Yesterday I needed to sign a form and mail it to my accountant. The form was my acknowledgement that I understand some new tax laws that, obviously, I don't understand. So I was starting off with a ridiculous task. Things didn't get better.

I couldn't remember exactly what needed to be signed, or where I had left the documents. So I researched my email to find the instructions from my accountant, printed them out, and only later noticed that key parts of the instructions were eaten by my printer. No problem. I rummaged through my pile of documents until I found something that looked as if it needed my signature, and signed it.

I considered taking a copy before sending it off, but 30% of the time that simple process ends in tears. Sometimes the printer eats the original, sometimes it begs for ink cartridges, sometimes I'm out of paper, and sometimes the printer software just doesn't work. I decided to skip that step.

At this point, all I needed to do was slap some postage on an envelope, print an address label, and mail that puppy.

Except I wasn't sure I had the correct address for my accountant. Her office has relocated several times. So I had to research that. Armed with the correct address, all I needed to do was print postage on my nifty Dymo label-maker and postage-printer. Except I wasn't sure if postage rates increased since the last time I used snail mail. So I had to research that too. The USPS website said postage was still 45 cents for less than one ounce. Perfect.

But my letter included multiple pages, and it felt as if it might be more than an ounce. Luckily, I had a postal scale. I plopped my letter on the scale and the readout said, as always, "low battery." I use the scale about once a year, which is just the right frequency to drain the battery between uses. So I hunted down a battery, installed it, and weighed my letter. It came in at .8 ounces. I was good to go.

Before I printed my postage stamp, I knew from experience that it was wise to print a test stamp to make sure the printer was aligned. So I did, and the test stamp printed perfectly. Next I printed the actual stamp, which, for some reason, misprinted just enough to make me uncertain the Post Office would accept it. Shit. I printed it again and set aside the 45 cent miscue.

At that point there was debris all over my desk, including the backings from the label and stamp, the sticky note with my message to myself, the misprinted instructions letter, the old battery, the misprinted stamp, and the tear-away from the self-sealing envelope. I sorted the garbage from the recyclables and put the dead battery with my other dead batteries for eventual recycling too. I still needed to get this letter to the mailbox without losing it under the growing skyline of other tax documents crowding me out of my office, and I needed to keep it dry through the rainstorm. Typically, at that point in my snail mail process, I think of something I forgot to include in the envelope, so I reopen it, destroy the envelope in the process, and start over.

My point - and I'm almost sure I have one - is that the time I wasted on this ridiculous tax-related legal nonsense is time I could have spent doing something productive for myself and for the economy. And this was just one of many hours I will spend preparing my taxes for my accountant who will then prepare them for the government. An assistant or bookkeeper couldn't help with most of it. Now consider all of the people and resources applied to this inefficient process and you might agree that the biggest cost to our economy from our tax system is not deficits, or tax cheats, but misdirected energy. Days like this suck the life out of me. I'm almost positive I could have done something useful if I had the time.

When I'm President, I'll order a task force to figure out how to automate the process of tax preparation. It seems to me that every transaction you do should be automatically sent to your personal accounting system so your taxes are effectively done at the same moment your tax year ends. Then you can just review what you have and email it out.

I would also phase out the Post Office so no one is every again tempted to ask me to sign something and mail it. I mean seriously, can't we figure out how to accept a digital signature? And when was the last time you were in court defending your actual penned signature anyway? I've lived my entire life without seeing that happen outside the context of bank checks, which should also be phased out.

On a related note, I also think trusts and corporations and LLCs need to be simplified or eliminated while somehow keeping the protections they provide. Likewise, insurance and banking need to be simplified. The free market favors complication over simplicity, because confusopolies are profitable. So the market isn't likely to simplify anything on its own. While I oppose overlarge government in principle, I think battling complexity on behalf of consumers is a legitimate role. That's doubly true when the government itself has created the complexity.

The smart way to approach all of this is to get some state or county to volunteer for a pilot program. If it works, the program can be expanded.

Vote for me for president and I'll make your life simpler.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +142
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Feb 18, 2012
In other words, Scott Adams wants to eliminate the accounting industry and add all the accountants to the ranks of the unemployed.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 16, 2012
Careful there. You may have just opened yourself up to an attack ad.
Last week presidential candidate Scott Adams said it took him hours and hours... just to mail a letter. He says that's too long. We agree. So this November, when you're picking America's next Commander in Chief, ask yourself "Do I really want the guy who has trouble sending a letter?’
Feb 16, 2012
Parkinson's Law in effect here. And don't deny you didn't have the time to do all that. I guarantee you that if you had had less time, you would have done less. Still holds true after all these years. My first heros were C. Northcote and Stephen Potter. I think Murphy studied at Parkinson's knee. I went to college in the 60's and 70's trying to find the answer to all this - Psychology? Nope. Philosophy? Nope. Sociology? Almost, but nope. Maybe cultural anthropology. But I doubt even people in that learned branch really understand the above names, or P.J. McVey, reality, or you.
Feb 16, 2012
Scott, you REALLY need to find a way to get included in on any presidential debates that come up. You are just what we need to keep the other guys honest.
Feb 16, 2012
Scott, WHEN will you create a "Scott Adams for President" website? You need AT LEAST that if you're gonna be in the running. We can't keep pointing people at your blog only, there's too much funny and irrelevant stuff to read through on the way to "here's why Scott Adams should be President" information. Just condense the basics, slap 'em on a site, and tell us the URL so we can share it with friends. Last time I couldn't even find you in americanselect.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2012
Here in Singapore, employers will e-file our income statement with the tax authorities. If we do not have any thing else to file or change, besides our regular income, we just wait for the tax statement to be sent to us. Otherwise, we just log-on and put in the changes.

For people like you, who are self-employed, they can do so by filling up the form electronically. No mess...

Quick and simple! :)
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2012
Scotty me old china, if there's anyone who would still vote for you after that little description of being challenged by the most basic of tasks, the US has more problems than you realise.

That was bloody hilarious. You made the act of signing a form and mailing it sound like an episode of Mr. Bean. If fact, you should email it to Rowan Atkinson, if he ever decides to do another Mr. Bean Movie, this is a must have.

ps. Here in Australia i do my tax return on-line, don't use an accountant, don't sign a thing.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2012
Years ago, I hired a nanny to watch my three small kids while I worked from home. I was foolishly all legal and above board with it - reporting her income and paying taxes for her. I would have loved an option to check off box indicating a range of hours/wages and then send in a flat rate to cover all the taxes. Even if it was double or triple what I otherwise owed, I would have been way ahead on time and stress. It would also have cost less than hiring an accountant to deal with it for me. That, of course, was not an option....

Having three small children and switching houses twice a year (to accommodate my husband's job) contributed to the stress, of course - but I understand why most people don't pay taxes on housekeepers and nannies. The paperwork is ridiculous. There should be a simple system with a range of typical hours and rates - and an online reporting and payment system. Some people would still pay under the table -but a lot of families would probably choose to get legal. That would give thousands of domestic workers an opportunity to participate in social security, medicare, etc.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2012
The people with the power keep it intentionally so complex that no one has time or energy to figure it out. If is was simple all those people, government, professional tax preparers, etc. would feel like they have no control.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2012
But then where would your blog material come from?
Feb 15, 2012
It seems to me that
1) Scott is a one-percenter who is whining about the difficulties of being a one-percenter.
2) If these are Scott's biggest problems, Scott has no problems.
Feb 15, 2012
So It takes some effort (of the basic office skills sort) to avoid the maximum amount of taxes when you're making millions per year. Yep, that sounds like the kind of thing a very rich person would want to "fix" when they make it to office.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2012
Here in the Netherlands, the process is mostly automated. Employers automatically pay your income tax directly to the IRS. The IRS also knows about your major properties, such as a house. Given that most people live uneventful lives, one's tax situation hardly changes from one year to another. So your taxes are precalculated digitally. And if nothing changed, you accept it. If something did change, you manually adjust it. Even that is easy, as every institution where you have property or income will send you a year overview.

All of this is of course a lot more complex when you own a business, but for citizens it's quite easy here.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2012
I don't like the idea of online bill-pay with no postal mail. Here's why: right now, I have a pile for bills. When my paycheck comes in, I go through the stack of bills, write a check, and pay them off (there's quite a few as I use credit cards for almost everything, then pay them off). It's a good system. With email notification, I'd have to write it out or print it out with one of those printers that always stops working, then go through some arcane bill-pay site (I use a credit union and their online technology is not very good). A stack of bills is easy to remember: it's a glaring visual right next to the computer. A bunch of emails isn't something I'd ever remember, and would likely result in usurious late fees when I inevitably forget one.

I do use direct-debit for my two loans (auto, student) but that's just because I get a break on the rate for using direct-debit, and at 2% for under $20K each, it's not really worth pre-paying them (actually, it's worth LESS, true cost-of-living inflation is over 2%!).

I use a credit card to pay the cable bill (by phone), but it took forever for Comcast to start doing that. And they just jacked up everything by $7 with no warning last month, so I'm glad I didn't automate that. I'd use it for other things if they let me, but a lot of companies want either a check or direct-debit, and I don't trust sleazy cable and energy companies to behave responsibly with my bank account information.

I'm all for simplifying the tax code. My 1040 doesn't look THAT bad, but my investments are all in my 401(K) and there's always some obscure law that saves/costs me money -- otherwise, I'd just copy last year's form with this year's information. The instructions on the damn thing are ridiculously complex, and it's just easier to pay my accountant to do them because it would take me longer to do them than to earn the money to pay him.
Feb 15, 2012
Vote for you and some state is going to get volunteered into something that sounds, in the initial stages, very unpleasant. Are you ever going to to be living in one of these 'volunteer' states you keep mentioning?

Use prisons instead, they are full of people who will try to find a way to abuse or cheat these systems you keep inventing.
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2012
Government employees face similar time wasting practices and policies. When I go on travel there is a very inefficient website and horrible interface that takes half a day to plan a decent trip if you want to pick a reasonable flight and hotel. The mandatory training wastes several days each year learning the same thing. I have taken the sexual harassment training several times and never harassed anyone (enough that they would complain about it) and several managers who have taken the same training have committed SH. Throw in the draconian double timesheet system with codes that no one can memorize, the 14 different ways to get government provided training, which all have a different method for routing to your supervisor for approval. And then the arbitrary spending limits and having people who do nothing but make purchases because the purchasing system is so overloaded with restrictions and red tape that normal people would waste too much time doing it.

Basically our current government system started out alright till the first lazy SOB wanted to make up a new position so his favorite nephew could have a job. So he created a mess for the new employee to fix ..... and some time later the governement consists of FBI (Friends, Brothers, In-laws) jobs which serve no purpose but to help the 20% that actually do something, wade through the red tape.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 14, 2012

I live in a peaceful, non-violent place where there are no taxes on income.

Check out my geo-location and you'll find that that is 100% true.

Here, the general opinion is that taxation is another form of mugging.

Feb 14, 2012
OK. Since we're back on the presidential race thing again, it's time for your political consultant (me) to weigh in.

First, you're correct on the wasted time, and the translation of that time into dollars, that it takes to do taxes each year. The estimated (2005) cost of preparing and filing all personal and business taxes in the US is a whopping $250-300 billion per year. Almost 60% of the tax returns in 2007 were filed by tax preparers, because the tax code is just too complex for anyone (including the head of the IRS) to understand.

Now, let's discuss your idea. I will first tell you why your idea isn't a good one, then I will give you a great campaign pitch on solving the problem, and then I'll tell you why it will never fly.

First off, my background for many years has been in automation. There are two ways to approach automating a manual process, and they can be stated succinctly as follows: the right way, and the wrong way.

The wrong way to automate a manual process is to look for areas in the process that can be automated, and then automate those, leaving the rest manual. This is not a good approach simply because the manual processes you have developed fit a manual process, not an automated one. This sounds obvious when you state it, but you'd be surprised at how many companies don't get it.

The right way to automate is to develop the process from the ground up to fit the way an automated system works. For example, the wrong way to automate tax returns is to turn the tax forms into PDFs which can be filled out in a word processor and then submitted electronically. A better way is to create a better, completely automated system that uses intelligent Q&A, then has a back-end process that fits the automated scheme. That (obviously) would require the IRS to change the way it receives tax forms - in a non-form based way. You think that will happen? Nope.

Moreover, the real place to start properly automating the tax code is to simplify the code first. It needs to be a top-down change, not just an automation of a complex and inefficient system. Toward that end, there are a number of proposals out there to do just that, from the flat tax to the so-called fair tax. They'd all work; they'd all be a hell of a lot better than the mess we have today, and there's no effing way any of them will ever come to pass.

Why not, you ask? Well, most in Congress are lawyers. Many lawyers make big bucks in tax law. There are approximately eighteen quadzillion accountants who derive their livelihood from having a complex and incomprehensible tax code. It isn't going to change. Ta da.

Back to your campaign.

Campaigns run on hope. In the back of most people's minds, they realize that this country is a train wreck, and that we're addicted to government handouts just as an alcoholic is addicted to booze. Like any addicted personality, they know that, most likely, we'll have to hit rock bottom before there is any real change. At the same time, no one likes to give in to despair, which is the absence of hope.

So the way to get elected is to give people hope. Look at President Obama. He was elected not because of any great plans he had. He was elected because he said he had hope and he would change things.

There you go, Scott. Come up with talking points to establish a change to the way taxes are prepared and to simplify the tax code, without being specific. Build hope in people who are nearing despair, without giving enough specifics for your opposition to tear your ideas down.

I'm so glad to have appointed myself as your political consultant. Today Pleasanton, tomorrow the nation!!!!

Feb 14, 2012
Digital signatures are great, and easy to create if you have a Mac with the latest OS (Lion). Here's a short video that shows how to create and use a digital signature: http://vimeo.com/26778821

The problem with digital signatures is that people get suspicious of their validity if then sense you didn't go through all the trouble of actually putting a pen to paper. So never admit you took a shortcut. Digital signatures are legal, but getting something legalized is easy compared to getting human beings to break a lifelong habit.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 14, 2012
The GOVERNMENT is in charge of your proposed great simplification?!?! Good luck with that!
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog