Some Cautions Regarding Tax Simplification

Tax Simplification, Chapter 14 (Evans, Krever & Mellor eds.) Kluwer Law International, 2015

BYU Law Research Paper No. 16-15

31 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2016 Last revised: 26 Apr 2016

See all articles by J. Clifton Fleming

J. Clifton Fleming

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School

Date Written: December 30, 2015


Although tax simplification enjoys the attractiveness of being the opposite of complexity, it can have untoward effects as illustrated by the examples of a capitation tax, an international income tax regime that lacks rigorous base protection measures, and a system of negotiated tax liabilities. Moreover, complexity is not a problem for most taxpayers because most either benefit from complexity and have the capacity to deal with it or have simple compliance burdens. Small business taxpayers are the principal exception to this observation and tax system reformers need to develop simplification measures for those taxpayers without creating truck holes to be exploited by others. At the end of the day, simplification is only one of several tax policy criteria that must be taken into account in a balancing process. Tax expenditure analysis is often a helpful tool in this regard but it should not be viewed as a device for attacking tax expenditures solely because they add complexity to the tax law. On the other hand complex tax expenditures that have humanitarian objectives should not be sheltered from tax expenditure analysis solely because of their humanitarian ends. This point is illustrated by examples. Finally, we must accept that complex economies demand correspondingly complex tax regimes, and that the complexity will inevitably reside somewhere in the legal system where it will have to be endured. We most certainly should pursue the goal of tax system simplification but in doing so, we must thoughtfully balance simplification objectives against tax base preservation, tax burden distribution concerns, efficiency concerns, administrability, and political realities. The creation of institutional structures that ensure that simplification always receives appropriate consideration in this process would clearly constitute an important contribution. Compromise will, however, be the inevitable result. Consequently we should not have unrealistic expectations regarding the amount of simplification that can be achieved.

Keywords: Tax Simplification,Tax Expenditure Analysis, Tax Policy Criteria

JEL Classification: D63, E62, H20, H21, K34

Suggested Citation

Fleming, J. Clifton, Some Cautions Regarding Tax Simplification (December 30, 2015). Tax Simplification, Chapter 14 (Evans, Krever & Mellor eds.) Kluwer Law International, 2015; BYU Law Research Paper No. 16-15. Available at SSRN:

J. Clifton Fleming (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School ( email )

430 JRCB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics