by Conor Friedersdorf

As far as this excerpt goes, George Will is exactly right:

In George W. Bush's 2004 speech to the Republican convention, he denounced the tax code as "a complicated mess" that annually requires "6 billion hours of paperwork" - now estimated at 7.6 billion. He vowed to "simplify" it. The audience cheered. Then he promised new complexities. There would be "opportunity zones" - tax relief for depressed areas - and a tax credit to encourage businesses to establish health savings accounts. The audience cheered.

This is perennial mischief - using the tax code not simply to raise revenue efficiently (with minimal distortion of economic behavior) but to pamper pet causes, appease muscular interests and make social policy. Since 1986, the tax code has acquired more than 15,000 complications. "Targeted" tax cuts are popular complexities because they serve a bossy government's agenda of behavior modification: You can keep more of your money if you do what Washington wants. The tax code, says Camp, "should not be a tool of industrial policy" or of "crony capitalism": "Politicians should not pick the industry of the day."

I endorse this quite apart from any arguments about the progressivity of the tax code or the overall levels collected. However much I have to pay, I'd just like to do so in a way that I can figure out quickly, painlessly and without professional assistance.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.