April 11, 2005

Let me say something obvious about taxes.

It seems to me that if a government -- federal or state -- is going to tax us, it should have a website where you can easily enter your information. There shouldn't be confusing gateways to privately run websites. There shouldn't be any fees collected anywhere. It shouldn't be for some people and not others. There should be a simple, straightforward website where honest people can key in their numbers in a few minutes and get on with their lives.

UPDATE: Lots of comments on this one! Here's an email too:
I can't let you use my name or position for obvious reasons.

But just to let you know: Our revenue dept used to have a free site to file simple tax returns. Worked great. Shortly after the Big Boys in tax preparation got hold of the IRS and got an agreement that they wouldn't pursue free filing, they went state to state. Basically, lawsuits and interference with private enterprise were hinted at. So now, we don't have it anymore. Last year was the last year.

So it's not the state - it's the people who stand to lose money if the state does it for free.

And I wish people would stop saying we make things difficult. PLEASE give credit where that credit is due - the revenue dept doesn't make the rules. Your elected officials do, and they do it by granting exemptions and deductions for the select few who can get their voices heard. Every deduction results in another box on the form, another worksheet to fill out, another chart to figure out of you qualify, and another complication. Revenue employees are left with the chore of implementing the complications. And catching all the flak.


DNR Mom said...

Ann: Amen times all 5 of your points.

Internal Medicine Doctor said...

Yes, but that would make things too simple. AND not to mention, it would be too obvious.
Surely there is a better way.
How about we invent a NEW numerical code, specifically for taxes. They would look something like chinese letters.
Sounds good?

Earth Girl said...

YES! So what is the next step to further this most excellent idea?

lindsey said...

Attention! Republicans! If you pull off something like this, the rest of us might just start thinking there's actually some purpose to having you bums in Congress.

Pancho said...

You are an attorney. I suggest that you sue the Federal Gov't. and the IRS on this point claiming discrimination.

I also wish you the best of luck...

Mark Daniels said...

The problem with your suggestions is that they make entirely too much sense.


Joan said...

I know in MA you can file your state taxes using a touch tone phone. Now that, I believe, fits all 5 of Ann's criteria! Now if only the Feds would get up to speed...

Anonymous said...

And then what would all the tax preparers, CPAs (and lawyers?) do?

And if we can file taxes online and shop online, shouldn't there be a way to vote online?

Chris Gabel said...

As a former tax accountant of many years, I can answer that simply - garbage in, garbage out. If they made such a site & people made their entries in honest ignorance, coming up with the wrong result, which of course would happen a LOT, they'd have lawsuits on their hands...blame & recriminations. OR, what if they made errors in their software? These are hassles they simply don't want

Tristram said...

Hmm, I think the idea is to make manual entry painful. Why no just use the 'easy payment plan' of payroll deduction?

Besides, is there ANY government designed/run web site that is any good? The technology and skills needed to do a good job eveovle faster than the inertia challenged staffs of government agencies can adjust.

And for people who care, and are good at the kind of site that can handle billions of dollars, and millions of families personal data work at Amazon, Apple, Dell, etc., making alot more than government employees.

KCFleming said...

Re: "if a government -- federal or state -- is going to tax us, it should have a website where you can easily enter your information"

A user-friendly government process is the very definition of an oxymoron. It is, I believe, an impossibility, because it suggests a form of efficiency for the state that is not only unlikely and foriegn to its usual methods, but chimerical.

An even if quite by accident such a robust and convenient method would arise, the fractal growth of government would necessarily destroy it in short order. It is the nature of the beast to obfuscate, complicate and tether. That is how the state maintains control, of course.

Noumenon said...

It should have an easy web site, but is that the likely result? Or are you more likely to get something like the IRS has now, where you have to scroll down the list of 800 forms till you get to 1040-EZ? I think competition among various companies is the best way you're going to get things like automatic downloading of your W-2 information, privacy controls, interview-based return preparation, and heck, even free federal returns now. The government might be able to provide these services, but it would probably cost more and be less innovative. I think Pogo's wrong that every government service has to be this way -- there's no obfuscation in applying for a passport or getting a Social Security check -- but in this area I think we already have evidence that the private sector can do it better.

Dan from Madison said...

Flat tax solves all.
Line 1: How much did you make? Multiply that by x%. That is your tax.
Line 2: How much did you withold?
Subtract line 2 from line 1. Collect or pay.

Frank from Delavan said...

Are you aware that Einstein, late in life was asked if there was anything way beyond his comprehension?

He replied, "The US Income Tax System"

KCFleming said...

Noumenon said "I think Pogo's wrong that every government service has to be this way -- there's no obfuscation in applying for a passport or getting a Social Security check"

Sort of. The one core repeatable process for both items is in fact fairly simple. Just don't ever try to change anything, or have a question answered, or rectify an error, or speak to a knowledgeable human in their employ who can fix anything.

Other than that, no obfuscation at all.

Besides, it is argued that the payout of welfare funds is the primary method of maintaining a kept lower class in thrall. So one would expect these functions to be at least functional.

Walt said...

Some of the commentary to your wistful notion that government could do something to ease the burden on people who serve government, sounds as if people think that the complexity of the tax code is a carefully constructed scheme to keep us in perpetual ignorance and fear. Like some ancient, secretive network.

The tax system isn't complicated in order to serve some sinister objective. It's complicated because there is a very large number of people administering the system, only some of whom are right bright, and it's complicated because there is an even larger number of us inventing and discovering ways to nick the system a little bit here and there. The complication makes us crazy for a little bit, once a year.

The real problem with the IRS is what government does with the way too much money it collects from us. People who like the idea of an uncomplicated flat tax like to say, figure how much you made, and then give them 1% or 5%. It's not going to be that way. Give the IRS 40%, and the state and locals 10%. And they will continually find reasons to "need" a larger share of the nation's productivity for vote-getting schemes.

This isn't a conspiracy; it's human nature.

The truly amazing thing is that system is, even with all the vicious flaws, still voluntary.

Ryan Hatch said...

This is exactly why TurboTax et al are free.

The government was going to develop its own free software. Rather than compete with the IRS (which has better access to the tax code changes, by the way), TurboTax agreed to make its federal product free and try to survive off of state tax fees, which it still charges. If you are like me, then you will be attracted to TurboTax for the free federal service and, since you can easily import that data into the state filing, you will gladly pay the state fee.

Hopefully, the states will follow suit and the whole computer filing process will be free. TurboTax will still survive with value-added work like audit protection.

Hollywood Freaks said...

I would be afraid of the inevitable server crash on April 14.

KCFleming said...

Re: "as if people think that the complexity of the tax code is a carefully constructed scheme to keep us in perpetual ignorance and fear. Like some ancient, secretive network."

Walt, you have greater faith in the workings of government than do I, and give them the benefit of the doubt to a fault.

The tax code is indeed excessively complex precisely because it is the product of a bureaucracy. But to suggest that such bureaucracies do not create this complexity in part to preserve their positions begs credulity.

The recognition of the phenomenon of self-perpetuation and self-justification in an ever-expanding bureaucracy is an old one. And it does not require a conspiracy to be effective, it merely needs the usual incentives inherent in a powerful state. Hayek and Mises have noted this, certainly, among others.