Friday, October 28, 2011
While the Republican presidential candidates agree that the tax code is too long, they can’t seem to agree on just how long it is. Rick Perry says it’s 3 million words. Herman Cain used to describe the code as “an 8-million-word mess,” but now he says it’s 10 million words. How many words are really in the tax code?
In the neighborhood of 3 million. According to the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service, the Internal Revenue Code had 3.8 million words as of Feb. 1, 2010. That count is a little high, because it includes cross-references, descriptions of amendments, and effective dates. A separate count done by data consultant Michael Bommarito and Michigan State Law Professor Daniel Katz came up with 2.6 million words, although their analysis didn’t include nonsubstantive words like is, and, or at. In fairness to Herman Cain, there’s far more to our tax system than the Internal Revenue Code. The code provides an outline of what Congress wants the IRS to do, but it’s the IRS regulations that put the outline into effect. There hasn’t been a recent count of the words in both the code and the regulations, but a 2005 analysis put the total at more than 9 million.