Newsbook: Can’t Follow the Tax Debate? Read This.

As the Republican-proposed tax plan makes its way through Congress, here are three books to help you understand what’s at stake.

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A FINE MESS
A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System
By T. R. Reid
278 pp. Penguin Press. (2017)

Ever wonder if another country might have a tax model for us to imitate? This book takes readers on a tour of tax systems around the world. Part of Reid’s argument is that taxes can actually be a source of prosperity for a nation; in New Zealand, for instance, a tax code redesign was a boon for the economy. Reid uses plain English to explain concepts such as tax expenditures or how legislators in Congress enable offshore tax avoidance. His overall message is that the tax code needs to be simplified. According to our reviewer, “those unfamiliar with economics, accounting or tax law will be better able to understand these subjects by reading ‘A Fine Mess’.”

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PERFECTLY LEGAL
The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich — and Cheat Everybody Else
By David Cay Johnston
338 pp. Portfolio. (2004)

In this book, Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and former financial reporter for The Times, exposes the ways in which the tax system is rigged to favor the rich — specifically the people Johnston calls the “political donor class.” He writes about how tax attorneys work the system, as well as how the IRS is legislatively crippled and mismanaged, going after tax fraud among low-income abusers while the wealthy escape audit. Johnston also provides an overview of the tax system overall, detailing the specific tax laws at play and laying out reform recommendations.

THE SEVEN FAT YEARS
And How to Do It Again
By Robert L. Bartley
347 pp. The Free Press. (1992)

In part, this book is Bartley’s memoir of participating in the supply-side revolution — known as trickle down economics by its critics — on which much of the Republican platform on taxes is based. It is also a polemic against those who he believes refuse to acknowledge the economic achievement of the Reagan years. In his view, supply-side policies were successful, yet “have been judged a failure, particularly by the most articulate sectors of society.” To counterbalance his arguments, he includes the voice of opponents like the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin. Our reviewer wrote that “The Seven Fat Years” can “help all of us to unravel the mystery of our incomprehension.”

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