Home
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

Comments

Sort By:
Feb 14, 2012
Printers are just about the worst computer technology there is. The failure rate is so high that I am (seriously) tempted to buy a new one every time I have to replace the ink cartridges. It actually wouldn't be that much more expensive, and the peace of mind that comes with doing it might make it worth it.

Tax law, similarly, is just about the worst type of law (sorry, Scott, you were really caught in a bad situation). It is endlessly complicated, and while many forms of law can make this claim, the kicker with tax law is that the complication is so utterly needless. Even if you aren't a proponent of the flat tax (I am), a tiered system with, say, five rate bands AND NO EXCEPTIONS would make tax collection flawless and tax return preparation a thing of the past. Tie the rate bands to the poverty line so that they automatically adjust over time, and you would really have something.

Unfortunately, it will never, ever happen. First of all, the entire industry of "tax professionals" would be put out of work, and no politician is going to support something that reduces jobs, no matter how much better it makes life for everyone. Diffuse benefits plus concentrated costs equals no change. Second, it would eliminate oppportunities for those same politicians to crow about "tax breaks" for whatever constituency they are choosing to represent that day. And third, it would eliminate people's ability to complain about how the rich are "cheating the system" and not paying enough taxes, and who wants that?

Scott, if you really wanted to contribute to the economy, you would hire an assistant to do these kinds of menial tasks for you. You would be funding a new job while freeing up your own time to do your productive work. It's a win-win for the GNP.
 
 
Feb 14, 2012
"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."

Let's see if I understand this: You are in favor of having government (AKA "bureaucracy"), a veritable generator of complexity, take the lead role in battling complexity? Is that a position you are prepared to defend?

Seriously?
 
 
Feb 14, 2012
Scott,

Would you accept the nomination for Americans Elect ?

americanselect.org

 
 
Feb 14, 2012
Every year at tax time I've thought that for 90% of us the IRS should use the reported information to calculate an individuals taxes and then send them the report to verify and accept/challenge. If you want a deduction you should register for it.

To implement that in a rational IT way, the gov would need to maintain a central database of it's citizens instead of having various department maintain their own records. Which is politically tricky because while people are happy to carry with them cell phones that track their location all day long and credit cards which log every transaction, they fear giving the government census data.
 
 
Feb 14, 2012
Scott,
you do know that, as President, you have to sign a whole lot of things to get these initiatives going.

I can see the country grinding to a halt.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 14, 2012
Down here in Chile we don't need to do anything. We are all automatically enrolled in our tax office system; our SSN-equivalent number is basically tatooed in our face. We don't need to hide it - we use it for everything, from credit cards to paying school tuition to filling sweepstakes coupons. So if you have some extra income (or want to deduct some taxes, for example, if you have a mortage) you just open the tax office web page and press a link, and you get your form pre-filled for you. It is not likely you will have to correct it (I've only had to do that once because a client of mine failed to declare some work I did, for which he retained the tax.)

We live the blessedly life of not being aware how much we pay in taxes. Our employers take care of that, and our pension funds, and our health care insurance. Everything is mandatory. This has other benefits, like for example, we don't suffer from identity theft and we never think much about it.

As a datum, individuals pay between 0-40% of their income in taxes.
 
 
Feb 14, 2012
A wildebeest tax system would be simple.

You've seen the wild animal shows where a couple of lions stalk a huge herd of wildebeests. They pick out a victim at random, and the herd goes nuts for a minute while the lions eviserate the unfortunate individual. The herd moves a bit, then recommences chewing grass and flicking their tails as if nothing has happened.

So the wildebeest tax system would be no taxes at all for the majority of people, but when the government gets hungry, it would randomly pick an individual, take all his money and property, sell his daughters into white slavery and finally drop him off naked under a bridge somewhere. The rest of the economy would continue on like gang-busters.

 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 14, 2012
Almost laughed to death. I understand exactly how you feel, I'm self employed but the same thing happens to me every year.
 
 
+14 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 14, 2012
The right way to fix this is a very brief constitutional amendment.

1. Congress shall not make any government employee's tax return filing any different from that of a common citizen.

2. It shall be a felony, punishable by a minimum of 20 years in prison, to assist anyone on the government payroll with preparation, filing, audit, or adjudication of federal income tax related work.

There, done.

You have to have the first part of that or they'd just make congress pay a flat tax. The only reason you can't say a congressman is corrupt is that he passes laws to make what he does legal for him, but illegal for us.
 
 
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 14, 2012
We have this country, called Lithuania, where I last year was a self-employed consultant, paying my own social security and income taxes both from general business income, and from some trading in financial markets. All tax, cashflow and insurance info is collected into tax declaration form automatically, I only need to calculate my own tax rate and confirm the rest.
The only piece of paper I used last year for tax purposes was a tax-credit agreement to extend my payment timeframe about which I negotiated by sending emails to some lady working for the government. And that paper never left me - government is perfectly fine with scanned copies coming from email address registered with the commercial bank where all my cashflow is.
So you just need to copy what we have.
 
 
Feb 14, 2012
Scott,
Are you turning into Ron Paul?
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog