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Bernard Wolfman, tax code critic, dies

The U.S. tax code is riddled with loopholes, cumbersome and favors the rich. The best hope for our tax system and the taxpayers who must deal with it is simplification. And the optimal way to achieve that is via an independent commission.

"So what," you say. "Tell me something I don't know."

OK, how's this for new news: That assessment of America's taxes was made 42 years ago.

Bernard Wolfman_Harvard Law "The more detailed a statute gets, as it becomes increasingly encrusted with preferences, the easier it is to work loopholes," Bernard Wolfman told The New York Times in 1969. "If the statute were simpler, and spoke more in principles, the courts would feel a broad mandate to enforce the law and honor the intentions of lawgivers."

Unfortunately, Wolfman won't get a chance to see if Washington, D.C., can finally make substantive change to the Internal Revenue Code. Wolfman died on Aug. 20. He was 87.

Wolfman was the Fessenden Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School. His principal academic interests were federal income taxation and the professional responsibility of tax practitioners.

Before joining the Harvard faculty in 1976, he served as the Dean and Gemmill Professor of Tax Law and Tax Policy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. From 1948 to 1963 he practiced law with Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen in his native Philadelphia, becoming the firm's managing partner from 1961.

Among the books Wolfman wrote or edited was "Dissent Without Opinion: The Behavior of Justice William O. Douglas in Tax Cases." The 1975 volume examined how that Supreme Court Justice went from consistently voting with the government in High Court tax cases to voting just as consistently against it.

Perhaps, speculated Wolfman, Justice Douglas was expressing disgust with the tax code in the hope it would be changed.

Rest in peace, Mr. Wolfman.

And if you get the chance, could you nudge someone up there to offer Capitol Hill a little tax code guidance from on high? Those of us down here dealing with our taxes would greatly appreciate it.

Divine intervention might be the only way we'll ever see tax overhaul.

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