Society & Culture

A Conservative Tax Code

Few American objects attract more scorn than the federal Internal Revenue Code.  When initially drafted in 1914, it contained 11,400 words, about the length of a long magazine article.  Today, the Code weighs in at about four million words, with another six million in supportive regulations.  Its garbled syntax is easily ridiculed.  Tax attorney Joseph B. Darby III—called the “Mark Twain of tax writers”—cites a one-sentence passage on “collapsible corporations” that contains 342 words (more than the Gettysburg Address), 25 parentheses, 17 commas, two dashes, and a lone period.

Of course, politicians—particularly those on the right—routinely rail against the Code for its complexity.  Back in 1986, President Ronald Reagan denounced the document as a “haven for special interests and tax manipulators, but an impossible frustration for everybody else.”  Thirty years later, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Tax Reform Task Force reports that “it again has become a complicated mess of multiple brackets, high rates, and special-interest provisions.”  Americans must devote “their hard-earned dollars and their hard-pressed time to complying with an overly complicated and complex code.”  Once again, the Code must be simplified!

This cry is exactly wrong.  In fact, both libertarians and traditionalist conservatives...

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