To the two certainties in life, death and taxes, add a third: changes in the rate of taxation. This month, the 75th anniversary of the passage of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which empowered Congress to levy an income tax, is an appropriate occasion to examine just how often that power has been abused.

Since Congress first imposed a 7 percent rate on income over $500,000 in 1913, it hasn't been able to leave the code alone. The maximum rate has surpassed 90 percent twice, and in 1929 dropped to 24 percent. Less than a decade later, it jumped to 79 percent. In the 1980s alone, Congress first cut taxes, then raised them again, then revised the whole system in 1986, providing one set of rates for 1987 and another for 1988. Eleven brackets were cut to five, then to three; and countless deductions, allowances and other tax breaks were repealed to make taxes simpler.But that isn't what happened. Filing a return has now become so complex that even the average taxpayer with few special circumstances must consult an accountant to make sense of the forms.

The minimum essential reform that all desire and that constantly escapes us is genuine tax simplification.