A Little Perspective on Page Length

01 Dec

Travel back with me to 2009 when the debate over health reform was really going strong. You may recall that one of the chief complaints from opponents of the bill was it’s length. At roughly 2,400 pages, it was considered far too complicated and critics routinely asserted that no one in Congress had actually read the thing. Set aside for a moment the obvious questions like: “If no one in Congress read it, how did it get written?” and “How many pages should it take to begin reforming nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy?”

Rather, ask the more simple question: Is 2,400 pages a lot for a document? I think you’ll find that out of context the answer is clearly “It depends.” If, for example, I purchased a newspaper one Sunday after church, I’d find 2,400 pages a daunting way to spend the afternoon. On the other hand, I’d expect that certain reference books might easily number at least 1,000 pages, and my shelves are lined with them. Clearly, context matters.

So, let’s say that your goal is to design a house. You could do it on a cocktail napkin, but you might prefer hiring an architect to draft a set of blueprints. Similarly, when writing a law, there’s a lot of ground that needs to be covered. The length of the bill pales in comparison to the length of the regulations subsequently generated, but 2,400 pages is still a lot. But is it too much? Well, as I said at the outset, the health care system is a very big thing, and affecting it at all requires a similarly big effort. So, I think that the 2,400 pages is actually about right–maybe even impressively short given all it aims to do–but if you disagree, allow me to provide you with another number: 57,000. That’s the number of pages in General Electric’s 2010 tax return. Even more striking than the page length is what the document manages to achieve: Despite making $14 billion in profits that year, GE paid no taxes on the earnings.

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Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Legislation


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