Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 21 No. 1 (Winter 2007)


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Tax Reform Unraveling

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Graetz, Michael J. 2007. "Tax Reform Unraveling." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(1): 69-90.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.21.1.69


The Tax Reform Act of 1986 was widely heralded as the most significant change in our nation's tax law since the income tax was extended to the masses during World War II. It was the crowning domestic policy achievement of President Ronald Reagan, who proclaimed it "the best antipoverty measure, the best pro-family measure, and the best job-creation measure ever to come out of the Congress of the United States." The law's rate reductions and base broadening reforms were mimicked throughout the countries belonging to the OECD. Even at the time, however, reading the paeans to this legislation was like watching a Tennessee Williams play: something was terribly wrong, but nobody was talking about it. Two decades later, the changes wrought by the 1986 act have proven neither revolutionary nor stable. Tax experts now regard the 1986 act as a promise failed. The public seems to agree, and considerable public support exists for a "flat tax" or a national sales tax to replace the income tax. I shall examine the most important individual and corporate income tax changes since 1986, before turning to proposals for restructuring the nation's tax system.

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Graetz, Michael J.


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