The Byzantine U.S. Tax Code

The Byzantine U.S. Tax Code

Take a look at these quotes from press releases and statements made by members of Congress concerning the U.S. tax code (

“The Internal Revenue Code and regulations add up to one million words…nearly seven times the length of the Bible.” John Hostettler (R-IN)

“At 3,458 pages, twice the length of the Bible, it’s impossible for the average taxpayer to know, understand, and accurately apply its provisions.” J.C. Watts, Jr. (R-OK)

“The income tax code and its associated regulations contain almost 5.6 million words—seven times as many words as the Bible. Taxpayers now spend about 5.4 billion hours a year trying to comply with 2,500 pages of tax laws….” Rob Portman (R-OH)

“With its 6,000 pages and 500 million words, the complexity of our tax code is the prime source of frustration and anger felt by millions of Americans toward their government.” Spencer Bachus (R-AL)

“The Internal Revenue Code and regulations now come in at one million words and 9,000 pages.” Bill Archer (R-TX)

“The tax code runs 17,000 pages and contains a mind-boggling 5.5 million words. By way of comparison, War and Peace is only 1,444 pages and the Bible checks in at 1,291 pages.” Vito Fossella (R-NY)

“The federal tax code with its 44,000 pages, 5.5 million words, and 721 different forms is a patchwork maze of complexity and a testament to confusion over common sense.” Jim DeMint (R-SC)

While members of Congress cannot seem to agree on the length of the U.S. tax code, they do appear to be united in their sense that the code is too long, too complicated and too burdensome for American taxpayers. I agree.

What’s more, despite its mind-numbing length and detail, it is virtually impossible to fully understand and precisely interpret. In a recent Money magazine article, 50 tax professionals were asked to calculate a family’s taxes. The experts came up with 50 different figures ranging from $12,539 to $35,813. The fact that no two professionals could agree is reflective of how dysfunctional the tax system has become.

The IRS’s National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson (“your friend at the IRS”) notes that in addition to its sheer complexity, the code is constantly changing. In the last year alone, there have been approximately 579 changes to the code, according to Olson.

Back in 1913, U.S. income tax regulations comprised a total of eight pages, and only about 85,000 Americans (less than 1% of voters) paid federal income tax. But World War II changed things. Nearly everyone became a taxpayer, and Congress quickly seized its ability to use the tax system to reward and encourage certain groups and certain activities.

In the past 20 years, Congress has amended the tax code more than 10,000 times. Since 1981, there have been 18 major tax enactments, and nearly all of them included a combination of increases for some taxpayers and decreases for others.

As a result, today’s tax code is too complicated for taxpayers or the IRS to understand and apply. The nation would be well served if members of Congress would redirect their creative talents toward replacing the existing Orwellian tax code with a straightforward version that is built around principles of equality and economic good sense.

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