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

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. 

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

Should you defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis?

Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
  • In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Become an intellectual explorer: Master the art of conversation

Want to be smarter than you were yesterday? Learn to have better conversations using these 3 design principles.

Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • What is a great conversation? They are the ones that leave us feeling smarter or more curious, with a sense that we have discovered something, understood something about another person, or have been challenged.
  • There are 3 design principles that lead to great conversations: humility, critical thinking, and sympathetic listening.
  • Critical thinking is the celebrated cornerstone of liberalism, but next time you're in a challenging and rewarding conversation, try to engage sympathetic listening too. Understanding why another intelligent person holds ideas that are at odds with your own is often more enlightening than merely hunting for logic errors.
Keep reading Show less

New alternative to Trump's wall would create jobs, renewable energy, and increase border security

A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.

Credit: Purdue University photo/Jorge Castillo Quiñones
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
  • The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
  • It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
Keep reading Show less

Belly fat: Gut bacteria checks could lead to personalized diets

The reason one diet does not suit all may be found in our guts.

Media for Medical / Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • New research shows that there's no one diet that works for everyone.
  • Instead, gut bacteria may hold the key to personalized diet plans.
  • A future doctor may check gut bacteria to offer diet advice.
Keep reading Show less