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The benefit and the burden : tax reform--why…
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The benefit and the burden : tax reform--why we need it and what it will…

by Bruce Reeves Bartlett

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The more I learn about taxes, how they function, how they evolved, the more I come to respect their good intentions and despise their inelegance.

I visualize the tax code much like an elaborate computer program—one that was first written long ago. And in this case, since it's not politically easy to dump the old program and release a new one, the alternative is a succession of targeted patches and endless updates to accommodate an ever-changing world. This in turn creates a cascade of potentially more problems down the line requiring even more fixes. The result: Our annual, modern-day tax-filing headache.

Bruce Bartlett's The Benefit and The Burden is a much-needed, if quite dry, assessment of taxes in present-day America. The best section is the middle one, titled "Some Problems," because there he reviews the substantial barriers to tax reform that go beyond symptom issues like, "They're too confusing." His statement about Americans "tending to view tax collection as theft" especially gave me pause because this lies at the root of why the system is so fouled up. Changing this cultural mindset, which dates back to our nation's founding, will be the most difficult of all. The author closes by making a convincing case in favor of the Value-Added Tax (VAT), which I believe is in our near future if America hopes to get on healthy financial footing again. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Feb 11, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bartlett, Bruce ReevesAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cohen, MarcCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Systems of taxation are not framed, not is it possible to frame them, with perfect distribution of benefit and burden. Their authors must be satisfied with a rough and ready form of justice.

Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo

Louis K. Liggett v. Lee

288 U.S. 517 (1933)
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For my brother and sister
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The tax code is like a garden. (Introduction)
As every school child knows, following the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation governed the United States from 1781 to 1789.
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A brief history of federal income taxation -- How a tax bill is made -- The definition of income -- How to understand tax rates -- The relationship between tax rates and tax revenues -- How taxes affect economic growth -- The question of progressivity -- Taxes and the business cycle -- How other countries tax themselves -- Spending through the tax code -- Taxes and the health system -- Tax preferences for housing -- How federal taxes affect the states -- The problem of charitable contributions -- The problem of taxing capital gains -- Unresolved issues in the taxation of corporations -- The problem of tax administration -- The history of tax reform -- The pros and cons of popular tax reform proposals -- The need for more revenue -- The case for a VAT -- The case against a VAT -- What should be done about the Bush tax cuts? -- If tax reform happens, it will be because Grover Norquist allows it.
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A spirited and insightful examination of the need for American tax reform--arguably the most overdue political debate facing the nation--from one of the most legendary political thinkers, advisers, and writers of our time.

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