How did the tax code get so dense?

Economics editor Chris Farrell

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: Just a couple of weeks away from the big tax deadline, and the only thing more mind-numbing than all the IRS forms and schedules is the ubiquitous call for reform and simplification. Our economics correspondent Chris Farrell joins us now. Chris, obviously it's pretty dense stuff -- how did it get that way and why hasn't there been a concerted effort to simplify it all?

Chris Farrell: You know, I keep trying to understand this, and I think there are several reasons. One is a lot of the complexity comes from good things. You know, things that we want to accomplish -- homeownership, rebuilding neighborhoods. But the more things you add into the tax code, the more complicated it gets. I think what the real story, however, is that industry lobbyists and politicians love tax code complexity. They reward their friends through the tax code -- it's much easier to do it that way then to say, well, we're going to spend $100 million to benefit this industry. But I'm a little bit pleased to see Paul Volcker, former Fed chairman, has now been appointed the deal with tax reform.

Chiotakis: So let's talk about the former Fed chairman, then. Why hasn't anyone really paid attentionn to the fact that he's back?

Farrell: I don't know. I mean he's been fairly quiet. But I think people might be underestimating the influence that Volcker is going to wield over public policy. I mean look, he proved to the world when he was head of the Federal Reserve just how tough he is and how much of a public servant he was. Industry was knocking on his door, he didn't pay attention to industry. He kept his focus on, we need to bring inflation down. That's what he did, and he succeeded. If he decides he's going to put his prestige behind it, people are going to have to pay attention. And I also have a suggestion about how he can go about doing it.

Chiotakis: That's what I was going to ask you -- what kind of blueprint do you think is needed as a way to begin this overhaul?

Farrell: If you want to overhaul the tax system, it needs to be bipartisan, that's the real key. So: the Bush White House, it had its tax reform committee, and they came out with a report in 2005, and it was really good. It was a very good report. Make a couple of changes, you know, so . . . and then say, here we are, we've got it. And by the way, I'm with a Democratic administration, this one came out of a Republican administration. Let's all get around this and let's simplify the tax code for the American taxpayer and let's do it now.

Chiotakis: All right, we'll see if that happens. Economics correspondent Chris Farrell. Thanks.

Farrell: Thanks a lot.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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