The Benefit and The Burden
Tax Reform-Why We Need It and What It Will Take
The United States Tax Code has undergone no serious reform since 1986. Since then, loopholes, exemptions, credits, and deductions have distorted its clarity, increased its inequity, and frustrated our ability to govern ourselves.
At its core, any tax system is in place to raise the revenue needed to pay the government’s bills. But where that revenue should come from raises crucial questions: Should our tax code be progressive, with the wealthier paying more than the poor, and if so, to what extent? Should we tax income or consumption or both? Of the various ideas proposed by economists and politicians—from tax increases to tax cuts, from a VAT to a Fair Tax—what will work and won’t? By tracing the history of our own tax system and by assessing the way other countries have solved similar problems, Bartlett explores the surprising answers to all of these questions, giving a sense of the tax code’s many benefits—and its inevitable burdens.
Tax reform will be a major issue debated in the years ahead. Growing budget deficits and the expiration of various tax cuts loom. Reform, once a philosophical dilemma, is turning into a practical crisis. By framing the various tax philosophies that dominate the debate, Bartlett explores the distributional, technical, and political advantages and costs of the various proposals and ideas that will come to dominate America’s political conversation in the years to come.
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The tax code is like a garden. Without regular attention, it grows weeds that will soon overwhelm the plants and flowers. Unfortunately, no serious weeding had been done to the tax code since 1986. In the meantime, many new plants and flowers have been added without regard to the overall aesthetic of the garden. The result today is an overgrown mess. There is a desperate need to pull the weeds, cut away the brush, and rethink some of the plantings to restore order, beauty, and functionality to the garden.
At its core, the purpose of any tax system is to raise the revenue needed to pay the government’s bills. Ideally,... see more
A Brief History of Federal Income Taxation
As every schoolchild knows, following the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation governed the United States from 1781 to 1789. But the government established by the Articles proved to have a fatal weakness in the area of taxation. The federal government depended on the states to provide it with revenue, and like all taxpayers, the states didn’t much enjoy paying taxes to Washington. The federal government soon had a financial crisis. It lacked the revenue to function adequately, and so a constitutional convention was assembled to write a new basic law... see more