The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Charted: the skyrocketing complexity of the federal tax code

Ever wonder why it takes so long to do your taxes? Check out the chart below, which shows the number of pages of instructions for 1040 forms from 1940 to 2013. Scroll away, and I'll meet you on the other side.

You made it! Back in 1940, the 1040 form had only two pages of instructions -- pretty manageable, even with the small type. But you'd have to wade through 207 pages of instructions to fully understand the 2013 form.

These numbers stand as a pretty good proxy for the growing complexity of the federal tax code over the past 60 years. Filling up those hundreds of pages today are instructions for dealing with the byzantine tangle of credits, deductions and tax scenarios that Congress has built into tax law over the years. Many of these provisions favor the wealthy, and a number of others -- like the gambling loss deduction -- are flat-out indefensible.

This complexity would be laughable if it didn't directly impact the lives of every man, woman and child in America every single year. Congress has flirted with major overhauls to the tax code for years now, but it continually gets hung up on intractable partisan differences. Maybe this year will be the year for reform, though?

Don't hold your breath.