NOTABLE & QUOTABLE

Complexity the root of evil in tax code

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Tax advocate Nina Olson writes in The Wall Street Journal, "Complexity Is the Root of All Evil (at Least in the Tax Code)."

As the national taxpayer advocate, I oversee an independent unit within the Internal Revenue Service that has helped more than four million individual and business taxpayers resolve their IRS account problems, and I am required to report to Congress annually on the most serious problems encountered by U.S. taxpayers.

If I had to distill everything I've learned into one sentence, it would be this: The root of all evil is the complexity of the tax code.

There is currently considerable support in Congress to take up corporate tax reform, and corporate reform is certainly needed. But I urge policy makers to remember that, as compared with about two million taxable corporations, there are 151 million individual taxpayers, including 27 million who report sole-proprietor or farm business income with their individual returns. There are also nearly nine million pass-through entities (S corporations and partnerships), the income from which is reported on individual income-tax returns. These taxpayers desperately need relief from the extraordinary compliance burdens the tax code imposes.

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In "You're Too Busy. You Need a 'Shultz Hour,' The New York Times' David Leonhardt offers suggestions on how to slow down.

When George Shultz was secretary of state in the 1980s, he liked to carve out one hour each week for quiet reflection. He sat down in his office with a pad of paper and pen, closed the door and told his secretary to interrupt him only if one of two people called:

"My wife or the president," Shultz recalled.

Shultz, who's now 96, told me that his hour of solitude was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job. Otherwise, he would be constantly pulled into moment-to-moment tactical issues, never able to focus on larger questions of the national interest. And the only way to do great work, in any field, is to find time to consider the larger questions.

The fact it felt hard to commit to a full hour was a sign of my need to do so. Like many people, I'm overly connected. I have confused the availability of new information with the importance of it. If you spend all your time collecting new information, you won't leave enough time to make sense of it.

The science of the mind is clear about this point. Our brains can be in either "task-positive" or "task-negative" mode, but not both at once. Our brain benefits from spending time in each state.

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In "The Trump Presidency Begins," The Wall Street Journal's Dan Henninger writes, "A presidency that was almost too much fun has taken a clear turn to the serious."

Until recently, "Trump's presidency" has been about one thing - Donald Trump. It's been Trump 24/7. Mr. Trump owned the presidency the way Mr. Trump owns a tower on Fifth Avenue. For better and for worse, Trump's presidency was all about him.

In the past few weeks -the Gorsuch appointment, the Syrian strike, the meeting with China's Xi Jinping - we are finally seeing the beginning of the real Trump presidency.

Like all the others dating back to George Washington, the presidency is not an object captured by one person; it is an office held in trust for the people of the United States.

The Trump-centric phenomenon of these early days is the product of our celebrity-centric times, not least the presidency. He drove it with social media, and the media torrents washed back over him.

There are some realities, though, that the media torrents haven't washed away yet. America's institutions, its politics and the distant world are still too large for anyone to hold and command alone. That is the lesson of recent days.

This isn't complicated. There was only one Trump promise - Make America Great Again. If you type that phrase into Google Translate, this is what should appear: Get the American economic engine retuned or pack it in. Every other pet peeve or project is secondary.

There are two levers for achieving this goal: tax policy and deregulation. To get there, the Trump presidency just inserted two key players.

Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute, an expert on what makes a tax code productive, becomes chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Neomi Rao, director of George Mason University's gloriously named Center for the Study of the Administrative State, became the Trump White House's czarina of regulation. A Chicago Law grad.

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From an interview with cognitive scientist Steven Sloman by Vox.com's Sean Illing, April 16:

Illing: How do people form opinions?

Sloman: I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don't like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.

Think about if you were to utter a fact that contradicted the opinions of the majority of those in your social group. You pay a price for that. If I said I voted for Trump, most of my academic colleagues would think I'm crazy. They wouldn't want to talk to me. That's how social pressure influences our epistemological commitments, and it often does it in imperceptible ways.

Illing: This is another way of saying that we live in a community of knowledge.

Notable & Quotable is compiled by Graham Osteen. Contact him at graham@theitem.com.