It is much shorter than 70,000 pages.
In a perfect world, there would be no arguing for the length of a book. You would think this should be a fairly objective investigation. But not for the tax code, a book whose length has been hyper-inflated by journalists and others as a proxy for the complexity of our tax system. So how long does the tax code last?
I’m a lawyer on the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, and I have the tax code sitting next to me as I write this. This particular version, published by Thomson Reuters, is a big book, but it’s only a volume. American public media Morning market report at reported that the tax code is 70,000 pages long. * The New York Times thinks too much. A Google search will find this number repeated over and over in the popular press. I have never seen a 70,000 page book and I seriously doubt such a book exists. Rest assured that the tax code does not have 70,000 pages.
So, how long is it? In the 2013 edition, the last page is numbered 4037. Now that’s not quite correct either, for two reasons: the book starts on page 100, then skips 500 pages in its numbering (don’t ask me not why), and this volume (like every other volume I’ve ever seen) contains both current tax laws and previous versions of tax law. In fact, tax specialists like me often find it useful to refer to previous versions of the law. But the compilation of these old laws isn’t really the “tax code” —it’s just a resource for lawyers. I estimate that the old act is about 800 pages long. So suppose the tax code is about 2,600 pages long. It’s about 2.5 times the length of Stephen King’s This-unless you replace “scary clown” with “accounting methods”.
So where did this 70,000 page statistic come from? After some research I narrowed it down to a The source: Our good friends to the Tax Foundation, a tax policy research organization, which cites the “Pages du CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter. “It doesn’t mean anything to 99% of readers, but I assure you it is patently ridiculous.
the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter is a huge collection of compiled resources for tax lawyers and accountants. It’s extremely helpful, but it’s not the tax code. True, it contains the tax code, but it also contains legislative history, Treasury regulations, editorial commentaries, and court cases collected on each topic. Calling it the tax code is like calling the Constitution the length of cases collected by the Supreme Court on constitutional law, or calling the alphabet the length of the dictionary.
To give you an idea of the distance CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter is to be the tax code, take this example: section 7402 of the tax code is titled “District court jurisdiction”. This is a very short section of code, and it has few associated Treasury regulations. the CCH volume provides the text of the law (that is, the text of the tax code itself), which occupies only half a page of text. After additional editorial material, it includes annotated court cases related to jurisdictional issues – 191 pages of them.
But is it even useful to talk about the length of a document instead of its complexity? the Harry potter the streak was quite long, but I’m pretty sure I got most of the nuances (although I admit I missed this). By comparison, Faulkner As i die is quite compact, but to this day I have no idea what it is (was his mother really a fish?). And, not to overdo it, but the tax code has a table of contents and doesn’t require you to start on page 1. This may or may not be true for As i die. I’m still not really sure.
Correction, April 15, 2014: This article originally misstated the name of the US public media program Morning market report. (To return to.)