T.R. Reid Quotes

Starting in the ’80s or so, after the United States sharply cut its rates, other countries decided they better do it too, and here’s how you do it: you just wipe out the exemptions, the deductions, the credits, the depreciation allowances. And people complain, “Oh my God, it’s terrible,” but you give them much lower rates and you give them an easier form to file, and people accept that tradeoff.

Americans spend about 6 billion hours a year collecting the data and filling out the forms. We spend $10 billion to H&R Block and other preparers. And on top of that, $2 billion in tax preparation software, which still takes hours of work. It’s outrageous the burden we put on people, and guess what, you go to Europe, you go to Japan, it’s 15 minutes and costs nothing.

We cut tax exemptions in 1986, it was the most admired tax reform in U.S. history. Congress and the president worked together then to eliminate scores of loopholes and exemptions and deductions; this made taxes much simpler, and allowed a major cut in tax rates.

If you ask any economist, they’ll tell you all the mortgage interest deduction does is raise the price of the house. So a couple is out looking at the house, they say, “Oh, we love this house, but we couldn’t make the monthly payment.” And the realtor says, “Yeah, but you’re going to get a tax break.” So people pay more than they would otherwise. You take a loss even though you’re making a gain.

The higher the rate, the more interest there is in avoiding the tax. Either you move or you shift your profits overseas, as American corporations have proven very good at doing.

France, they’re the world champion at soaking the rich on taxes. And at one point, they had what they called a hyper tax, 75 percent, and GĂ©rard Depardieu and many others left the country.

It was an easy thing to tax for a young country. And then gradually we moved to property taxes, manufacturing taxes, and the income tax was the answer to a populist demand: Let’s go after the rich guys. We got into World War I, and they raised the rates and started taxing the rich. Then we got into World War II, and that’s when they taxed everybody, because they just needed more revenue.

The income tax only taxed the Rockefellers, the Morgans and the Vanderbilts. It was aimed at the top 4 percent, and the top rate then in 1913, was 7 percent. Woodrow Wilson had a big ceremony and said, “I’m delighted to be president at the creation of this popular new tax.”

In the United States, unlike any other advanced democracy, money really talks. Our Supreme Court has said that spending money on politicians is a form of free speech. No other court has said that.


When it comes to taxation, Americans are still banging out letters on a typewriter and dropping them in the mail box while everybody else has moved on to texting and Instagram.

Corporations use all sorts of complex stratagems to move their profits overseas, and thus escape the U.S. income tax.

Relative to the world’s other advance democracies, Americans get off easy on tax day. Of the 35 richest countries, the U.S. ranks 32nd in total tax burden.

President Trump repeatedly says that “America is the highest-taxed country in the world.” This is an alternative fact. We pay less in taxes, and our government spends less, as a share of our total wealth, than our counterparts in Western Europe and East Asia. But Trump is right when it comes to corporate tax rates; the U.S. corporate income tax right is among the highest in the world.

Our tax code becomes so absurdly complex every 32 years that we have no choice but to scrap it and re-write. The 32-year period is up in 2018. So the time has come. History tells us that we’re going to produce a fairer, simpler tax code by 2018.

The U.S. has the most complicated and difficult tax system in the world; we’ve made it hard to file and pay taxes.

Professor Eric Zolt of UCLA, said to me, “The VAT is such a good idea, mark my words, within five years, the U.S. will have a VAT.” Then he said, “Of course, I’ve been saying that for 20 years.”


It turns out a VAT – a value-added tax – is a very easy tax to collect and a very hard tax to evade. It’s a really good idea. It was invented about 60 years ago in France, of course. Because they’re so good at taxing. They had a business tax that was easy to evade, and the head of the French IRS invented this value-added tax, which is very hard to evade.

I really like the idea of consumption tax, and most countries have a pretty serious consumption tax. It’s called a value-added tax or a goods and services tax … It’s a sales tax. It doesn’t tax labor, it doesn’t tax savings or investment – it taxes consumption.

The Value-Added Tax, a sales tax that applies at every level of business transactions, is an easy tax for governments to collect, and a hard tax to evade.

You also get a deduction in America for taking a night school course, growing sugarcane, moving to a new city for a job, replanting a forest, insulating the attic, destroying old farm equipment, employing Native Americans, commuting to work by bicycle – but only if the bike is regularly used for a substantial portion of travel – or buying a plug-in hybrid sports car, or buying a recreational vehicle. I mean there are hundreds of them, and most of them are nuts.

If your employer pays your health insurance, that’s not counted as income to you. And any economist would say that’s your income, because they’d pay a higher wage if they didn’t take it. That’s a huge loss to the Treasury.

There’s a tradeoff. Yeah, I lose the deduction that I really like, but my tax rate is going to go down, and I don’t have to fill out that form anymore. It’s much simpler, rates are lower, and that tradeoff has worked in many countries. Many countries have just cleaned house of all those exemptions in order to provide lower rates, and people buy it.

If you get rid of all these giveaways and loopholes and deductions and credits, then you can sharply lower the rates.

It used to be that we taxed property – zapped farmers basically. And there were very rich people who didn’t pay that much tax. So in 1913, they put in the income tax. It was incredibly popular. The tax we love to hate today.

Mortgage is one of the most popular deductions. It costs the Treasury about $103 billion a year. Now that’s money we could use to treat wounded veterans or reduce the deficit or fill the border. Instead, we give it a subsidy to homeowners, and it goes mainly to the richest homeowners in America, because only one third of Americans itemize their deductions. It doesn’t work. Many countries have gotten rid of the mortgage interest deduction. Almost all of them have higher homeownership rates than we do.