This past weekend I finally filed our taxes and hated every second of it.
Note that I hate the filing part. I don’t really mind paying taxes. Of course I wish my money was used differently, but I can live with the existence of taxation. One of only two certainties in life, they say. No, it is everything about filing taxes that really irritates me. My family income taxes are pretty basic, but just including a couple of bare-bones 1099-MISC forms for a tiny bit of “business” (ha!) income bumps us up into the most expensive tax-filing categories.
I paid $100 to TurboTax after a couple hours of trying, and failing, to get cheaper online solutions to replicate its results. In some ways this is the market working. Compared to the competition, TurboTax was the easiest way to get the best results. If I wanted to spend a few extra hours dealing with taxes, I could have printed out all the forms and mailed them to the IRS and the state comptroller. I’d have saved a hundred bucks… but the mailed forms would have been less secure and far less convenient for eventually getting a refund. So, is TurboTax worth it?
NO WAY. Filing taxes, something that we Americans are required to do by law, ought to be easy and free. Every year you see some articles like this one that blame the big financial services firms for lobbying against a simpler filing system. And this is not wrong. I hate these companies, and one of the scummiest of scummy finserv scams is how they exploit poor people by filing their taxes and taking big chunks of their EITC refunds.
But there is a bigger issue here than just lobbying. Many politicians are adamantly opposed to making tax filing easy, and this includes an entire major political party that currently controls all levels of the federal government. This despite their oft-stated claim that they want our tax system to be simplified so that we can “file our taxes on a postcard.” This claim is a lie. Most people in this country already have taxes simple enough to fit on that proverbial postcard. They shouldn’t even have to file at all, really, if they could just verify that the government’s data is all correct.
But a complicated, annoying system that features outrageous fees and rent-seeking firms that skim money off of millions of people suits the Republicans just fine. Because if filing taxes was easy, maybe people wouldn’t hate taxes as much! And hating taxes is basically what binds the whole Republican party together. It is their first principle, from which all their other actions flow. So they have every incentive to keep everything related to taxation as awful as possible. (This is related to another Republican goal: making government as ineffective as possible in order to prove that government is inherently ineffective.) Some of that rage that I am feeling towards TurboTax, they know, carries over for other people into a general hatred of taxation, and even to a general hatred of the federal government.
We could have an honest conservatism, one opposed to high taxation rates but also open to making it simple for everyone to file their taxes. This would save people money and make them happier at the sole expense of some of the worst corporations. But it wouldn’t serve to score political points every April 15, so I guess it is never gonna happen.