Channeling Satirist Russell Baker on Tax Reform

tax reform

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was recently signed into law, and it represents the latest major tax overhaul in our long history of tax reform. Just a little more than a century ago, legislators amended the Constitution to approve an income tax, which the U.S. had foregone since the nation’s founding. And not until 1943, in the middle of World War Two, did the tax become democratized.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt occupied the Oval Office when our present withholding system debuted, and the term "take-home pay" became part of the modern lexicon. All subsequent presidents, however divergent their views on hot-button issues like budget deficits, climate change and abortion, have voiced their unqualified support of proposals to make it much easier to fill out 1040 forms and to simplify our byzantine Internal Revenue Code.

How much have we benefited from bipartisan commitment to tax reform? Not much, according to Russell Baker.

Who is he, my readers ask? That’s an unsurprising response. Only persons who are of a certain age even recall Baker, much less that he received a Pulitzer Prize for his “Sunday Observer” columns that appeared on the editorial page of The New York Times and were syndicated to newspapers across the nation.

Why then am I mentioning him to my readers in the 21st century? To introduce them to a premier political satirist, some of whose columns slyly and perceptively skewer proponents of tax reform, the latest version of which went on the books in late December.

Baker’s views on reform remain relevant, decades after they were first published. What follows are excerpts from two of those Observer columns long ago.

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About Julian Block

Julian Block

Attorney and author Julian Block is frequently quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He has been cited as “a leading tax professional” (New York Times), an “accomplished writer on taxes” (Wall Street Journal), and “an authority on tax planning” (Financial Planning magazine). More information about his books can be found at


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