| ||2002 TANNENWALD WRITING COMPETITION|
A Policy Analysis and Critique of the Joint Committee on Taxation's Simplification Study
Mark E. Erwin*
*Associate, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Washington, D.C.; Trinity University, B.A.; Princeton University, Ph.D.; New York University, J.D. The author is grateful to Professor Linda Sugin of Fordham University School of Law for her advice and encouragement.
[ Editors' Note: The Tannenwald Writing Competition is sponsored by The Theodore Tannenwald, Jr. Foundation for Excellence in Tax Scholarship and by The American College of Tax Counsel. Mr. Erwin's paper was awarded first prize in the 2002 competition.]
In my own case the words of such an act as the Income Tax, for example, merely dance before my eyes in a meaningless procession: cross-reference to cross-reference, exception upon exception—couched in abstract terms that offer no handle to seize hold of—leave in my mind only a confused sense of some vitally important, but successfully concealed, purport, which it is my duty to extract, but which is within my power, if at all, only after the most inordinate expenditure of time. I know that these monsters are the result of fabulous industry and ingenuity, plugging up this hole and casting out that net, against all possible evasion; yet at times I cannot help recalling a saying of William James about certain passages of Hegel: that they were no doubt written with a passion of rationality; but that one cannot help wondering whether to the reader they have any significance save that the words are strung together with syntactical correctness.
—Learned Hand, speaking about the Tax Code of 1939
In April 2001, the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation presented to the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means an exhaustive report on proposals for simplifying the Federal tax system. The purpose of this paper is to examine this "Simplification Study" in light of the widespread and controversial academic debate over tax simplification and to evaluate the effectiveness of the Joint Committee staff's recommendations. Focusing on the particular case of simplification reforms for low income taxpayers, this paper will argue that certain self-imposed restrictions as well as political constraints prevent the Joint Committee from identifying the real causes and effects of complexity in the system. As a result, the Joint Committee staff's recommendations are neither as far-reaching nor as comprehensive as they need to be to alleviate the overwhelming complexity of the current tax regime.