IN 1934, WHEN I WAS age one, a federal income tax return was one page, and came with two pages of instructions. It was hand carried to the house by a live postman. The IRS regulations were 200 pages—though some say it was 400—all of which were memorized by the tax author J. K. Lasser.
When I was a young man in the workforce, we still got the several-page income tax form by mail, accompanied by a booklet of instructions that ran about 20 pages, as I recall. If you had a rental property or something more complex, you could buy J. K. Lasser’s tax guide, which was about 3/8 inch thick.
Almost everything that was added to modern tax forms and instructions since then was for social engineering. Now there are a stack of forms, many of which you have to download from the internet. If you want the 106 pages of instructions for the basic 1040 return, you can get them on the internet—or a copy will be mailed to you, but you’ll likely have to wait 10 days for delivery.
The federal tax code now totals 74,608 pages. The Constitution fits on three pages with single spaced typing or only four sheets of the original handwritten 28 3/4 inches by 23 5/8 sheets. The 27 amendments amount to only three additional typed pages.
Congress was less wordy in 1787, used more noble language and lawyers weren’t paid by the hours they booked. Their objective wasn’t to parse who got government money because people had to be self-sufficient. And there was no IRS. Must have been refreshing by comparison.
Henry “Bud” Hebeler was the retired president of Boeing Aerospace Company and the author of Getting Started in a Financially Secure Retirement. He died in 2017. For more on retirement issues, visit Bud’s website at AnalyzeNow.com.