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The widespread feeling that public affairs are out of control is probably due, among other things, to the monumental complexity of today's government and its policies.

Voters can't cast ballots intelligently in their own interest to control a government system that is so complicated that no one understands it. James Madison pointed this out over 200 years ago in "The Federalist, Essay 62":

"It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow."

Complexity is not always bad. Modern societies are extremely complex, and to a great extent this complexity is generally beneficial. One measure of this social complexity is the increasing specialization and productivity of workers.

Economist Adam Smith already pointed out the benefits of specialization in 1776. Can you imagine how long it would take you to produce your own car?!

If we all tried to produce personally everything we need, everyone's standard of living would be terribly low. It is impossible to be an efficient jack of all trades.

We are all better off sticking to our own knitting and trading what we produce for the production of other workers.

Complexity in government and public policy is an entirely different matter.

Complexity in our private affairs often requires government regulation to protect individuals unable to cope with it. How many of us can understand the details of the insurance we buy on our life, car, or house? How then can we protect ourselves from a bum deal?

Government regulation of the contracts insurance companies can sell is a plausible response to a real and serious problem.

Few of us are competent to judge the competence of our doctors, dentists, or airline pilots, but government can protect us from incompetence by requiring licenses to engage in critical jobs.

But who will protect voters ("consumers" of government) from excess complexity in government itself?

As Madison noted, the right to vote isn't worth much to people who are unable for any reason — including excess government complexity — to decide intelligently how to vote.

Federal taxes are a prime example of outrageous complexity. Who can understand the Internal Revenue Code, thousands of pages long? Who has mastered the thousands of additional regulations and "ruling letters" issued by the IRS every year?

Even IRS employees do not understand the law well enough to allow taxpayers to rely on their advice in calculating their taxes. Different IRS agents often give conflicting answers when asked the same questions.

Don't blame the IRS for this. It is stuck with administering tax laws enacted by Congress, whose members reap campaign donations by enacting exemptions for special interests —exemptions which add to tax complexity.

If IRS agents cannot understand the complicated rules they administer as professionals, how can the average citizen-voter or even the average member of Congress? And how can voters react to and ultimately control the decisions of elected officials if they cannot understand those decisions?

The electorate has the legal right to boot top leaders out on the basis of their decisions regarding taxes and other public policies. But it is apparent that as things presently stand, voters are in no position to exercise that right methodically in their own interests.

As long as the present degree of complexity, in taxes and other policies, is preserved, there is very little anybody will be able to do about this.

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