Paul Greenberg

For the average American family, filling out a tax form has become like attacking a puzzle to which, often enough, there is no right answer. But we're all supposed to swear, on penalty of perjury, that we've done our best to find it. It's enough to take the bloom out of April even in these dogwood-blessed latitudes.

What to do? Don't mend it, end it. Abolish the tax code and start all over. Think about it: Would anybody starting from scratch come up with a system as arcane and counter-productive as the one we've got? So why not opt for a clean break with the past?

Yes, abolish the Internal Revenue Code and begin anew.

But would that be fair? Well, one thing this current complex, loophole-riddled tax system isn't is fair. Even a flat tax, if it didn't start till incomes reached, say, $30,000 a year, might be fairer than the monster we've got on our hands now.

Put this thing out of its misery and ours. At a time certain. Say, December 31, 2008. The government would have until then to come up with a simple, fair substitute.

Too much to ask?

To rephrase a thought from Dr. Johnson, nothing so wonderfully concentrates the mind as the prospect of being executed. Kill the Internal Revenue Code, and the way to create a simpler, fairer system might become clear to all those politicians, bureaucrats and other unimaginative types who now say it just can't be done.

We'll be told that now is no time to fiddle with the tax system, not with the economy humming along.

And when the economy slows down, as it will sure as there is a business cycle, we'll be told that now is no time to fiddle with the tax system and risk a recession.

It's hard to crack the wall of inertia out there. How many years have I been writing essentially this same column on Tax Day? I've lost count. The only change? The tax code grows longer and more complex.

There will always be an excuse for doing nothing about taxes. But abolish the old tax code on a date certain, and you can bet the politicians in Washington will get busy devising a new one. They'll want to get paid, won't they?

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.