Thursday, April 16, 2015
Farhad Manjoo, writing
about "return-free" tax filing, asks, "Would you let the
I.R.S. prepare your taxes?" Manjoo notes further that, in this day and
age, many aspects of filling out tax returns are technologically
[E]mployers, banks, brokerage firms and pretty much every other financial organization in the country send the federal government detailed records about our economic activity every year. These organizations also send you, the taxpayer, a similar set of documents, which are forms with names like W-2 and 1098. After you file your taxes, the government matches its two sets of documents to make sure you have filed correctly.The idea behind return-free filing is that, instead of wasting money or part of your life filling out forms, you could waste less by simply checking what the IRS comes up with for your taxes -- unless maybe your tax situation is made overly cumbersome by our 74,608-page-long tax code.
I will cheerfully admit that when I find myself again giving a company or government agency information it already has, I roll my eyes and think, "Don't we have computers for this?" That said, I think return-free filing is almost as bad an idea as automatic withholding. Both things insulate people from the arbitrary and confiscatory nature of the income tax. Making people consciously fork over money each month -- or continuing to go through inordinate efforts to calculate what will be taken from them -- will not automatically make people want to abolish the income tax. But it might prompt more thought than an automatically-generated number on their pay stubs that they don't have to think much about even once a year.
The question that too often goes unasked at tax time is, "By what right does the government take money from individuals?" In that light, the correct way to frame this proposal is, "Would you like to be robbed politely?" The correct answer, as tempting as not doing taxes sounds, is, "No. I don't want to be robbed at all."