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TANSTAABST

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Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen offers [2] a link to Matt Yglesias’s prediction that the U.S. “tax code will grow more complicated, not simpler.” I think that Yglesias is right.

His argument brought to mind this [3] related article by Auburn University’s Roger Garrison. Here’s the gist of Garrison’s intriguing argument:

We owe to Robert Heinlein the memorable if nearly unpronounceable TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch), which expresses one of the most fundamental principles in all of economics. Each major field of study within economics would do well to find its own Heinleinian acronym so as to keep policy prescription anchored to the fundamentals. Let me propose a suitable one for the field of public finance: TANSTAABST. There ain’t no such thing as a big simple tax. Head taxes, the only truly simple taxes, are never big; income taxes, the primary source of revenue for the welfare state, are never simple. The claim, made repeatedly by supply-siders, that with a flat tax our tax form would be the size of a postcard can easily be exposed as bad science fiction.

If true – as I suspect it is – it’s sad. But we must deal with it.

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