Given what happened in June 2011, where the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that video games have the same constitutional protections as visual art, film, music and other forms of expression, I’m not really worried that this aspect of the bill has legs. But if you wanted another reason to disapprove of your government representatives’ behavior, this one’s a slam dunk.
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