The U.S. Income Tax: What It Is, How It Got That Way, and Where We Go from Here

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9780393320022: The U.S. Income Tax: What It Is, How It Got That Way, and Where We Go from Here

Dissatisfaction with the US income tax has grown so high that attacks on it, and proposals to reform (or even abolish) it, now amount to an almost constant dull roar. How has it happened that ordinary Americans have come to regard the federal tax as unfair and tax protestors as heroes? This book locates the answers in both the substance of the Internal Revenue Code and the political process that createad and feeds this law. The author shows how income tax has become a political football, how government has allowed its complexities to grow with no thought of their impact on taxpayers; and how PAC funds and special interests have affected Congress' will to reform the system. It also looks at the various flat-tax and consumption-tax proposals and shows why they are not as fair or simple as their advocates claim.

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Review:

In the entire history of American taxes, only a handful of people have ever expressed a preference for paying them. Everyone else feels taxes should be paid by people other than him- or herself and an immediate circle of friends. Another point of near-universal agreement is that the tax code is far too complex, and that creating and enforcing it places the government in a crucial role in our day-to-day lives--a position that makes many taxpayers uncomfortable.

In The U.S. Income Tax, Michael Graetz presents the essential issues of taxation in fascinating ways, telling the stories of the real people who changed things, and about the ways these changes have improved the system or (more often) simply made it more complicated. For example, in a chapter on the tax code's "marriage penalty" (married couples with similar incomes pay more in taxes than they would if each were single), he shows that it's mathematically impossible to please everyone. Either singles pay more, or married couples pay more, but there's no way under a progressive tax system to make it entirely equitable.

There's no such problem under a flat income tax, but Graetz isn't a big fan of it. Instead, he sides with those who believe we should substitute a consumption tax for part of our current income tax. (Those making over $75,000 would also pay some sort of income tax in the example he shows.) He argues forcefully that this system--which includes adjustments to Social Security--would be more fair to Americans, and substantially increase our national savings rate. It lets everyone in on the action of the dynamic American economy, and, most important to a lot of Americans, keeps government on the sidelines. --Lou Schuler

About the Author:

Michael J. Graetz is Justus S. Hotchkiss Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He lives in Connecticut.

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