TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Lawsky:  Formalizing The Tax Code

Sarah B. Lawsky (Northwestern), Formalizing the Code, 70 Tax L. Rev. ___ (2017):

The Internal Revenue Code is notoriously complex, both substantively and structurally. This article examines one source of structural complexity in the Internal Revenue Code: dependency among sections that stems from defined terms. In particular, the article examines what it terms the problem of “definitional scope”: when the structure of the Code leaves unclear to what a term refers. The article uses the problem of definitional scope as a case study to suggest that those who draft tax legislation should formalize proposed statutory language — translate it into logical terms — prior to its enactment.

Formalization could help drafters avoid unintentional ambiguity and refine the language used in the statute; it could provide helpful guidance for those wishing to interpret the statute; and, most importantly, it could help move the law closer to legibility by a computer — that is, it could help on the journey to actual legal artificial intelligence.

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Interesting proposition, Sarah. A nice coda piece can be "The Tax Code as Goedelian Sentences." Of course, we'll then have to admit that the tax code is either incomplete or inconsistent. (no sarcasm's a mathematical proof).

Posted by: Jack Manhire | Jun 16, 2017 8:25:41 AM