Who’s Afraid of Tax Reform?

The last time I saw the family dentist while I was in college, he asked me what I was studying. When I told him I was studying tax accounting, he got a strange, smug look on his face and asked, “what are you going to do when there is a flat tax?”

It’s been almost 30 years since I saw that dentist, and so far I’ve dodged the flat tax bullet. There has been one big tax reform since I started public accounting, and next to getting fired by good old Price Waterhouse, The Tax Reform of 1986 has been the best thing that happened to my career.


The 1986 Tax Reform Act’s 25th anniversary is tomorrow. With talk of radical tax reform in the air, from Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan to Rick Perry’s embrace of an old-fashioned flat tax, young tax nerds may lose sleep worrying that this time tax careers really will be legislated out of existence.

Go back to bed. For young tax nerds, radical change can be a huge career boost.

The 1986 tax reforms were enacted during my third year out of school. The local office of my national firm was going to put on a big client seminar, and I was put in charge of organizing the presentation. In the pre-Internet days, we got one paperback copy of the legislation, which I tore apart at the bindings so the presenters could have their part of the law. I proofread the slides, sent them to the photographer, and then manually arranged the presentation in the slide carousel (there was no PowerPoint, kids).

The seminar came off well (I did passive losses), which helped keep me (and the evil manager who didn’t like me) from getting me fired again. But in the following weeks the real benefit began to dawn on me — thanks to tax reform, I suddenly knew more about most of the tax law than everybody in the office who outranked me — including the evil manager. It got me promoted quickly, and it gave me much-needed credibility a few years later when a bunch of us went over the wall to start a new firm.

If there is radical tax reform, it will trash a lot of accumulated tax trivia knowledge that experienced tax nerds trade on. But it will also create huge opportunities for young, smart nerds who are willing to learn the new rules. It will be a great leveller in the profession, and a huge advantage to the young and strong.

But it will probably make it almost impossible for me to sell my collection of 1986 Tax Act books for a good price on e-Bay.

The last time I saw the family dentist while I was in college, he asked me what I was studying. When I told him I was studying tax accounting, he got a strange, smug look on his face and asked, “what are you going to do when there is a flat tax?” It’s been almost 30 years since I saw that dentist, and so far I’ve dodged the flat tax bullet. There has been one big tax reform since I started public accounting, and next to getting fired by good old Price Waterhouse, The Tax Reform of 1986 has been the best thing that happened to my career. The 1986 Tax Reform Act’s 25th anniversary is tomorrow. With talk of radical tax reform in the air, from Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan to Rick Perry’s embrace of an old-fashioned flat tax, young tax nerds may lose sleep worrying that this time tax careers really will be legislated out of existence. Go back to bed. For young tax nerds, radical change can be a huge career boost. The 1986 tax reforms were enacted during my third year out of school. The local office of my national firm was going to put on a big client seminar, and I was put in charge of organizing the presentation. In the pre-Internet days, we got one paperback copy of the legislation, which I tore apart at the bindings so the presenters could have their part of the law. I proofread the slides, sent them to the photographer, and then manually arranged the presentation in the slide carousel (there was no PowerPoint, kids). The seminar came off well (I did passive losses), which helped keep me (and the evil manager who didn’t like me) from getting me fired again. But in the following weeks the real benefit began to dawn on me — thanks to tax reform, I suddenly knew more about most of the tax law than everybody in the office who outranked me — including the evil manager. It got me promoted quickly, and it gave me much-needed credibility a few years later when a bunch of us went over the wall to start a new firm. If there is radical tax reform, it will trash a lot of accumulated tax trivia knowledge that experienced tax nerds trade on. But it will also create huge opportunities for young, smart nerds who are willing to learn the new rules. It will be a great leveller in the profession, and a huge advantage to the young and strong. But it will probably make it almost impossible for me to sell my collection of 1986 Tax Act books for a good price on e-Bay.

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