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The Unbearable Weight of the IRS



The income tax code contains 50,000 restrictions. The chart below shows the number of restrictive words (like “must” or “shall”) in Internal Revenue Service regulations (Title 26 of the Code of Federal Regulations). The dark blue area shows the number of restrictive words in part 1 of Title 26—the regulations pertaining to federal income taxes. Clearly that number has gotten larger since the 1980s.


Patrick McLaughlin, Stephen Strosko, and Andrew DeJoy write:

With 8,985,439 words and 50,589 restrictions […] Part 1 of Title 26 is the longest and most restrictive single part in the entire CFR. Part 63 of Title 40, which covers national air pollution regulation, is the next largest, with 3,032,623 words and 41,573 restrictions.

How long and complex are nine million words of tax-related regulatory text? For context, the King James Version of the Bible contains 792,074 words, which means that Part 1 of Title 26 is almost 11.5 times as long as the Bible itself. According to the IRS, in 2016, the average taxpayer with no business income required nine hours to comply with individual income tax requirements. In the digital age, why does a modern, advanced economy need 11.5 times more words than the Bible, forcing average taxpayers to spend more than an entire business day to file their tax returns, to accomplish what could be done in five minutes? [Mercatus Center]


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  1. On NBC’s “Today” show, Guthrie confronted Ryan with a few facts, including “a list of CEOs who have said, ‘We don’t plan to reinvest'” the corporate tax cuts into their businesses or their workers.
    “What they’re planning to do is to do stock buybacks, to line the pockets of shareholders,” Guthrie reminded Ryan.
    She then quoted billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who said, “It’s pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth.”
    “I’ll ask you plainly,” Guthrie concluded. “Are you living in a fantasy world?