How long is the tax code
Rick Perry says 3 million. Herman Cain says 10 million. Who's right?
There are better ways to gauge the complexity of our tax system than how many words are in the Internal Revenue Code
Photograph by Thinkstock.
Word counts are a pretty crude measure of the tax code’s level of complexity. The GOP candidates could cite a far more relevant number: The amount of time that individuals and businesses spend preparing and filing their taxes. According to the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service, this amounts to 6.1 billion hours each year, not including audits. If you monetize total hours spent in tax preparation, the national cost of complying with our tax laws in 2008 was $163 billion, or 11 percent of
total income tax receipts. Sixty percent of individuals hire tax professionals, while an additional 29 percent purchase software. The median taxpayer paid $258 to prepare her taxes in 2007.
The Internal Revenue Code isn’t the wordiest part of the United States Code by a long shot, according to the analysis by Bommarito and Katz. Title 42 of the Code (“The Public Health and Welfare”) holds that distinction with more than 7.4 million words. It’s a sprawling part of the law that includes provisions on clean air, juvenile justice, fair housing practices, and quarantine, among many other things. Title 16, concerning environmental conservation, also contains more words than the Internal Revenue Code.
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