Self-assessment and Incomprehensible Tax Laws
This chapter addresses the 'necessary evil' of convoluted fiscal legislation, and questions whether there are alternatives, considering the justifications that have been advanced to explain it. It concludes with a search for a common, Anglo-American perspective on a problem which is simultaneously shared by, and yet specific to, these two countries. The movements towards an American 'tax stalemate' are traced, and parallels are sought in a comparative UK context. The US income code is presented as a product of the twentieth century. In a UK context, the problem of unintelligible tax laws is defined, and then contextualized, largely through analysis of selected case law. In the early 1970s, however, Robert Hellawell predicted that the potent combination of obscure fiscal legislation, overreliance upon professional assistance and self-assessment would lead to a 'great tax stalemate'. One product of incomprehensible tax laws is the 1990s movement actually to repeal the sixteenth amendment.