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Andrew L. Grossman wrote in the Slate article Is the Tax Code Really 70,000 Pages Long? :

American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report has reported that the tax code is 70,000 pages long.* The New York Times thinks so too. A Google search will find this number repeated again and again in the popular press. I have never seen a book that is 70,000 pages long, and I seriously doubt that such a book exists. So please be assured that the tax code is not 70,000 pages long.

[...]

I’d estimate that the old law takes up about 800 pages. So let’s say the tax code is about 2,600 pages long.

Is 2,600 really a more accurate number when it comes to speaking about the size of the US tax code?

  • Don't all states have their own tax codes? Perhaps it's 70,000 pages if you add up all the states? – gerrit Oct 31 '17 at 19:18
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    @gerrit If you read the source, their claim is that the 70,000 pages is how long a specific tax resource is. So a more correct claim would be that you have to read 70,000 pages to understand the tax code, since precedents matter as well as statutes. Slate claims that there is an actual book that contains all the tax statutes (not precedents) that is 2600 pages long after deleting missing or obsolete pages. Of course, obsolete statutes may still matter to modern taxes in cases where you pay a tax incurred in 2010 in 2017. – Brythan Oct 31 '17 at 20:40
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    The exact quote: "In the 2013 edition, the last page is numbered 4,037. Now, that’s not exactly right either, for two reasons: The book starts at page 100, and then skips 500 pages in its numbering..." The rest of the quote subtracts another 800 pages to get to the estimate of 2600 (after a lot of explanation that won't fit in a comment). That quote claims an actual book, apparently available to tax preparers (the author seems to claim to be one). It may link to an online resource because you can't hyperlink to a book itself, only some representation of it. – Brythan Oct 31 '17 at 20:51
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    "and I seriously doubt such a book exists", perhaps not a book (though I wouldn't consider the tax code a book either), but I know for a fact my company submitted a ~90k page regulatory filing at one time. An entire book case of 4 inch binders... – mbrig Oct 31 '17 at 22:16
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    "only"... goodness gracious. – Ian Kemp Nov 1 '17 at 13:08
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According to the IRS itself (2008):

The Code has grown so long that it has become challenging even to figure out how long it is. A search of the Code conducted in the course of preparing this report turned up 3.7 million words

This is more than 10,000 pages, because about 250-300 words per page is standard.

So, no it is not only 2,600 pages.


According to How Many Words are in the Tax Code?:

Just considering statutes, there are 2,652 pages.

Including the statutes and regulations there were 4 million words as of 2012, which they says is the equivalent of 9000 pages at 450 words per page.

And this source also says that the "Standard Federal Tax Reporter", which is an annotated version of the statutes and regulations, is 70,000 pages.

  • 4
    That's a standard for double-spaced documents submitted for translation, which I don't think is appropriate. I just picked up a random book (approx 9.25x6" pages, non-fiction) and it has about 500 words per page. However, this doesn't affect your overall conclusion, since it still gives about three times the claimed 2,600 pages. – David Richerby Oct 31 '17 at 22:51
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    250 words per page is way too low. Downloading an actual PDF of CFR Title 26, and picking a few random pages, I count between 700 and 1000 words per page. – barbecue Nov 1 '17 at 0:28
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    @jdunlop: Why the apparent assumption that the tax code is a single book? – jamesqf Nov 1 '17 at 2:39
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    I think this misses the point of the article; while it might be reasonable to do so, the point of the article is that the statutes are around 2600 pages, and the 70k page number includes annotations/etc. Your answer really glosses over this (though you do seem to agree on the statues themselves). I think it is critical to understanding this article that this particular distinction be addressed, particularly given how other answers on this site address similar things (specifically answering the claim made, not adjudicating whether the claim is the right claim to make). – Joe Nov 1 '17 at 18:17
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    @Joe Just looking at the USC, I see 3 volumes bookstore.gpo.gov/products/… (1404 pages), bookstore.gpo.gov/products/… (1248 pages), bookstore.gpo.gov/products/… (1346 pages) . That 3998 pages just for the USC. – DavePhD Nov 2 '17 at 14:22

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