Bruce Bartlett’s Excellent Guide to Tax Reform

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 has 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.

So begins Bruce Bartlett’s The Benefit and the Burden, an excellent guide to the promise and peril of tax reform.

Beauty is too much to ask of any tax system, but order and functionality are fair aspirations. As Bruce documents, however, we fall far short. Our code is too complex, unfair, and economically harmful. And it doesn’t raise enough revenue to pay the government’s bills.

Bruce takes readers on a tour of many crucial issues in designing a coherent tax system. How should we measure income? Should capital gains count? How should the tax burden vary with income? Are all tax cuts and increases created equal? What can we learn from other nations? Should we tax income or consumption? How should we think about the inevitable politics of choosing winners and losers?

Bruce’s writing is clear, concise, and crisp. And he provides excellent suggestions for further reading for those who want to delve deeper (I found several items to add to my reading list).

Highly recommended for anyone wanting a pithy introduction to the challenges of designing a tax system we can be proud of.

6 thoughts on “Bruce Bartlett’s Excellent Guide to Tax Reform”

  1. I used to read Bruce’s column regularly as well as his books. Unfortunately he has become so bitter over what he perceives as mistreatment by conservatives that he can rarely write anything that does not quickly descend into cheap attacks on Republicans. I tried to keep reading and comment constructively on his blog. His response was to inform those who had grown tired of his one sided commentary and bitterness that they should not let the door hit them on the way out. I took the hint and have not read any of his work in nearly three years.

    Has he grown less caustic or is this book yet another exercise in one sided partisan blame throwing?

    1. The book is definitely at the less caustic end of the spectrum of Bruce’s writing. Indeed, many sections of the book avoid contemporary politics altogether to focus on history and principles.

    1. The Republicans are pretty much a joke – and hypocritical ones at that, considering how much they complain about big government, when they expanded it at record rates when they had all the power.

      But, I am grateful that they are holding the line on taxes (whatever their motives), when our government spends so irresponsibly and taxes are such a mess. And, I don’t blame them for their unanimous opposition to ObamaCare, which I think will just make matters worse.

      Democrats’ desire for “more revenue” may be legitimate, but how do we really know, when there’s so much waste and so many deceptive budgeting gimmicks within the federal budget?

  2. Agreed on the problem. Your 5 tax principles would seem to imply that you should favor the “Fairtax.org” proposal; if not, why not? The very existence of income tax deductions is an incitement for back door lobbying, special pleading, etc., all conducted in secret; not any kind of arrangement to produce the results you would like.

  3. Did you ever consider the idea that democrat’s “desire” might come from the belief that there is no free war?

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