Reproduced with permission from Ironman’s blog, Political Calculations, which has interactive options for calculating the number of pages required for the tax code in a given year and the tax code level of complexity for a given year.
It’s often been remarked that the growth in the complexity of the
US tax code can be measured by how many pages it takes to document
all the things that specify how much federal taxes any single
individual, household or business in the United States may have to
pay. Kay Bell recently featured the chart we’ve presented here from the
CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, which
illustrates just how many pages of the CCH Standard Federal Tax
Reporter would be required to contain all of the U.S. federal tax
But that wasn’t good enough for us, so we created our own graphical version of the chart’s data, so we can better see how the US federal tax code has changed since the US implemented the income tax in 1913, when the entire federal tax code could have been contained in a single 400 page textbook.
What we find is that the tax code really didn’t explode in complexity until World War II, which we observe in the large jump from being just 504 pages in length in 1939 to 8,200 pages in 1945, the final year of the war. Since then, we find that the number of pages in the US federal tax code have grown at a near-steady exponential rate of 3.28% per year, which as of 2010, means that the US tax code has ballooned to be 71,684 pages in length!
But wait, there’s more! Because the tax code has grown consistently at this steady rate since 1945, we can project how much the complexity of the federal tax code can be expected to grow in the future.
Using this information we can create a tool that can either estimate the number of pages in the U.S. federal tax code between 1945
and 2010 or project how many pages can reasonably contain the federal tax code in the future, provided that US politicians and bureaucrats continue to add to its complexity at the same rate they averaged from 1945 up to 2010.
Using the default data in the tool above, where we’ve projected forward to the year 2012 when the next U.S. presidential election is
scheduled to occur, we find that the U.S. tax code will have grown to be approximately 74,994 pages in length, an increase of 7,388 pages, or 11%, from the 67,506 page long U.S. federal tax code of 2008.
That assumes though that today’s politicians and bureaucrats aren’t compelled to do something radical that might cause the complexity of the US federal tax code to really explode, much like what happened back in the 1940s because of the requirements of funding World War II.
Just what radical change that might be we’ll leave as an exercise
to our readers….