The Sandwich Tax, and Software Engineering

Apr 1, 2015 00:00 · 287 words · 2 minute read

I’ve never been to New York, but from what I hear, they’re pretty serious about their sandwiches. So much so in fact, that there is a tax on sandwiches sold within New York State.

The tax started during the Great Depression, and applied to all sales of food. Local governments started to iterate the definition of this tax towards pre-prepared food, under the premise that those with greater income can afford to dine out more often. In an effort to provide clarity for the owners of food establishments, NY state set out some (both strangely specific and vague) rules and guidelines around what foods should be taxed. The sandwich tax was born.

Sandwiches, according to at least one official bulletin I found, “include cold and hot sandwiches of every kind…”. Well that clears that up. There are rules around what kinds of bread are allowed (double downs anyone?), how the sandwich is named (open-faced is taxable, tacos are not), and how it is presented (deconstructed gets you off the hook).

The intent behind the law was noble - an alternative tax on what was at the time considered a luxury. However, after decades of iterating, tweaking, hacking, and defending, the sales taxation laws in NYC are hard to understand. The average consumer is unlikely to reap the rewards of this system when the reasoning is no longer simple and intuitive.

I love this analogy to software development. Making changes to a system to suit some users and disadvantage others, and adding features that aren’t harmonious with existing ones. This sort of development creates a mess of unmaintainable code, and worse, a confusion around the purpose of the software.

Then again, most things remind me of software development.

Everything reminds me of you

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