I never felt too violated by the news that my government can snoop on every digital communication and financial transaction I make. Maybe I should have been more bothered, but the snooping wasn't affecting my daily life, and it seemed like it might be useful for fighting terrorism, so I worried about other things instead.

This week, as I was pulling together all of my records to do taxes, I didn't get too upset that the process of taxpaying is unnecessarily frustrating and burdensome. As a citizen, I do what I need to do. I'm a team player.

I have also come to peace with the fact that my government now takes about half of my income. I figure most of it goes to good causes. I'm here to help.

I take pride in the fact that I don't let the little things get to me.

But the other day, as I was crawling my way through mountains of statements and receipts, trying to organize my records for my accountant, with several more days of this drudgery ahead, I had a disturbing thought. I must warn you in advance that this disturbing thought can only be expressed in all capital letters and it must include profanity. It goes like this.

Message to my government:



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+34 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
"Doing your taxes" is basically making your case for what you owe to the IRS. If you let them do it, they'll happily take the other 50%.

BTW, you're wealthy enough that you could probably hire a few lobbyists. Seriously, for maybe a $2-500K investment, you could probably get the "Cartoonist Reduction and Protection" (CRAP) legislation tucked into the next farm bill, and never pay a dime in federal tax again. Taxes are for little people.
+14 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
[Nancy Pelosi recently said, when asked by Candy Crowley about cutting federal spending: "The cupboard is bare. There's no more cuts to make. It's really important that people understand that."]

I got a kick out of that one too. It really hit home because i have five sons in the house. Our pantry is always bare. It doesn't matter how well i stock it, when i go in there to get something i want, inevitably it's gone. They have a small fridge upstairs that they keep their own stuff in. it's always stocked.

Milton Friedman said there are four ways to spend money, each with different effect and efficiency. Spending someone else's money on someone else was the worst of the four for both effect and efficiency, and that is what government spending is. He estimated 30% of tax revenue is well spent.
Mar 6, 2014
"The part that makes flat tax stuff so attractive is the promise that it will reduce our tax forms to the size of a postcard."

That's an interesting delusion. The progressive scale is not what makes taxes complicated. It's the various deductions and reporting of different types of income that does. A "flat tax" doesn't necessarily mean that goes away. You would also still need to substantiate that the income you are reporting is truly all your income. And the IRS would still need to exist to verify and enforce the law.

And to Scott's point there's the various archaic forms filled with jargon that only accountants understand. And all of it feels like information that's already been reported. But really that's not necessarily true as a lot of things are reported in aggregate rather than per individual.

But at least I think all Americans can agree it's a pain in the a$$ and really should be less of a burden to individuals.
+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
"Private sector businesses often go to a lot of effort to improve efficiency and reduce costs."

Posted on the blog of a cartoonist who's popularity was built on pointing out how wasteful and inefficient businesses can be!
Mar 6, 2014
The main point of a lot of regulation is just to employ people doing unproductive things. In the distant past, an advisor would say to the emperor "It's going to be a cold winter" and his reply was "let's build a monument." The idea is that a monument would employ people, and those people could then afford food and shelter.

Today a businessman says "I can't afford a yacht" and a congressmen replies "let's regulate something."
Mar 6, 2014
The part that makes flat tax stuff so attractive is the promise that it will reduce our tax forms to the size of a postcard. Not that taxes are inherently bad (though less of them is preferred) but there's no good reason that they should have to be so complex.

Also: "I figure most of it goes to good causes." That's highly debatable, but even setting aside the good causes/wasteful causes argument, most of it really goes to feed the bureaucracy. Private sector businesses often go to a lot of effort to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Government does no such thing, because nobody in the power structure has an actual profit motive to do so. The money comes from the taxpayers and is regarded as an endless supply.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
steveskf, you'd be right about my naivete if Zoe Lofgren lost her job for some other reason. But if she lost her job over her efforts to kill return free filing, the tax software companies would immediately become persona non grata with Congress. Representatives only pay attention to the people's will when people are paying attention to what they're doing. But once people do start paying attention, the politicians do too.

Case in point, when the environmentalists succeeded in knocking off 7 out of 12 "dirty dozen" Senators over their involvement with our nation's worst polluters back in the 1970's, every Senator and Representative left fell over himself or herself to prove how committed they were to the environment. We got the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the EPA in the following session. Money from heavy polluters was as toxic to politicians as the pollution they were emitting was to rivers and streams.

So my idea has less to do with simply removing one politician for another, as it does with sending the message to all remaining politicians that "you will be removed too, if you don't take this issue seriously".
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
Couldn't agree more! They already have all of the information. There should be a single optional form you have to fill out: business expense purchases made with cash. You fill out the form, attach reciepts. That's it. If you don't fill it out, the government assumes you made no deductible purchases with cash.

The reason we still do our own taxes is big companies like Intuit and H&R Block lobby the government to not allow the IRS to do it. It's big business. !$%* them.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
I was employed, self-employed and provided professional services (three tax regimes) for some parts of the year; my tax refunds are due to the life insurance and payments to university (info automatically transfered to Tax Inspection), also, I was registered as a VAT payer for some time.

My tax issues were dealt by a single click - "I accept" (I had to go through identification process through Internet banking system, of course).

My mum is a small business owner - no accountant; my partner - owner of a financial services boutique, so he has to formally have one, never had seen that woman. "Click" is how they manage their taxes; if something is unclear - free line to government tax consultants (very qualified - the tax lawyers of highest paid legal offices consult with them. Although, they don't reveal it to their own clients)

That's the benefit of being a backward country at certain stages of development. We went straight to broad-band Internet, straight to more advanced IT systems, straight to debit/credit cards (no checks), on-line registration of companies, etc.

Of course, we are just three million (Lithuania), easier to manage.
Mar 6, 2014
@Dooby, lol I find your solution to the tax preparation problem amusing. To think that removing one politician for another in order to accomplish a stated goal shows a lack of understanding of how our system works, or better yet, how it does not work . Do you not think that software companies that stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars off of favorable tax laws would not hedge their bets by buying off numerous other candidates in the event that they were to lose one of their stoogies in congress? No matter who you elect to congress, numerous !$%*!$%* have already long ago bought them off. For a very long time the services of the congress has gone to the highest bidder. And that is not going to change anytime in the forseeable future.
My best guess is that the only relief in sight will be once congress and the ultra wealthy that control it have managed to completely collapsed our economy and monetary system that only then will there be a possibility of some kind of positive change.
Mar 6, 2014
That WOULD be one of those unexpected benefits of the NSA spying scandal, lol!

However, Scott, there's a very good reason (from the government's perspective) why they want you to do your own taxes: people always miss some of the deductions they're entitled to.

I don't know if you've seen it, but H&R Block is running an ad campaign called something like, "Get your billion dollars back!" By taking the tax returns they've audited that someone else has done, and extrapolating those results nationwide, they estimate that American taxpayers are missing around $1 billion per year in deductions.

You think the government wants to give you back the $1 billion they've taken in error? Hardly. You think they want to simplify the tax code so they can't do that any more? Doubtful.

Some of your other comments:

You take pride in the fact that little things don't get to you? So, you figure that having to give up half of your income is a little thing? Hey, Scott, could you send me, say, just 1/4 of your income? Since half of your income is a little thing, giving me 1/4 of it should be so miniscule to be beneath your notice. Thanks in advance.

You think that your taxes mostly go to good causes? Really? Read the book "National Suicide" by Martin Gross and get back to me. No waste, fraud, or pork in OUR government's spending! Nope. Not any. None at all.

As California's beloved (not) Representative Nancy Pelosi recently said, when asked by Candy Crowley about cutting federal spending: "The cupboard is bare. There's no more cuts to make. It's really important that people understand that."

And that's with our federal government spending $6.8 trillion more than what they took in in taxes since President Obama took office. Hey, Scott, get ready to give up 90% of your income. After all, the cupboard is bare.

Just a gentle suggestion: maybe you SHOULD be a little more bothered about what your government is doing. Maybe what they're doing, while using your money to do it, should cause you a little more concern than it does. Maybe things like the IRS targeting US citizens based on their political beliefs, or monitoring all your communications, or Fast and Furious lost-firearm scandal, and so on ad infinitum, really DO affect you.

You may wish to recall Edmund Burke's comment about what it takes for evil to triumph. Then maybe, just maybe, as the good man you are, you should stop doing nothing.
Mar 6, 2014
I think you misunderstand the intent here. The tax code is actually part of the government's job creation program. I mean, sure, it could be as simple as getting rid of all deductions, rationally identifying a target tax rate, and taking that amount out of everything that people earn. But where would that leave H&R Block? What, you do you not think CPAs deserve a job, too?

More seriously, if a private company did what the government does -- that is, swindle the public out of millions of dollars every year through FUD over paying the right amount of taxes -- you could probably win a class-action lawsuit against them. Americans spent ~$25B and ~6B hours each year to prepare their taxes. Not PAYING their taxes, mind you, just PREPARING them. It's a ridiculous and completely unnecessary cost. The tax code has grown to about four million words. We are almost at the point where it will actually be impossible to file your taxes correctly. We may already be there. Our only saving grace is that the government doesn't have the ability to check everyone.

That doesn't stop them from trying, though. Some number of years ago, I sold a large amount of stock at a loss. Since I was young and foolish, I didn't realize that I could use that loss (not all of it, though) as a deduction, so I didn't bother putting it on my taxes. Two years later, I got a severe notice from the IRS claiming that I owed them about $30K from the profits of the sale!

As it turns out, until last year, when you sold stock the only thing that brokerage firms were required to provide to the government was the amount you sold it for (not the profit, the absolute amount). In other words, the rules were deliberately set up to make your tax burden look HIGHER than it actually was! The government naturally assumed that I had somehow magically acquired all that stock for $0, and therefore owed taxes on the full amount I received from the sale.

My wife, fortunately, never throws anything away, and I was able to reconstruct the buying price from old purchase records (some of them VERY old). But what if she hadn't? Some of these records predated computer tracking; our documents may have been literally the only remaining record of those purchases. If we hadn't kept them, we would have had to pay a huge sum of money that we DID NOT OWE. Because the tax code is set up to !$%* you over.
Mar 6, 2014
And yet, this same government that knows intricate details of ourselves (through the tax forms) still needs to do a census every 10 years.
Mar 6, 2014
Its also nice when one government agency requires you to go to a different agency for something they have on file and then send them the results. I have the same feeling: "Do it yourself ****suckers!"

Having said that its even more disturbing that with all that information collected from around the world, they have no clue what's actually happening in places like Russia and Ukraine.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014

The ONLY reason personal taxes are as complicated as they are isn't about the laws themselves - there are very few that affect any individual filer - but about deliberately presenting them in such a way as to force people to either buy tax software, hire a professional, or risk over-paying. Our country is basically propping up the tax preparation industry through the deliberate use of complexity and confusion, as if there's some sort of intrinsic benefit to wasting hundreds of millions of hours for the sake of preserving thousands of jobs.

Nothing has made me more angry at my own elected representative, Zoe Lofgren, than learning that she, together with Eric Cantor, is responsible for personally moving to kill "return free filing" when it's been proposed. Return free filing is something they have in a few other countries already. It's where the government says "Here's how much you made, here's how much you owe in taxes, here's what you've already paid, now just let us know about your deductions and we'll either tell you what you owe or we'll pay whatever we owe you." Tax time could be over and done with inside of 30 minutes (and faster if you just take the standard deduction, like most Americans) were it not for Zoe Lofgren's obeisance to the software companies who fund her campaign. Because really, complicated taxes are how Quicken and TurboTax convince poor fools like me to shell out $50-$100 every single frikkin' year.

Hate tax time? Fund Zoe Lofgren's strongest Democratic challenger in the primary. There's no way her district would elect a Republican, and Cantor's seat is as safe as they come, but if Lofgren were one of two Democrats standing in the November election (thanks to California's "jungle primary") she could conceivably lose, especially if everyone knew she was the reason tax time is so miserable.

I don't think I can post links here, but you can learn more about the death of return free filing, and Lofgren and Cantor's role in it, by searching propublica for "how the maker of turbotax fought free simple tax filing."
Mar 6, 2014
You pay 50% in taxes while Mitt Romney only pays 10% (based on his tax returns submitted when he ran for president)? I guess you didn't take my earlier advice to create a tax exempt not for profit charitable foundation to protect your assets from the tax man. The bond holders of the US national debt thank you.
On a side note, I read yesterday that by 2020 the interest on the national debt will surpass what is spent annually on the military. Gotta love those ole boys runnin the country up in Washington.
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
1.) ...and 1/2 your income gone just became 3/4.

2.) Repeat the phrase "flat tax" until a gang of CPA's surround you on the playground.

3.) The government may technically collect buku information about you, but the competent/intelligent/young/attractive govt agents from TV shows are only actors. Reality is your comic.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
[I didn't get too upset that the process of taxpaying is unnecessarily frustrating and burdensome.]
Apparently, you did.

I was surprised to read that, and disagreed right away. I believe that the government tries to do too much (and isn't very good at most of it), but I'm still willing to pay what has been agreed is my fair share.

My beef is about the ever-growing, remarkably inefficient complexity of it. I'm not high-income (though I aspire to be), but currently, I'd say the burden of collecting and organizing all of the information required for filing is equal to my actual tax payments. That's a problem.

Obama's Simpson-Bowles commission came up with a couple of versions of much flatter, much more growth-oriented, much simpler options for the tax code. Their suggestions were promptly and duly ignored. :(
Mar 6, 2014
Flat tax.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 6, 2014
Oops, the system cut off the URL in my previous comment, but if you google "slate automatic tax filing" you'll find the article.
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