The World’s Most Confusing Legislation

Perhaps such totalitarian practices would be acceptable if they were only levied against those with truly evil intentions. However, as explained in the previous chapter, it is almost always the innocent who suffer. In the last bastion of capitalism, US bureaucrats have gone to exorbitant lengths to ensure that almost any individual is a potential victim. The fact of the matter is that the US tax code is so immensely complicated that, even if one so wishes, it is simply no longer possible to be the proverbial honest taxpayer.
At present, the US tax code fills several thousand pages and contains sections which number up to 9,602. Of course, all of this is written in the sort of language that no one lacking many years of legal training can understand. Result, several thousand more pages which “interpret” the tax code have been published. This interpretation often only succeeds in producing yet more confusion in the mind of the innocent taxpayer. In 1988, a study conducted by the Akron University School of Law found that less than 11 per cent of the general public with less than a high school education can understand the instructions that accompany their tax form.
If you are a member of the somewhat more literate and educated public you may fare somewhat better, but not without a great deal of time and effort. Those who are really ambitious and desire a full understanding of the US tax code should consult the IRS Manual, although before doing so you will have to clear out at least one large bookshelf to make room for it. You may decide to take the easy road out and employ someone to take care of your tax matters for you. If so, don’t expect any miracles. In 1991, Money magazine asked fifty tax specialists to prepare a typical family’s tax return for the preceding year. The result, not surprisingly they got fifty different answers, only one of which was correct. Placing blind trust in someone else to prepare your returns may well turn out to be your one way ticket to the pokey.
Even trusting agents working for the IRS is not such a hot idea. In 1988,- a survey conducted by the Government Accounting Office showed that IRS agents provided the wrong answer to phoned in questions 39 per cent of the time. By 1992 this figure had improved to 16 per cent, although little reliance should be placed on even this improved figure as the likelihood of a question being answered correctly declines sharply as the difficulty of the question increases. Even today, the IRS provides the correct answer less than half of the time for questions concerning complex issues such as capital gains. What happens if you happen to be one of these unlucky souls who places reliance on bogus IRS advice? You will be fined and penalized. The agency can only be held responsible for advice that it provides in writing. Moral of story, when dealing with this or any other government agency, always conduct all correspondence on paper.