Software Has Enabled The Tax Code's Slide Into Madness
April 17, 2012
Ecerpts from Forbes
It occurs to me that our current insanely complex tax rules are made possible by technology. Yes, computer software makes filing easier (both for professionals and civilians). But that may be the problem.
The relative ease of filing, made possible by programs such as Intuit’s TurboTax, also makes it easier for Congress to write incomprehensible tax law.
Have you ever read, for example, Form 6251, the paperwork millions of middle-class households must complete just to figure out whether or not they owe the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax? The IRS instructions for the form are 12 pages long.
In truth, if voters actually had to navigate this gibberish, we’d have a revolution that would make the tea party look like the League of Women Voters. But we don’t. In 2009, 92 percent of us got help, either from a third-party preparer or tax software, the IRS estimates.
In this way, technology both inoculates us from much of the complexity of tax filing and reduces compliance costs. But, more importantly, it immunizes the politicians from the consequences of their decisions that lead to this madness.
Tax complexity isn’t just about the number of forms and their incomprehensible instructions, no criticism intended towards the folks at the IRS who write them. They do the best they can, given the loony law Congress hands them.
The real price of complexity is the very opaqueness of the Tax Code itself. Because we don’t understand the law, we are convinced we are paying more than we owe and that everyone else is paying less.
Yet, tax software allows politicians to add ever more complexity, which we accept with little complaint. Think about the Buffett Rule endorsed by President Obama. The version debated in the Senate this week would create yet another minimum tax that would result in even more complex forms. But, of course, the households making $1 million or more who’d owe this tax would likely never see the forms. They’d just pay the accountant.
Happy tax day.
Read more at: Tax Times blog