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Anne Powelson Anne Powelson
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Taxing reading

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Midsummer is upon us, and perhaps you've grown tired of frothy summer fare about spies, zombies and fashion models. If you're ready for a change of pace, here are three books related to U.S. taxation. Not a single one tells you how to fill out a form, but each is intriguing.

Charles O. Rossotti was the IRS Commissioner from 1997 to 2002. His book is 'Many Unhappy Returns: One Man's Quest to Turn Around the Most Unpopular Organization in America,' published in 2005 by Harvard Business School Press. Rossetti was instrumental in overhauling IRS procedures giving taxpayers more rights. It's nice to read about a time when the IRS was becoming more responsive to taxpayers, and how Rossetti hoped for future simplification of the tax code.

In the early 1990s, before Charles O. Rossotti and the Revenue Restructuring Act of 1998 made changes to the Internal Revenue Service, Richard Yancy served as a revenue officer for the Internal Revenue Service. Describing himself as 'A foot soldier in the most feared, hated and maligned agency in the federal government,' he tells his story in 'Confessions of a Tax Collector: One Man's Tour of Duty Inside the IRS' (Harper Collins, 2004). If you've ever wondered how a person can take such a job and keep it, this is the book for you. Not only is Yancy disliked by all he meets, but he also has to deal with the bureaucracy of the Internal Revenue Service. Yancy presents himself as a reluctant agent, seizing assets only as a last resort. He listens to sad tales of taxpayers sucked in by empty promises from businesses claiming to eliminate tax debt. He does what he can to help those who've honestly wound up in trouble, while shutting down disreputable firms. He serves as a kind of bounty hunter for the US Treasury. It's a riveting tale.

The third book to consider is 'Taxes in America: What Everybody Needs to Know,'by Leonard E Burman and Joel Slemrod, published by Oxford University Press in 2013. This is a fairly slender book, just 226 pages, including several pages of cartoons. Grouped by broad topics it uses a question and answer format. A few sample questions: 'How are taxes like ducks?' 'How can some companies get away with paying no taxes?' 'What would happen if we just eliminated the corporate income tax?' 'Does Uncle Sam really want you to live in sin?'

The authors note that by one reputable calculation, the gap between benefits the government is expected to pay and taxes the government expects to collect amounts to over $50trillionover the next 75 years. Further, they make the case that every time legislators vote for a deficit, the legislators are implicitly voting for higher future taxes. Taxes come up every election season. You may not agree with all Burman and Slemrod say, but if you want a little insight beyond sound bites, this is a good book for you.

Happy reading!

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