America's Tax System In Just 72,536 Easy Pages

How many pages does it take to lay out the insanely complicated rules and requirements of our tax code? According to tax publisher CCH, the total number of pages devoted to federal tax code rules, IRS rulings, and regulations has grown to 72,536:

It's no wonder that even the government's own experts and officials can't figure it out. Any system of rules that requires in excess 72,000 pages to explain and understand borders on useless. At this point it might as well be Calvinball

Via Cato's Chris Edwards.

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  • Jim||

    What the hell happened between 2000 and 2006? I don't remember major tax reforms going on then.

    I'm not being sarcastic; I really don't remember anything happening that would explain a 20k increase in rules, but I may be forgetting / brainfarting on something obvious. Terrorism related, perhaps?

  • omg||

    Medicare Part D? Dunno, that's all I got.

  • ||

    SarbOx

  • silent v||

    Deregulation!

  • ||

    Eventually, enough rules will exist, that congress won't ever need to pass another law. Anything congress wants to enact, they can just piece together from the the hundreds of thousands of titles, and sub-titles of existing legislation.

  • Binky||

    They already do that. Just read some actual legislation.

  • Mike M.||

    +19,598

  • jester||

    Alternative Minimum Tax. That's one of them. And it's bit me in the ass every year since its institution.

  • GMT II||

    Man are you rich and part of the special 155 club. In 1967 there were 155 folks who earned over 200,000 (in today's numbers that would equate to yearly income of around 1.17 million) and paid no federal income tax, thus in 1969, we got AMT rules.

    Nice to finaly meet one of the original 155!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Would you rather it be just one page with a percentage written on it? Would you rather people not get deductions for this and credits for that? Would you rather we all just pay the same rate? Is that what you want?

  • The Gobbler||

    Yes. Thank you for asking.

  • Law Student||

    I'd rather it be 0 pages.

  • cynical||

    Yeah. I'm even fine with the fucking brackets, as long as we just have a simple piecewise linear formula to get from income (defined with due regard to common sense) to tax.

  • ||

    It's exactly what it's supposed to be: so complex that if the government scum want to get you, they can, because there's no way you haven't done something wrong.

    It's called a feature, not a bug.

  • ||

    It's strictly a tool of rewarding good behavior and punishing bad. "Good" and "bad" being defined by the government, of course.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's a jobs program for attorneys and accountants.

  • Paul||

    I believe the more politically correct phrase that government boosters use is: "The tax code is used to set policy".

  • Government Thug||

    It's exactly what it's supposed to be: so complex that if the government scum want to get you, they can, because there's no way you haven't done something wrong.

    Three felonies a day, bitches!

  • Tim Geithner||

    Unless you're sufficiently connected. Then you get a cabinet position.

  • Ska||

    Linking to the Holder story in connection to the IRC...again?? WTF Suderman. There better be a Battlefield 3 thread you're working on to make up for this.

  • kilroy||

    What the hell is up with the timeline scale?

  • db||

    If you plot it correctly (with proper spacing of the years), and leave out 1913 and 1939, it's almost linear on a log scale. Even leaving in those years the trend approximates an exponential. Scary. I would hope that the missing years are simply missing data, and not the result of cherry picking.

  • Ian||

    I know. It's pretty irritating. Perhaps the years were selected so the graph could be so perfectly exponential.

  • db||

    That would be unacceptable, and the dishonesty of that approach would tarnish the veracity of the main point: you still are subject to over 72,000 pages of regulations simply related to taxation. Unless there's a whole bunch of sections that start off with: "ATTENTION: THIS SECTION ONLY APPLIES TO FAT-CAT RICH FOLKS--NORMAL GOD-FEARING CITIZENS NEED NOT PAY ATTENTION TO THIS SECTION. HAVE A NICE DAY, CITIZEN."

  • Restoras||

    English majors.

  • Paul||

    At this point it might as well be Calvinball.

    Actually, I see it more like Whackbat.

  • MNG||

    That was the best part of a mildly amusing film.

  • Paul||

    That movie was awesome in its subtlety. It's an animated feature that when you watch it, even without knowing beforehand, you say, "Holy shit, this is a Wes Anderson film."-- assuming you know Wes Anderson.

    I found it very charming.

  • fish||

    At this point it might as well be Calvinball.

    Compared to the tax code Calvinball is as precise and logical as a geometry proof.

  • MNG||

    Whatever your ideology how can any sane person look at that number, 72,500 pages, and not think that something is fundamentally wrong. I mean fundamentally. Something like structural change or a 'paradigm shift' should follow that.

  • db||

    That's why we take a vote for our representatives. To make it someone else's responsibility. No complaining, now.

  • Paul||

    Actual question when doing writeoffs in Turbo Tax: Are you a qualified performing artist?

    We're Europe. It's over.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Both progressives and libertarians would like the tax code to be 1 page long in its entirety.

    The libertarian version would say something to the effect of "Flat 15% in order to pay for only those functions authorized explicitly by the constitution", while that of Progressives would say something to the effect of "Take everything and dole out what we feel is appropriate to those we favor."

  • ||

  • Paul||

    Why is Jeff Bridges as 'The Dude' on the cover of The Dispossessed?

  • Otto||

    Because they took his rug.

  • ||

    I saw that the first go-around. I'm not sure they understand what the word means.

  • ||

    Eww... icky capitalists n' stuff.

  • ||

    Do people even fucking think anymore? Or were we replaced by pod people?

  • Paul||

    Don't got to sleep. Whatever you do.

  • ||

    Haven't slept since Leonard Nimoy tried to replace Donald Sutherland with a cucumber.

  • Paul||

    zzzzzzzz

  • ||

    There goes Paul.

  • ||

    [screech]

  • ||

    No, no, you're doing it wrong. First, Paul is now a pod person. It's a breach of pod people etiquette to screech at another pod person.

    Second, you have to point your finger at the offending non-pod person as you screech.

  • ||

    I'm screeching at you. You know far too much.

  • Otto||

    Two minute stupid is more like it. HURR DURR KORPORASHUNS N LIBERTERRIERS R BADD!

  • ||

    Libertarians are the greatest danger to freedom ever.

  • Paul||

    All twenty four of us.

  • ||

    We're disproportionately influential.

  • ||

    Everyone is a libertarian regarding their own prerogatives in life; its what they think the 'other' guy should be doing/saying/paying/wearing/worshipping/smoking that the statism begins.

  • ||

    you forgot "banging"

  • ||

    Sorry, "doing" has that base covered.

  • ||

    If he stays out of my way and doesn't take my money by force, we'll be good.

  • The Kochsusses||

    Everyone is a libertarian regarding their own prerogatives in life;its what they think the 'other' guy should be doing/saying/paying/wearing/worshipping/smoking that the statism begins

    Incorrect. We believe everyone will be assimilated into Libertarianism once our Libertarian-brainwave-induction device is complete.

  • Rob||

    We're like AIPAC. Wonderful.

  • Ancap||

    lol

  • ||

    Oh, if you figure who I am commenting as on that thread, please don't say it here. I don't need rather stalking me over there as well.

  • Paul||

    If we can figure it out, the super-genius that is Rather will figure it out.

  • ||

    I'm going to out you just for reading io9. Frankly, you deserve it.

  • ||

    I can't stop. It's like watching to gigantically fat nude clowns sumo wrestling in slow motion. Who could look away?

  • ||

    I don't read io9. I glance at it through squinted eyes while wearing those anti-ugly goggles Spock wore when out telepathing Dr. Pulaski.

  • ||

    I put it Google Reader set to headlines only. I probably only actually read about 10% of the non-BBC-drolling articles. Which is a lot when you consider 50% of the articles about Dr. Fucking Who alone.

    Oddly, I can read Jezebel in a detached manner, but io9 is like a drill in my spine because of my interest in the subject matter. I try to correct the idiot comments from time to time, but don't have the energy or inclination to flame war with them.

  • ||

    Yes, what's up with the Dr. Who obsession?

  • ||

    Beats me. I'd like to think they are getting paid to promote it, but I think that the easy explanation--they are morons who know next to nothing about science fiction--is more likely.

  • ||

    There's something wrong with a "science fiction" site that talks about TV science fiction all of the time.

  • Paul||

    Actually, wouldn't you be the libertarian?

    Ok, I'll shut up now.

  • ||

    Did you used to post under a different name here? Because a name there was familiar to me.

  • ||

    No, I've never had another long-term handle here. Only one-off spoofs. I couldn't get "SugarFree" or an acceptable transform of such, so I just thru a random name together.

  • ||

    You're thinking of Franklin Harris. And he does post here occasionally.

  • ||

    I knew who I was thinking about; I was just protecting SugarFree from assassination.

  • mike||

    "Any system of rules that requires in excess 72,000 pages to explain and understand borders on useless. "

    And I wonder how many pages there are in the federal book of laws? The index to the US Code is 7,000 pages long. The Federal Register is 21,803 pages.

    Perhaps it is time to start over, completely, with a clean slate.

  • ||

    The most elusive trick of any society is not what social constructs it creates, but how well it can deconstruct its failures. Every society of course does, but invariably it seems someone has to get shot or stabbed. Sometimes both at once.

    The last big 'deconstruct' of an embedded social institution with vested interests in this country was slavery. It took six-hundred thousand (mostly white) dead people to pull that one off. And there was still a century-long racial hangover that ultimately killed thousands (mostly black) more.

    That's an interesting question. Has any society managed to tear down some its crumbling facade without caving in the whole building on itself so-to-speak? Has any society decided to remodel its kitchen without first burning the whole house to the ground so-to-speak?

    That challenge looms for this nation ever more every day.

  • ||

    The last big 'deconstruct' of an embedded social institution with vested interests in this country was slavery.

    Would you consider the ashcanning of the idea that we have a federal government of limited, enumerated powers to be the deconstruction of an embedded social institution?

  • Paul||

    Would you consider the ashcanning of the idea that we have a federal government of limited, enumerated powers to be the deconstruction of an embedded social institution?

    Zing!

  • ||

    Subtraction through addition is not subtraction at all.

  • ||

    Unless you use 1's or 2's complement.

  • ||

    Well, the Romans tore down the obsolete, ineffective republican system and replaced it with the Empire. Is that the kind of thing you were thinking about?

  • ||

    They kinda did. But they kept all the husks of their oligarchy intact (Senate stuck around, assemblies stuck around).

    Oh yeah, and if you count from Sulla's proscriptions to Octavian entering Alexandria about a forty-five year civil war.

  • ||

    It wasn't that civil, really.

    What's instructive about the rise of the Roman Empire was that for a long while, it preserved the institutions of the Republic in a kind of political facade. There was no official constitutional recognition of the emperor until quite late--Diocletian, I think.

    When we fall completely to tyranny, we'll almost certainly still have all of our branches of government, along with the same Constitution.

  • ||

    When we fall completely to tyranny, we'll almost certainly still have all of our branches of government, along with the same Constitution.

    If anything, we'll have more.

  • Paul||

    When we fall completely to tyranny, we'll almost certainly still have all of our branches of government, along with the same Constitution.

    If anything, we'll have more.

    Double zing with a cherry on top.

    What we'll have are the three branches of the federal government utterly surrounded by Czars of regulatory agencies-- with an uber-regulatory agency at the top of the pyramid. *cough*homeland security*cough*

  • ||

    The Federal Reserve comes to mind as a fourth branch already extant.

  • Why can't we....||

    ...call it "Fatherland Security" or "Motherland Security" instead. cough! gag! aargh!

  • ||

    The Office of the Everything Czar.

  • Paul||

    It took six-hundred thousand (mostly white) dead people to pull that one off. And there was still a century-long racial hangover that ultimately killed thousands (mostly black) more.

    So you're saying that what's going on in Wisconsin is a picnic?

  • ||

    So far, so good.

  • ||

    Yup. Just pass a law declaring all previous law null and void, then throw the biggest book burning party the world has ever seen.

  • ||

    Now you see the value. There's approx. eleventy billion gigatons of carbon sequestered in the tax code. Reform the tax code and Alaska will be Venusian hell by next week.

  • Brett L||

    Can we tie copies of the old system to legislators and their aides and push them in the Potomac instead?

  • db||

    This is an AWESOME idea. Require any legislator proposing a bill to swim, full clothed, across the Potomac (regardless of season) with the full text of the resulting law tied to their bodies prior to being allowed to propose it. For extra fun, require them carry paper in the amount of the additional regulatory burden created by their bill as well.

    I'll be nice and allow them to subtract 1 sheet of paper for each sheet their bill repeals of existing law.

  • OLS||

    RACIST!

  • kinnath||

    The primary pupose of the legal system (including the tax system) is to keep lawyers fully employed. The do, of course, throw a few bones to the certified public accountants with the tax code.

  • roystgnr||

    The use of "GOTO" is considered to be a classic sign of bad computer code, an atavism from when the very idea of computer programming was being invented from scratch, back when software engineers and language designers didn't yet know how to write comprehensible or maintainable systems for solving complex problems.

    The use of "COMEFROM" is a classic programmers' joke, an mistake so stupid that even people who had to invent computing from scratch wouldn't have considered it except as an April Fool's Day announcement.

    Most modern legal codes are essentially based on COMEFROM. Try to live your life, but whenever you do something referred to by page 30,135 it is your job to intuit that reference, read that page, and act accordingly.

    Good luck.

  • ||

    10 PRINT "HOWDY"
    20 GOTO 10
    30 LAUGHTER ENSUES

  • Ska||

    40 REM PROFIT

  • Paul||

    5 ON ERR GOTO JAIL

  • Otto||

    10 SIN
    20 GOTO HELL

  • Paul||

    Ignorance of the tax code is no excuse.

  • Plutocrat||

    If we flattened the income tax, it would be harder to make loopholes. Because I said so.

  • Paul||

    Actually it would be very easy to make loopholes. But if we flattened the income tax, they'd be much more apparent, especially if we followed up with a constitutional amendment saying "thou shalt not make loopholes".

    Of course, this is all just an exercise. There shouldn't be an income tax. It's inherently immoral. There should only be a consumption tax.

  • Restoras||

    Me like.

  • h4x354x0r||

    What we need is a very linear progressive tax. Something like .03% per thousand income (or whatever it takes to balance revenue) with a roll-off at 44%. No deductions or anything else. Still appropriately progressive, still simple enough to figure on the back of an envelope.

    When you look at the fact that half the US workforce doesn't pay federal income taxes because of deductions and credits (although they pay all sorts of other federal, state, and local taxes), you have to conclude that even the poor need to pay a little more tax if we want to raise federal revenue. This means that the wealthy also need to pay more, not less, if we want to run our military like we do, and keep the elderly alive.

    72,000 pages is completely insane. Burning it would power Manhattan for a day, and fix a lot of other problems, too. So just burn it already. Start over.

  • Paul||

    While I have no beef with your formula, an income tax is immoral. Civil societies should abandom them. Governments have no business whatsoever knowing how I spend my day, or how I came into the meager wealth that I have. I have some money. Quit asking where I got it, who from, when and over what period of time. And no you don't need to know if that car or house or other piece of property was a gift, how I acquired it, when or from whom-- and fuck your estimated value sideways.

    If someone gives me a piece of property- whatever it is: a painting, a car (new or old), a piece of real estate, I have every right to keep that piece of property. I shouldn't have to sell it simply because I can't afford the income taxes on it based on your estimated value.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: h4x354x0r,

    What we need is a very linear progressive tax. Something like .03% per thousand income[...]


    What's "income"? Because if you go by the definition according to accounting rules, what government taxes from us, the dumbasses that continue to pay without picking up pitchforks and torches, is not income, it's revenue. The 16th Amendment says nothing about taxing revenue, yet here we are.

    Income = Revenue - Expenses.

  • Resto Druid FTW||

    Cancel automatic deductions from your paycheck. Make the great unwashed send a check every month to uncle sam to see what they're actually forking over. Rioting and hilarity ensue...

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Better include FICA and Medicare in there, 'cause a depressingly large fraction of households pay zero (or negative!?!) income tax.

    And were not talking about rich folks here.

  • yadyn||

    For name-dropping Calvinball you get major points with me, Mr. Suderman.

  • Paul||

    What, nothing for Whackball?

    No respect...

  • The Government||

    Any system of rules that requires in excess 72,000 pages to explain and understand borders on useless.

    Says you. As you can see from the graph, the code has been built in an orderly way. At every stage of development, the additions were completely understood.

  • Nancy Pelosi||

    Except the one we had to pass to find out what was in them.

    Those ones don't count.

  • 0x90||

    It appears that we may have infinity pages of tax code sometime around 2020.

  • ||

    It is designed so that you cannot understand what is being done to you.

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