One criterion is the number of pages on which the tax code is printed. Presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty was quoted recently as characterizing the tax code as a "9000 page monstrosity". This didn't seem right to me, so I researched the topic.
What I found was surprising - forget about trying to divine some meaning from the tax code itself, trying to answer the simple question of the code's length in pages (as published in the Congressional Record) proved to be difficult.
A cursory Google search revealed many estimates from our esteemed Congressional representatives. Unfortunately all of them were from Republicans, presumably this is explained by the fact they're the only ones who can read. Or at least, count. They also seemed oddly fond of comparing the tax code to the Bible, as if they hold its length or complexity as some standard to be revered. Is the tax code their Bible? And how long is the Bible anyway? That's another question that's may be difficult to answer, but unlike the tax code, the Old Testament hasn't grown in millennia.
So, our esteemed Congressional representatives have characterized its length from between 2500 pages (Rob Portman (R-OH)) to "two and a half million" (Nick Smith (R-MI)). George Bush the younger quoted it as "a million pages" but that might be charitably interpreted as an exaggeration, considering Dave Hobson's (R-OH) curiously specific "1.3 million" pages.
Therefore, according to our legislative branch that imposes such misery upon us, estimates of the tax code's complexity, measured in pages of printed text, varies three orders of magnitude. That's disturbing.
The actual number, according to the US Government Printing Office, is 13,458 pages, but the part written by Congress adds another 3387, for a grand total of 16,845 pages. If you need a reference copy you can buy it from the GPO for about $1000. Mr Pawlenty needs to update his figures.
Even more disturbing is the trend, the subject of this post. This site projects the printed code to reach 100,000 pages within the next ten years. Extrapolating last year's GPO price to 2021 brings the cost of buying your own personal copy of the US tax code to $6845. Neglecting inflation that is, and presuming there remain sufficient number of trees from which paper can still be manufactured.
This is absurd. It's beyond absurd. The income tax has become unworkable, and unknowable. It's a monument to inefficiency, waste, and utter stupidity. Kill it.