The Easy Case Against Tax Simplification

Posted: 13 Jul 2005

See all articles by Samuel A. Donaldson

Samuel A. Donaldson

Georgia State University College of Law


There is growing political momentum to simplify the Internal Revenue Code. While the federal tax laws should be no more complex than necessary, this Article demonstrates that tax complexity is not as bad as political rhetoric leads us to believe. The Article makes four arguments in support of this thesis. First, the forces comprising tax complexity are either inevitable or net beneficial, so calls for simplification are ultimately pointless. Second, the alleged harms of tax complexity are either unproven or overstated, so the need for simplification is questionable. Third, significant proposals for simplification are flawed because they either overcorrect for the perceived problem or actually result in increased complexity. Finally, as a criterion of tax policy, simplicity is overrated. While many scholars use the criteria of equity, efficiency, and simplicity in conducting tax policy analysis, simplicity is best characterized as a component of the efficiency criterion. By elevating simplicity to a plan equal with efficiency and equity, therefore, one gives greater weight to simplicity than to equity and the other components of efficiency. To the extent equitable-but-complex laws are superior to inequitable-but-simple laws, the emphasis on simplicity is misguided.

Suggested Citation

Donaldson, Samuel A., The Easy Case Against Tax Simplification. Virginia Tax Review Virginia Tax Review, Vol. 22, p. 645, 2003, Available at SSRN:

Samuel A. Donaldson (Contact Author)

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States

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