INDIANAPOLIS  — Calm down! It’s been like this for a very long time and it won’t get better because you just discovered you don’t like it. The revelations about Mr. Trump’s tax returns fomented great indigestion. But why? Your neighbors down the road are doing the same, just on a different scale.

Every tax season, big retail accounting chains – can you say H&R Block? – guarantee every credit, deduction and exemption you’re entitled to. The problem is, your life is so uncomplicated, there are hardly any credits, deductions or exemptions you’re entitled to.

Mr. Trump says he is a real estate developer. He puts together deals with other people’s money (and a bit of his own) to reshape our cities and countryside. Hotels, offices, condos, retail space, restaurants, golf resorts, and other new facilities are his specialties.

Other real estate magnates build factory and warehouse spaces along interstate highways. A different group focuses on housing. They convert farm and forest into chalets and cookie-cutter castles. A few even tackle the more difficult task of rebuilding and repurposing old inner-city tracts. Developers are no more or less greedy than the folks you know well. They are different from you and me because they work on a scale of space and time very much larger and longer than our home improvement projects.

As the agents of growth and modernization, developers command attention from the moguls of business and government. Since they borrow lots of money, they have extensive financial contacts. Since they spend that money, they know the big contractors, sub-contractors, and labor leaders. Since their enterprises transform parts of our communities, they are masters of government relations. Development can take a decade, and developers need cash flowing all the time.

As important people, doing important things, they seek understanding from the tax authorities. Hence, real estate transactions have many considerations (loopholes, you might call them) when it comes to tax time.

Developers are not alone in seeking understanding and obtaining consideration in the tax code. If you have children, you get an exemption for each child. If you are over 65, you pay a little less in taxes than your 64-year-old neighbor who mirrors you in every respect, except age. Clergy get specific tax breaks. Indiana says two identical houses may not owe the same property tax. The rented house might pay a higher property tax than the owner-occupied house.

Are there good reasons for every tax consideration (loophole)? Is it a good idea to wipe the slate clean? Should we treat everyone and every dollar spent or received alike?

If Mr. Trump’s tax returns were filed in accordance with the law, our outrage might be misplaced. Perhaps we need to ask, “To what extent, and under what conditions, should we subsidize real estate development?” Does it take an audacious Donald Trump for us to question our values and judgement? 
 
Mr. Marcus is temporarily a one-armed economist. Reach him at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com. Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who Gets What?” wherever podcasts are available or at mortonjohn.libsyn.com.