The Tax Code Ain’t Nearly So Big as Often Claimed

by Linda Beale

The Tax Code Ain’t Nearly So Big as Often Claimed

I can’t resist pointing readers to tax professor Jim Maule’s excellent post chastising everybody–from those obviously slanted propaganda-tank tax gurus Chris Edwards (you all know him as the purported tax expert from the right-wing pseudo-libertarian Cato Institute, whose other associate, Dan Mitchell, makes similar ridiculous claims in touting the purported “Laffer Theory” about how tax cuts restore tax revenues–I should note that I debated Chris in the run-up to the 2012 elections on Herman Cain‘s ridiculous tax “plan”) and Steve Malanga (you all know him as the purported tax expert from the right-wing Manhattan Institute) to generally reasonable Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson–about their ridiculous claims of a tax code that runs to the tens of thousands of pages. See James Maule, Code-Size Ignorance Knows No Bounds, MauledAgain (June 5, 2013).

Many of those claims about a giganormous Code that is pressing down on taxpayers from the sheer weight of its pages stem from three facts: (i) that the CCH looseleaf service itself notes that the service (in 20-odd volumes, with extensive and often duplicative annotations to cases, private letter rulings, notices, and various legislative history and rev.proc and rev.rul. items as well as the actual current Code provisions and regulations promulgated thereunder) runs more than 70,000 pages; (ii) that it is very useful to propaganda tanks and others bent on painting a negative picture of IRS tax enforcement and collection and taxes in general to portray the rules as so complex and lengthy that no one in their right mind could think it appropriate; and (iii) people without those bad propaganda intentions frequently serve as shilling boom-boxes for those (false) claims, because they don’t stop and think or do their own homework. So the claims are repeated, over and over, and –as psychologists have shown–once something is repeated often enough, it gets to be accepted as fact even by those who should know better.

What people need to know –besides the obvious one fact that Congress, not the IRS as often insinuated in those blogposts condemning the length of the “code”, writes the tax laws–is that:

(1) the CCH tax service includes more extra “stuff” that tax practitioners find very useful to help interpret the actual statutory language and the regulations promulgated thereunder than actual Code and Regulations! The tax code itself is relatively short–you can read it quicker than most good novels. (Additionally, the regulations have a lot of specifics applicable to particular types of taxpayers and situations, but even they aren’t tens of thousands of pages long. And the page counts also depend greatly on the size of print on the page, folks. Word counts are much more meaningful.)

(2) most of the complexity that actually exists in the Code affects only the 3 in 10 taxpayers who “itemize” their deductions on their tax returns–and then, mostly the ones in the very tip-top of the distribution–the 1 in 10,000 who have lots of complexity in doing that itemization; and

(3) most of that complexity is necessary to prevent abuses by those who can hire very expensive lawyers, accountants and banks to set up schemes to avoid (or even evade) taxes.

crossposted with ataxingmatter