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U.S. Tax Code is Four Times Longer Than Shakespeare's Complete Works, Not as Good

April 11, 2012, 6:15 PM
Shakespeare

What do Shakespeare and the IRS have in common? The month of April. It is believed that Shakespeare was born and also died in April. The IRS is an institution that is virtually synonymous with the date April 15. The similarities end there.

As Brett Arends pointed out in a recent Smart Money post, the length of the U.S. tax code has tripled in one decade, to 3.8 million words. "To put that in context," Arends writes, "William Shakespeare only needed 900,000 words to say everything he had to say. Hamlet. Othello. The history plays. The sonnets. The whole shebang." 

So why is the IRS so prolific? Perhaps the government agency should take some advice from the Bard himself. "Brevity is the soul of wit," says Polonius, a longwinded fool who was unable to follow his own advice. 

Instead of focusing on quality over quantity, government bureaucrats have created an obscenely bloated tax code that serves as an apt metaphor for a tax system that is overly complicated, regressive, and inefficient. As liberals like to point out, it requires 3.8 million words of jargon and loopholes to ensure that Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. As conservatives like to point out, the tax code saps American competitiveness by creating hurdles for business growth, development, and investment

There are few things Republicans and Democrats agree on, but you would think they could get together on this issue and simplify the tax code. After all, as the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles committee found, the tax code contains $1.1 trillion worth of "perverse economic incentives" in the form of deductions or exemptions for individuals and businesses.  

"Why isn't there a riot about this?" asks Smart Money's Brett Arends. 

To answer that question, we would be wise to turn to Shakespeare. In Richard II, Shakespeare presents the discontent over the king's tax policy as the result of his failed leadership, and as the cause of his overthrow and death:  

That’s the wavering commons, for their love
Lies in their purses, and who empties them,
By so much fills their hearts with deadly hate.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

 

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