At this time of year, when most Americans have just filed their returns, exasperation with the income tax system reaches a peak. Hardly anyone denies it’s a complex mess. In 2010, calculating their taxes cost Americans $168 billion, estimates the Taxpayer Advocate Service of the Internal Revenue Service. That’s about 15 percent of taxes collected ”” a heavy overhead. Almost 60 percent of taxpayers pay accountants or other tax preparers. Public esteem for the tax system is low; in a 2011 Pew poll, 55 percent judged it unfair. Disaffection was fairly even politically: 47 percent among Republicans, 58 percent among Democrats and 56 percent among independents.
So “tax reform” ought to be a cinch, right? Well, no.