Summer is in full swing and I, like all of us, look forward to a good summer read. Rather than picking up a good mystery or biography, this summer I spent time reading an enlightening recent book titled “A Fine Mess – A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System”. The author, T.R. Reid, is a long-time correspondent of the Washington Post and their former bureau chief in Tokyo and London.

The book takes a very technical subject and distills the issues into understandable, non-technical, sections addressing successful and failed solutions to tax policies throughout the world. The narrative is all designed to lead the author to his recommendation on how to best reform the US tax laws to create a system that provides sufficient revenue for the government, instills and inspires compliance, and makes the US a more competitive business environment. The bottom line (in the author’s opinion) – broaden the tax base by eliminating most of the special interest provisions in the tax code and lower tax rates.

Sounds good but his solution would certainly unleash a lobbying blitz unlike any we have seen – after all, protecting our pet deductions and credits, many of which are considered sacred cows, has always been a contact sport in Washington. What appears to be simple would become immensely complicated by the political realities of crafting such a system. Given the divisiveness in our government today, it would be more difficult than ever to accomplish such broad sweeping reforms. The days of Ronald Reagan working with Tip O’Neal to reform our tax laws seems farther away from today’s politics than ever before.

In any event, I did have quite a few quibbles with the book as the author certainly has a more progressive than conservative agenda which does “taint” the narrative at times. For example, the author seems to believe that any tax provision benefitting a specific class of individuals or businesses constitutes a “loophole’ when, after all, Congress wrote most of these provisions knowing full well who they would benefit and for what purpose they were providing it. It may not be good policy or a fair provision, but they should not be viewed as loopholes, which I have always believed are ways of being able to use the tax laws to create unintended results. But I digress….

All in all, through the use of historical events and reasons for the multitude of taxing options adopted by many countries, including and excluding the US, the book makes for very interesting reading.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!