Jim Mullen: It’s tax season somewhere
Sometimes, I wonder how they pay their taxes in different countries.
In Russia, two big burly guys probably knock on your door and say, “Give to us all the money you haven’t hidden yet.” Then they pocket some of it and give the rest to some apparatchik, who pockets some of it and then passes it along to some other official, who takes a cut. On and on and on it goes until, at the end of a long road, it goes to the government. The Russian government then takes that money and uses it to pay for things like snowplows and secret prisons.
Of course, that is not true. The Russian process of collecting taxes is probably very similar to our own. With similar results. Well, their penalties for not paying may be stiffer; as far as I know, the IRS doesn’t employ a firing squad. Yet.
If there’s one thing almost everyone can agree on, it’s that they don’t like the way the government spends their hard-earned tax dollars. Or even their inherited tax dollars. The other thing almost all people agree on is that they don’t like all the hoops they have to jump through just to file their taxes.
Whenever someone claims that the government never created a job, I always say, “Not true — they created H&R Block.” Not to mention the tens of thousands of accounting firms across the country, and entire departments within large corporations that do nothing but “tax compliance.”
Some people say this puts our country at a competitive disadvantage with other countries. Those people have never been to France, Germany or any of 60 other countries that make our complex tax system look like a game of Go Fish. Their systems are more like 3D chess. Their total corporate taxes may end up being lower than ours, but that doesn’t mean they’re simpler to calculate.
Why can’t we make the ordeal of paying taxes simpler? Most of us don’t mind paying for necessities like roads, schools, police, firefighters, EMTs and the military — what we mind is making it so difficult. Just let us write a check and stop making us fill out forms.
We have created a system that reminds me of getting a letter with a 50-cent stamp on it that tells me that I owe someone 13 cents. Not only is it a waste of money, it’s a waste of time and paper. And this is in the age of computers, when it should just take a simple click to avoid this kind of nonsensical book-balancing. We’re not alone, either: “Fill this out in triplicate” is the motto of governments the world over.
If the government spent $10 to collect $9, they would (one can only hope) stop it. The trouble is, they aren’t spending that $10. You are. It is costing you, the taxpayer, time and money to file your taxes — not the government. What’s their incentive to stop doing business as usual? Maybe a law that makes members of Congress prepare their own taxes would do the trick. Do you remember voting for something called “Schedule C”? Do you know what a 1099 is? My accountant does. I don’t. And this, they tell me, is just the basic stuff. Yet somehow this byzantine system has endured, and even changes each year.
And here’s the strangest thing of all: The government knows how much tax I should be paying before I fill out the forms. I know because for the past few weeks, I’ve been getting tax documents in the mail. If I make a mistake, they’ll know. After all, they get the same documents I get.
So why not just send me a bill every year? If it looks OK, I’ll send them a check. If not, I’ll call the accountant.
Contact Jim Mullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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