Tax Analysts Blog

Tax Complexity and "Sullen Animosity"

Posted on Jun 2, 2010

People have been complaining about tax complexity for ages. Maybe forever. Here's a tidbit from 1920, published by Wall Street titan and prominent arts patron Otto H. Kahn:

    One of the essentials of wise taxation is simplicity of method. Nothing tends more to create a sullen animosity against fiscal measures, nothing is more apt to cause a man to feel justified in his own conscience to give himself the benefit of any doubt or technical loophole, than to be compelled, in addition to paying heavy taxes, to sit down and grapple with complicated tax forms and intricate schedules or to spend money for the employment of lawyers and accountants to tell him what he has to pay.

There's more than a little wisdom in that observation. I've always believed that complexity is a powerful force in tax politics, if not tax policymaking. But as the old saying goes, it's everyone's second priority.

When Kahn first published his comment, he was hailed for his insight. Just as quickly, he was completely ignored.

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