Tax Analysts Blog

Tax Reform Wisdom, c. 1884

Posted on Feb 18, 2011

Tax reform always seems like such a good idea -- and such an obvious one -- that it's easy to forget how hard it can be. But it is hard, not least because existing tax structures tend to be well-entrenched. That's a fact that reformers confront with regularity. Consider this comment from 1884:

    But vicious as the tax system is, it is ours and we have grown into it--and we cannot be snatched out with impunity any more than a turtle could be pulled out of his shell without jeopardy. (Washington Post, January 17, 1884, p.2)
Back then, the tax system in question was dominated by the tariff, which was famously divisive and hard to reform. And in 1884, meaningful tariff reform was still a ways off. It took a major crisis -- in the form of World War I -- to move lawmakers from cosmetic to substantive change.

Let's hope today's leaders can make progress without waiting for such a a destructive crisis.

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