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The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform-Why We Need It and What It Will Take Hardcover – January 24, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A lucid analysis... a provocative book... remarkably successful in interweaving the underlying economics of the US tax system with the political choices that have made it what it is."—Financial Times

"Today we’re living in a country deeply divided between winners and losers. Nowhere is that more evident than in our tax system—so distorted by loopholes, exemptions, credits, and deductions favoring the already rich and powerful that it no longer can raise the money needed to pay the government’s bills. Among the people who saw this crisis coming was the conservative economist Bruce Bartlett... The Benefit and the Burden is a layman’s guide through the jungle of a tax system that, thanks to rented politicians and anti-tax ideologues like Grover Norquist, enable the one percent to make off like bandits while our national debt soars sky-high."—Bill Moyers

“[Bartlett’s] analysis of tax burdens and policies in modern times is essential reading for anyone following the present debate about income inequality and taxation.”—Worth

"For a vivid picture on how evolving tax laws have wrecked America's fiscal standing, consult Bruce Bartlett's new book."—Froma Harrop, The Providence Journal

"A great introduction for anyone who doesn't really know much about the U.S. tax system and wants to learn the basics. It's clear, short, and a quick read."—Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

"If Obama wants to win this election, he needs to embrace radical tax reform. The shape and structure of sane reforms is already out there, as Bruce Bartlett explains."—Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast

"[Bartlett] writes beautifully and seems to have no trouble avoiding getting caught up in the many complexities of tax policy."—Len Burman, Forbes and Professor of Economics at Syracuse

"In a political system beset by ignorance and misinformation, delivering basic information to interested citizens is a worthy goal. And Bartlett does it very well."—Joseph J. Thorndike, Tax Notes

“[Bartlett’s] balanced, well-researched primer on America’s tax system... is a refreshing entree to a difficult subject. The book’s no-nonsense approach to tax policy proves surprisingly engaging.”—The Economist

"Bruce Bartlett has waded into the debate on tax policy with a thoughtful argument for the necessity of reform."—Tom Pauken, The American Conservative

"Bartlett’s book is a clear and comprehensive overview of today’s complicated tax system."—Robert J. Samuelson, The Washington Post

"An excellent, wide-ranging guide to what matters about the U.S. federal income tax system, its history and problems, and where it might go next. Bartlett, who has been a favorite commentator of mine for many years, does a really excellent job of providing a lucid review that deserves... broad readership."—Daniel Shaviro, Wayne Perry Professor of Taxation at New York University Law School

"In his wonderful new study... Bruce Bartlett offers a useful thumbnail history on the federal government's seemingly haphazard role in the post-WWII evolution of the private health insurance industry."—Scott Galupo, U.S. News & World Report

“You gotta get this. You’ll read it, and get mad, which is good.”—Jon Stewart

"It is to Bartlett's credit as a writer that he makes this topic accessible, while showing great aplomb in dismantling many of the myths and misconceptions that exist about taxes."—Noah Kristula-Green, The Daily Beast

"Bartlett gives a broad overview of federal income-tax policy. He argues that people want more government than they have been willing to pay for, and chronic deficits are no longer sustainable. He dismisses Grover Norquist’s mission to 'starve the beast' of government as nonsense but favors reducing America’s corporate tax rate because only Japan has a higher one. He sets forth political conditions necessary for reform: courage for Democrats and compromise for Republicans."—David Cay Johnston, The American Prospect

"[A] vital call for radical tax reform."—Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast

"[A]n excellent guide to the promise and peril of tax reform... [Bartlett's] writing is clear, concise, and crisp... Highly recommended for anyone wanting a pithy introduction to the challenges of designing a tax system we can be proud of."—Donald Marron, Director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

"[Bartlett's] contribution, a full–throated call for reform, has gotten a surprising amount of attention for a tax book... And the notice is well-deserved. He’s written a clear, well-reasoned brief for reform."—Howard Gleckman, Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute and Brookings Institution

"Impeccably fair-minded."—David Brooks, The New York Times

"A wonderfully clear primer on the relevant issues and the history behind them... Read this book."—Timothy Noah, The New Republic

About the Author

Bruce Bartlett is a columnist for the Economix blog of The New York Times, The Fiscal Times, and Tax Notes. Bartlett’s work is informed by many years in government, including service on the staffs of Congressmen Ron Paul and Jack Kemp and Senator Roger Jepsen, staff director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House, and deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. Bartlett lives in Virginia.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 49258th edition (January 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451646194
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451646191
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #774,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A concise introduction to the current US tax system and the various proposals for tax reform. (Note that this is a public policy book, not a "how to" manual for taxes.) Explanations are rather spare and unelaborated; I had to re-read a few passages to get the gist of what he was saying. The author won't win any prizes for his prose, which is straightforward but dry, yet he writes with authority and is even-handed. He worked for Republican congressmen in the Reagan-Bush I era, but he has no affinity for the current Republican orthodoxy, especially its Tea Party strains. On the whole, I came away feeling much better informed about tax policy and, I admit, frustrated by the political obstacles that stand in the way of meaningful (and needed) reform.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bruce Bartlett's book "The Benefit and The Burden" is a good book for those of us that want to stay informed, but fall asleep the minute the discussion turns to Federal tax and spend policies. Written by a senior economist in the Reagan and Bush administrations it is surprisingly fair in pointing out where our politics has not been helpful in the debate on federal taxes and spending. Most of the explainations of economics and tax policies are clear and easy to understand without a degree in finance required. As a political independant I would love it if every voter read this before the 2012 election.
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Format: Hardcover
Bruce Bartlett's "The Benefit and the Burden" provides an easily readable, credible, and useful overview of American federal taxes and their impact. Bartlett also provides a number of improvement suggestions based on well-thought-out logic rather than useless ideology.

Bartlett begins by pointing out that close to half of all tax filers either pay no federal income tax or get a refund - an obvious built-in incentive for expanding government spending. Then he covers recent macro-level changes, starting with Clinton's raising the top rate from 31% to 39.6% in 1993. Bush I had previously raised it from 28%, his 'No new taxes' pledge notwithstanding. Clinton's rate increase, however, was also accompanied by also increasing the threshold from $86,500 to $250,000. Clinton's actions were followed by rapid economic growth, declining Federal outlays (from 22.1% of GDP to 18.2%), and a 4.7% GDP deficit becoming a 2.4% surplus - all contrary to the dire predictions of opposing Republicans. Then came the Bush II tax cuts and a 3.2% GDP deficit, sluggish economic growth, and The Great Recession.

Many complain that America's taxes are too high (uncompetitive), and headed for European levels. Bartlett shows that neither assertion is based on facts. In 2008 the average total tax burden in OECD nations was 34.8% of GDP, vs. 26.1% in the U.S. Denmark topped the list at 48.2%, and Sweden was close behind at 46.3%. Belgium, Italy, and France were also close, and above the OECD average.
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Format: Hardcover
In The Benefit and the Burden, Bruce Bartlett takes the reader on a journey from the basics of tax policy to the prospects for the future of tax reform, all from an insider's perspective and as one of our nation's most respected tax policy journalists. This book is useful to anyone who wants to understand tax policy and reform, from the interested citizen to congressional and administration staff to the journalist who needs to understand the issues quickly. Bartlett predicts when reform will likely occur, which I have to agree with, given the case he makes, although I can envision one scenario where reform might come more quickly than we expect. You should buy the book to see how this all might end.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform Why We Need It and What it Will Take by Bruce Bartlett

"The Benefit and The Burden" is a very solid, no-nonsense book that makes the compelling case for tax reform and what it will take to do so. In an even-handed, non-partisan manner Bruce Bartlett skillfully makes the US Tax System accessible to the masses. Bartlett's background in government economics and having worked on the staffs of Congressmen Ron Paul and Jack Kemp and as deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration, serves him well to write such a topical and important book. A book about tax reform can be dry and tedious to read at times but Bartlett's lucid and concise prose makes this book a worthwhile read. This educational 288-page book is composed of twenty-four chapters and broken out into the following three parts: Part I. The Basics, Part II. Some Problems, and Part III. The Future.

1. Well-written, and exhaustively-researched book that is accessible to the masses.
2. No-nonsense, lucid and concise prose. The author writes with conviction and expertise.
3. Does a very good job of keeping the chapters short and intelligible.
4. Educational and enlightening book that provides a basic foundation in understanding the US Tax System.
5. Despite Bruce Bartlett's work in Republican administrations, he is even-handed and treats this topic with utmost respect and care. He does not shy away from criticizing any party.
6. In general, the author provides persuasive arguments for his thesis.
7. Good use of charts to illustrate points.
8. The author tell you his biases right up front.
9. A brief history of taxation.
10. Explains the tax system process.
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