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Crammed with loopholes and special interest provisions, it works for no one except tax lawyers, accountants, and huge corporations. Not for the first time, we have reached a breaking point. That happened in , and again in , and again in In other words, every thirty-two years. Which means that the next complete overhaul is due in But what should be in this new tax code? Can we make the U.

Yes, yes, and yes. Can we cut tax rates and still bring in more revenue? Other rich countries, from Estonia to New Zealand to the UK--advanced, high-tech, free-market democracies--have all devised tax regimes that are equitable, effective, and easy on the taxpayer. But the United States has languished. In the Netherlands that task takes a mere fifteen minutes!

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Successful American companies like Apple, Caterpillar, and Google effectively pay no tax at all in some instances because of loopholes that allow them to move profits offshore. Indeed, the dysfunctional tax system has become a major cause of economic inequality. In A Fine Mess, T. Reid crisscrosses the globe in search of the exact solutions to these urgent problems.

With an uncanny knack for making a complex subject not just accessible but gripping, he investigates what makes good taxation no, that's not an oxymoron and brings that knowledge home where it is needed most. Never talking down or reflexively siding with either wing of politics, T. Reid presses the case for sensible root-and-branch reforms with a companionable ebullience. Doing our taxes will never be America's favorite pastime, but it can and should be so much easier and fairer.

Hardcover , pages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about A Fine Mess , please sign up. Several times, the author refers to a certain payroll deduction as a "Medicaid tax. If so, isn't this pretty careless? Thom I found two locations p. The other references mention both …more I found two locations p. The other references mention both medicare and medicaid together. I think it more likely a simple mistake, just as two is less than several. The audiobook read by the author uses the phrase "Medicaid and medicare taxes" in both of those locations.

See 1 question about A Fine Mess…. Lists with This Book. Sep 27, Steve rated it really liked it. Written very simply and directly, it gives some history of taxation around the world and especially in America, with a broad overview of how our tax system works and how it could be improved, especially by emulating practices that have worked well in other countries. View all 3 comments. Apr 26, Emily rated it really liked it. I'm going to jot down a few quotes here as I run across them Congress--the people who write the tax laws--have given themselves various tax break and deductions that other Americans don't get.

This is probably a natural tendency among people who write the law. As it happens, though, some countries have found ways to combat this predictable effort by legislators to reduce their own tax bills. Slovakia, for example, has a rule that members of the national legislature I'm going to jot down a few quotes here as I run across them This statistic, called the "overall tax burden," is measured annually by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD , which is sort of a United Nations but with membership limited only to the richest countries.

For many years now, the OECD's calculation of overall tax burden has shown that total tax revenues in the United States are much lower than in most other advanced countries. This rule is not particularly complicated; it is easy to understand, although not always easy to implement. In fact, it's so simple that the economists generally reduce the essential formula for good taxation to a four-letter world: Virtually all economists and tax experts agree that this is the best way to run a tax regime. Austria, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland all have flourishing charity sectors, even after they took away the tax break for contributions; New Zealand, of course, got rid of it in that first base-broadening exercise in the s.

None of these countries saw any significant drop in charitable contributions. All over the world, people contribute mainly because of a belief in a particular cause or because of a basic human desire to help others. Getting a tax break is, at most, a minor motivation. The tax deduction for charitable contributions cheapens the charitable impulse by implying that you and I wouldn't give a dime to charity unless we got a little financial gain on the side. All studies except those funded by the real estate industry find that a mortgage interest deduction raises the price of a house.

When the OECD investigated the impact of the mortgage interest deduction in wealthy countries where it is still in place, it concluded that 'new purchasers Whatever benefit a buyer might get from the tax break is just about completely offset by the higher price of the house. So the deduction doesn't do what it is supposed to do--make it easier for people to buy a home. Yet eliminating the deduction seems to have no impact on home ownership. In all the industrialized democracies, the rate of home ownership is just about the same.

Then they can duck just out. What you want is a broad-based tax without exemptions or loopholes--because one you have special exemptions or deductions, people who can afford lawyers will take of course advantage of them. Yes, a flat-rate income tax regime can work, under certain conditions. The flat tax works in a country that is a former Communist state, with no investment capital and low wage rates, which needs to build a capitalist economy from a base of approximately zero. The flat tax works in a country where almost everyone has the same amount of wealth so there's no need for the distributive effect of graduated rates.

And if all these conditions are met, the flat-rate tax will probably work as long as the economy is on a path of steady growth. A key contributor to inequality, he says, is government policy. When governments decide to bail out big banks while millions lose their homes to foreclosure action by the same banks, the policy exacerbates the problem of inequality. Such policies transfer wealth from middle-class homeowners to upper-bracket bankers and their shareholders--not through private markets, but because of decisions by governments.

When the national tax code says that money earned from trading securities will be taxed at a much lower rate than money earned from working at a job, the tax law itself is adding to inequality.

A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System

That is not surprising, Piketty says, because the government officials who approve corporate bailouts and write tax laws are often beholden to the financial elites for political contributions. And earnings from capital that is, from financial transactions are growing faster than earnings from labor that is, from working at a job. That is, you can make some money cooking hamburgers or serving hamburgers, but you won't make as much as a guy who buys and sells the stock in a hamburger chain. Because our Supreme Court has defined donating money as a form of political speech, economic clout in the United States turns quickly into political clout.

Looking at profits, and taxes paid, in the years , the GAO said large U. Many companies had to pay state and local income taxes, and some paid income tax to foreign countries on their overseas earnings. But even when all those taxes were added up, the effective rate of tax paid by large U. The GAO said that companies were able to cut their tax bills far below the statutory rate because of 'exemptions, deferrals, tax credits, and other forms of incentives' in the law and because they have successfully transferred much of their profit to foreign countries, as Caterpillar did.

Big companies were so successful in the game of tax avoidance that 'nearly 55 percent of all large U. We have a higher corporate tax rate than almost any other country, and we apply it to income earned anywhere in the world. And yet corporate income tax revenues have fallen so sharply that they now make up a fairly small share of the federal government's annual tax revenues.

Corporate tax revenues are plummeting partly because Congress has larded the corporate income tax with costly preference and giveaways for corporations, and partly because American multinationals have become so successful at shifting income overseas. Hundreds of millions of dollars--money that might have gone to raising wages, or creating new medicines, or building factories--have been paid to tax lawyers for the creation of elaborate evasion schemes.

The result is a complicated, unpopular, and stiff corporate income tax that actually doesn't do much taxing. It is Congress that writes the tax laws. It's Congress that adds hundreds of new exemptions, allowances, credits, and calculations to the tax code every year. It was Congress that decided to give the IRS responsibility for managing the health insurance subsidies flowing to millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act ObamaCare --and then cut the agency's staff after assigning it this major new task. It was Congress that assigned to the IRS the management of the earned income tax credit EITC , which has become one of the nation's largest support programs for low-income Americans.

It was Congress that crafted the much-hated alternative minimum tax, which spawned whole new dimensions of complexity, and hours of additional work, for millions of families. And yet congressmen and senators can't seem to resist pointing angry fingers at the IRS, as if somebody else had created the legislative monster that is the U. But the IRS achieves this noteworthy status by imposing much of the cost of the tax system on taxpayers.

In other rich countries The IRS, in contrast, pushes those costs onto us. The Office of the Taxpayer Advocate says American families spend 3. In terms of time and cost, just paying our taxes has become one of the biggest industries in the United States. And yet the United States stands alone among the world's rich nations in refusing to implement this common levy.

The problem comes when U. This makes up exceptional, but not in a way that any other country would choose. But their proposals involved incremental change to the existing system, and incremental change, over the decades, is what got us into the fine mess we're stuck with today.

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These approaches to tax reform, including the plans we heard during the presidential campaign, all suffer from the same problem: As we've seen in other countries, the way to bring about fundamental change is a dysfunctional tax code is to start over--to rewrite from scratch. Jun 20, Conor rated it really liked it Shelves: So, I can't exactly recommend this book. It is, after all, about taxes. Taxes are boring, everyone has unlettered and predictable opinions about them, and the subject is endlessly abstruse. But they're also very important.

Beyond clumsy suppositions about liberals favoring more taxes and conservatives loathing them, I found this account fascinating for revealing one of the few political areas of substance where conservative and liberal policy goals are consistent with each other. It is in fact p So, I can't exactly recommend this book. It is in fact possible to raise more money and lower tax rates! We can lower the taxes on the richest, not chase away corporations, implement a VAT without it being regressive, and do all of this while raising more money and radically simplifying the nature of our byzantine tax code!

I mean, I'll probably end up that way, but at least I can come in with an open mind and a lack of presumptions about what conservative policies do. So if there's a fix out there, then why not adopt it? And also a hefty dose of the ridiculous idea that American exceptionalism means "everything we do contributes to us being the greatest!

I kept getting surprised about how interesting the subject matter was but that's kind of what NPR does so well: Apr 09, Angie Boyter rated it liked it. Reid thinks the time is right for us to DO something about it. To help us prepare, Reid has written A Fine Mess, an interesting and informative look at our own tax system and tax systems of other developed countries around the world, from Austria to New Zealand.

He concludes that other countries have systems that are much more equitable and easy to navigate than our own and makes recommendations on how we can improve.


  1. A Fine Mess by T. R. Reid | wesatimunogo.cf.
  2. A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System;
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  4. Sobre Paul Auster. Autoria, distopia y textualidad (Spanish Edition).
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The citizen need only review the form and let the authorities know if there are any corrections. In addition to interesting facts, readers can broaden their knowledge of concepts used in discussions of taxation, like BBLR Broad Base, Low Rates and the Gini coefficient, which is a gauge of income inequality A country would have a Gini coefficient of 0 if everyone had the same wealth and a coefficient of 1 if one person had it all. Reid is a journalist and not an economist or policymaker, so it is not surprising that A Fine Mess is stronger at documenting the problem than at proposing solutions.

Most of his recommendations are no-brainers like retaining a progressive tax rate system, reducing complexity, and eliminating special provisions that benefit some small favored company or group. He makes a good case for the benefits of such a tax but does not explore adequately or solve, in my opinion, the drawbacks, e. A Fine Mess remains an interesting exposition that will leave readers better informed and hopefully provide stimulus for progress towards a better tax system in Are these items related?

And what is their significance? I can't reasonably expect him to follow up every question that might arise out of a book like this, but I would have hoped for a bit more original thought from him. Oct 11, Graeme Roberts rated it it was amazing.

A Fine Mess

I read this book on the recommendation of my Goodreads friend Steve. I may have otherwise passed it by, expecting a dry, technical tome. In fact, I enjoyed it and learned a great deal. I used to imagine that Americans must understand most of the arcane shit in tax forms and the IRS booklets that are intended to explain everything but are totally impenetrable.

I always wanted to know more about the tax system, the various taxes, and how it all works, but never dreamed that I would. The admirable T I read this book on the recommendation of my Goodreads friend Steve. Reid, a seasoned journalist and author, has changed all that. I now understand that the first principle of good taxation is "broad base, low rates" BBLR , and that there are many kinds of taxes to pay for our communal expenses or the luxuries of dictators and their children.

For the first time, I actually understand how value-added tax VAT , which I have paid in England, Germany, and other places, actually works. Reid is a strong proponent of VAT for the United States, which is the only developed country that doesn't use it, although other countries do. He shows the advantages of it, and a few disadvantages. Even though Republicans and Democrats support it, no politician or party is prepared to introduce a new, and therefore unpopular, tax. Reid shows very convincingly that only a total overhaul of the gargantuan, nightmarish tax code of about 73, pages will succeed, because the only way that the politicians will get it through is by presenting gains and pains in the same package.

Most important is the need to lower rates at the same time as eliminating all of the enormously expensive entitlements that enable citizens and businesses to reduce their taxes, but adding VAT will also help enormously, by taxing consumption rather than income. The structure of the book is interesting, logical, and coherent, as Reid introduces the history of American taxes and politics tightly entwined , but quickly adds the experience of many other countries, some of which, such as New Zealand, the UK, Australia, and Slovakia, he researched in great detail on the spot.

The taxation systems of several countries are working extremely well. They have gone through the pain of refining and improving them so we shouldn't have to. An unfortunate side effect of American exceptionalism is the belief that America can't learn from other countries. In the case of taxation, that has already been proved wrong by Donald Regan, during the Reagan administration. He even sent a team to New Zealand to understand what they had done. The Tax Reform Act of , which "swept through both the Senate and the House, and was signed into law by a beaming president in October," is considered to be, "the most significant reform in the history of the income tax.

Graduated rates themselves are not a painful source of complexity. Americans spend billions of hours and dollars to file returns. Huge drain o 4. Huge drain on productivity. Congress likes to yell at IRS. Can give some credits to make VAT less regressive though admits that fairness is the enemy of simplicity.

Keep the estate tax. Japan mails postcards with government assessment of taxes owed. They also have dynamic rules for withholding taxes from income. How hard could it be? Side benefit to tax cheats: Sep 07, Manray9 rated it liked it Shelves: The current system cries out for reform, but I foresee little chance of any genuine improvements to our obtuse and archaic tax code during an era of government paralysis. Reid deserves Four Stars on the research and content and Two Stars for the facetious tone. Mar 06, Thomas Ray added it.

Advocates a regressive, value-added tax. Enjoy unlimited streaming on Prime Video. There was an error trying to load your rating for this title.

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