10 million words on taxes

  • 12 October 2015
  • NormanL
10 million words on taxes

Lots of politicians have plans to cut or even raise taxes. But how many of them have plans to edit the tax code? It's not an academic question, because according to the Tax Foundation, the U.S. tax code and tax regulations now total more than 10 million words:

...as of 2015, federal tax laws and regulations have grown to over 10 million words in length.

This figure includes the federal internal revenue code (2,412,000 words long) and federal tax regulations (7,655,000 words long). It does not include the substantial body of tax-related case law that is often vital to understanding the tax code.

The length of the federal tax code and regulations has grown steadily over the past sixty years. In 1955, the two documents were 1.4 million words in length. Since then, they have grown at a pace of about 144,500 words a year. Today, the federal tax code is roughly six times as long as it was in 1955, while federal tax regulations are about 2.5 times as long.

There are just over 783,000 words in the King James version of the Bible.

How can it be that so many words have piled up so quickly over the years?

In part, it’s because politicians have used the tax code to administer dozens of areas of federal policy – from healthcare to energy to education. In part, it’s because defining income and determining tax liability are inherently difficult tasks. And, in part, it’s because politicians have not made any serious effort to simplify the federal tax code for at least thirty years, instead adding on new provisions on top of one another.

There are plans in circulation that would cut the word count down substantially -- the flat tax and fair tax, for example. But until either of those, or some other plan, gets serious consideration in congress">Congress, we can expect the code and the regulations explaining it to get longer, and longer, and longer.