The absurdities of the American tax debate

File this under Grover Norquist is an idiot. The issue might be a bit dated, but I still find it extremely interesting, in a sad way. Over at Wonkblog Neil Irwin had an interesting piece on the debate surrounding a proposal in congress that tries to make the tedious task of paying your income taxes in the United States a lot simpler. Obviously I am no American and have never had to file “a 1040” in my life, but it sounds painful. The basic idea was that instead of having to fill out every single detail in the tax return forms by yourself, the IRS would just fill in the basic information that it already knows anyways for you, such as how much you got paid by your employer, how much you earned in dividends from stocks or how much you paid in deductible home mortgage interest. For most people in America, their tax return would basically be done right there. Over the course of the years there indeed seem to have been several legislative proposals on the table intended to make exactly this a reality. Needless to say, they have not been very successful, yet opposition to the bills came from sources at least I would not have thought of or even expected.

There seems to have been major lobbying efforts by companies interested in making the system as complicated as possible, or at least keeping it from getting simpler. The players involved include the makers of software designed to make the process of doing your taxes easier. Intuit, who make the TurboTax software, for instance, have spent $11.5 million on lobbying over the past five years. As noted in the article linked to above, this is more than Apple and Amazon spent over the same period of time. In essence this is understandable. While it is of course terrible that the interests of a couple of firms would lead them to lobby against laws that would make the lives of millions of Americans easier while reducing at least some inefficiencies in the tax system, these companies are only acting in their own interest and in a free society it is their right to do so. That they actually get their way is a different matter.

Yet there also seems to be considerably opposition from conservative groups who generally oppose high taxes. One would assume that, if they could not get all their wishes with regards to how the tax system of the US looks like, they would at least try to reduce the burden taxation brings as far as possible, including making it easy to pay your taxes. One would assume wrongly. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform is one of the most vocal opponents of these kinds of bills, arguing that it would move the burden of proof regarding how much taxes an individual has to pay away from the IRS and on to the individuals. Because clearly, after the government is done taking all your guns the next logical step is to start arbitrarily determining the amount of tax you have to pay. In Norquist’s words, paying taxes would “become little more than paying a bill”, as opposed to the financial equivalent of a prostate exam it currently is. Yes, Mr. Norquist, that would be terrible. How lucky Americans are to have someone like you to defend them.

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