Confessions of a Tax Policymaker

May 2, 2005

Consider this quote:

When Congress gets into the business of figuring out $370 billion of tax breaks a year, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee really are put in the business of trying, at least partially, to plan the American economy. …I confess that I am not qualified to act as a central planner and I do not know anybody on either committee who is. …They all mean well. But the fact of the matter is that when the details are all put together, I am convinced that we do not have the foggiest notion of what we are doing in terms of the total economic outcome.

Who’s the author of that shocking confession? None other than Rep. Richard Gephardt in a 1985 article on tax reform. It’s sobering that after two decades, the objections to the U.S. tax code—its complexity, non-neutrality, inefficiency—haven’t changed one bit.

Is there any permanent solution to rising tax complexity? Some economists have argued the only way to protect tax policy from the corrupting influence of Washington’s army of industry lobbyists is through constitutional limits on tax collections as a percentage of GDP (see chapter 17, “A Model Constitution,” here).

That’s not likely anytime soon. While we’re waiting, why not browse the Tax Foundation’s library of previous scholarship on tax reform?


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