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If tax reformers are continually frustrated in their labors, it's no wonder. Reese, the legislative director of a group called Taxation with Representation, provides a step-by-step account of the process by which tax legislation is shaped, mis-shaped, side-tracked, and enacted; and what he depicts is a formidable series of obstacles to reform. In his view, the Office of Tax Analysis of the Treasury Department is composed of would-be reformers, since staff members are trained economists representing no special interests. As economists, they're aware of the money wasted through the current system of ostensibly progressive taxation which in practice contains enough loopholes to create an unfair tax burden and a significant loss of revenue. By contrast, the Treasury's Office of Tax Legislative Counsel is composed mainly of lawyers, who translate tax policy into legalese: like lawyers everywhere, they identify with their client, in this case the government, which often leads them to search for the simplest solutions and the ones which will cause the least governmental disruption. In addition, while the OTA economists stay on, the OTLC lawyers are only passing through on their way to lucrative legal careers, another factor which disposes them toward the interest they will come to serve (and also limits their expertise). With this comparison, Reese begins an analytical study of the biases and political connections of those involved in the tax process. What he discovers is that, outside of the OTA, there is no strong representation for tax reform. In the House and Senate, the relevant committees are run by politicians wedded to special interests and staffed by more lawyers, while the Administration is perpetually faced with the political costs of real reform (i.e., the loss of big contributions from the big money-holders). Despite the overwhelming odds, Reese takes a stab at suggestions for reform, but he is hamstrung by his identification of reform with economic expertise--he has, after all, shown that the whole process is thoroughly political. Still, the stiff-upper-lip ending notwithstanding, Reese's history of tax reform and log of the tax process are comprehensive and comprehensible, and especially important in another election year.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Greenwood