Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
November 23, 2022

David Foster Wallace

What Is the Most Difficult Sentence to Understand in the Tax Code?

[caption id="attachment_19691" align="alignright" width="260" caption="It\'s in there somewhere"][/caption]

The IRC is probably the last thing many of you want to think about right now but, yes, I’m going there.

David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel, “The Pale King“, is set in an IRS office in Peoria, Illinois and you’ll be shocked – SHOCKED! – to learn that the protagonist is fighting extreme boredom at his job. Wallace did extensive research prior to writing his final book including taking accounting classes at Illinois State University and carrying on “lively correspondence with tax lawyers and C.P.A.’s, peppering them with questions about the Tax Reform Act of 1986, compliance studies, I.R.S. office furniture, and an exotic tax shelter called ‘the Silver Butterfly,'” the Times reports.

One of the accountants Wallace corresponded with was Stephen Lacy who wrote this about Section 509(a):

“[L]egendary as the most difficult sentence to understand in the tax code,” adding: “I find that although I can never quite understand what it says, after I read it several times and concentrate, I can actually get into a kind of weird Zen-type meditation high! (Then again sometimes it provokes a profound anxiety attack.)”

“Legendary,” not only because its Mr Lacy’s drug of choice, but because Ronald Reagan quoted this passage back in June of 1986 when he set forth on his divine mission of reforming the tax code. A mission he ultimately achieved and thereby canonizing himself in the hearts and minds of many (can’t you picture the shrine in Grover Norquist’s house?). Anyhoo, here it is, in all its glory:

For purposes of Paragraph (3), an organization described in Paragraph (2) shall be deemed to include an organization described in Section 501(c) (4), (5), or (6) which would be described in Paragraph (2) if it were an organization described in Section 509(a)(3)

Not exactly Stieg Larsson is it? Anyway, if any portion of the code is still haunting your dreams and you feel as though it tops 509(a), you’re invited to exorcise it out now and your conscience will finally be clear.

David Foster Wallace and the Literary Tax Accountant [NYT]