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Megan McArdle produces exactly the article I was looking for.

Thanks for writing "Trump's 1995 Return Shows Good Tax Policy at Work"!At issue is the “net operating loss”.... When you net out your expenses against the money you took in, it turns out that you lost a bunch of money. However, in tax law, this has a special meaning, because these NOLs can be offset against money earned in other years....Take a simple example... A meatpacking business loses a million dollars in one year, and then the next year it makes a million and a half.
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