Paul L. Caron

Friday, October 28, 2011

Slate: How Many Words Are in the Internal Revenue Code?

Tax CodeSlate, How Many Words Are in the Tax Code?:

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.

Tax | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Slate: How Many Words Are in the Internal Revenue Code?:


So, the IRC is shorter, and considerably duller, than such works as The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and The Ramayana.

Posted by: Comparison- | Nov 5, 2011 10:52:49 PM

Ah...the great divide between generations.

Those of us who remember the enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 are concerned with the number of words in the Code.

Those who came after the enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 are thinking "and how many megabytes would that equal?"

And before 1986, we used to measure it in pages:

"I hold in my hand 1,379 pages of tax simplification." - Congressman Delbert L. Latta - U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 23, 1985

Posted by: Gary | Nov 1, 2011 12:14:32 PM

Take out the excise taxes and other arcane sections that the average American never confronts, and how many are left?

And, compared to what? Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has more than 560,000 words. Yet most of the flat-taxers would probably not admit to not having read it.

Posted by: Bob | Oct 28, 2011 1:48:21 PM