Monthly Archives: March 2011


I’ve never thought about the Reagan experiment in Keynesianism from the perspective of the revenuers. Cut taxes (for the upper brackets) and increase military spending. Tell people that the monies in the pockets of the entrepreneurs will create new wealth to fill the treasury’s coffers. This doesn’t actually happen, though. So the IRS is told to decrease the tax gap, the difference between what is owed and what is collected. (This figure is currently estimated to be around 290 billion dollars.) This means increasing audits and other enforcement actions, making the IRS even less popular than it already was. Furthermore, by diverting money from complex cases of tax evasion involving large amounts of money to many smaller cases involving far less, it recruits the IRS into a class war of rich versus poor while perpetuating the delusion that it is the IRS itself which is the problem. I actually had an opportunity to observe a consequence of this process when I was a child, though I didn’t understand the larger context then.

What economic recovery there was during the Reagan era is generally attributed to the stimulus effect of massive government investment in the defense industry, as I mentioned, but I had never thought much about the tax policy issues (at least not from the perspective of low-level workers involved in it) until reading the fragments and drafts collected as The Pale King. I haven’t finished the book, and this is not going to be a complete review. There’s a bit of speculative autobiography in it that was so convincing that I found myself wondering if it could be true. Parts of what he’s proposing there have been verified by other parties, as I understand it, and I found myself wondering about the possibility of an honor court hearing. The scenario he describes is quite plausible, I would imagine, but I don’t know how extensive the term paper writing actually was. A remarkable—even by his standards—piece of writing.

I haven’t investigated the matter thoroughly yet, but I do not think that there has been much literature yet devoted to the tax code. This quite possibly could have drawn him to the subject; I don’t know. I also haven’t ever encountered the concept of “psychic facts” before, and the absurdity of those examples must have been a lot of fun to come up with. The Pale King is much more coherent and seems closer to a final product in terms of the writing of its discrete sections, although not its plotting, than I had been anticipating. I’m most curious now to learn what there is to know about how long he intended the final thing to be, if there’s any evidence of that. I would hope that they release the documents in the HRC to scholars before too long; the sales figures on this book already seem to be quite impressive.

A full review will follow.

Thoughts on Waiting for The Pale King

I haven’t been writing much here for several reasons. The most important of them was that I was devastated to learn of the untimely death of a teacher, mentor, and friend of mine, Jim Paxson. This form of writing began to seem even more trivial, vain, and frivolous than I had usually thought.

At the same time, even the modest audience I have here is likely to be greater than that of the academic articles I have been working on (not exactly “instead of,” but rather than writing nothing). Not everyone finds the minor dramatic production of a well-known novelist or the three-hour digital video indulgence of a certain director as intrinsically fascinating as I do, of course, and these are fairly broadminded subjects as far as scholarship goes.

So, according to the bookseller, David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King will arrive tomorrow. I have somehow managed to teach his last story collection, Oblivion, which may have had material intended for this posthumous book, several times now; and I am greatly anticipating this glimpse of where Wallace’s interests would have taken him. For me, “Mister Squishy,” the titular story from the collection, and even “The Suffering Channel” were the best things Wallace wrote. Some find them unreadable aberrations, though this opinion was more common before his death than it seems to be now. And I find myself growing increasingly detached from Infinite Jest in my middle age.

The announced theme, boredom, does not seem that plausible to me. I don’t find taxes and all that’s associated with them to be a boring subject, personally. I once taught a graduate-level “Writing for Accountants” class (around the time of Sarbanes-Oxley), and I probably learned much more from them about accounting than I taught them about writing. Of course I realize that pre-computerized rote checking of tax forms might not have been as diverting as Maria Wyeth and her rattlesnakes, but not everyone needs that level of stimulation. Maria Wyeth didn’t.

I’ve read the excerpts as they’ve appeared in various organs, but I’ve tried not to read any reviews. I don’t know much what to expect about the level of completion, though I have read of the circumstances of the manuscript’s discovery, which might suggest a relatively complete draft. Or it might mean nothing at all. I take it that there’s introductory material which addresses the editorial process. I doubt that there are many contemporaries of Wallace who have had the same relationship with editors, and whatever of this correspondence that is in the Ransom archive would doubtless be fascinating to read.