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September 27, 2023

light reading

ICYMI: The Ten Most Popular, Not at All Clickbaity Stories of 2022

With just seconds left in 2022 (this is scheduled to publish on 11:59 PM on December 31st), let’s take a quick look back on the ten stories that seemed to have the most buzz this past year. Some may be surprising, EY gets way too many mentions, and a lot of people were interested in […]

Politicians Incorrectly Demonizing “Tax Loopholes” Is Old Hat

Today, Christopher Bergin explains how our elected officials butcher the term "tax loophole": For now, let’s look at the Republicans (trust me, I plan to get to the Democrats, too). When Republicans talk about tax reform, they say they mean that they want to close loopholes to increase revenue and make the system better. OK, […]

Center for Audit Quality Concerned That No One, Outside of a Few Auditors, Knows What Auditors Actually Do

The CAQ’s continuing dialogue with individual investors indicates that many in the marketplace do not fully understand the scope of the audit process and the responsibilities placed on public company auditors. The In-Depth Guide to Public Company Auditing will help to bridge that information gap. The new Guide describes how a public company audit firm decides to accept a new audit engagement, how it assesses the risk that the financial statements contain material misstatements as part of determining the audit’s scope, and then how the auditors perform and report their findings – all in plain English. [Cindy Fornelli/CAQ, Guide]

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

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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]