Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

> The article explains how return-free filing already works in many countries and how it could work in the US. I know it's against the HN guidelines to comment on whether someone has read the article, but you clearly haven't read the article.

This article (or something similar) pops up on HN every six months, and it’s stupid every time. It’s shocking to me that people find the idea credible because it doesn’t even pass the smell test. Even if this was about lobbying, there is no way Intuit and H&R Block can outspend all the people who have an interest in simpler tax filing. Seriously, Intuit spends $2.5 million per year on lobbying—there are dozens of things that raise more on crowdfunding each year, such as the “Opal Nugget Ice Maker.” Last year, a board game raised more money on Kickstarter than Intuit and H&R Block spent lobbying.

The UK is a very different country than the US, and much more comfortable with both central government control and taxes. Switzerland also has manual tax filing, and the US is much more similar to Switzerland in terms of taxes as a fraction of GDP, guns per capita, federalism, etc.

Why don't you make paying tax easier? It wouldn't work here. Why don't you reduce your carbon emissions? It wouldn't work here. Why don't you make healthcare affordable? It wouldn't work here. Why don't you make it harder for psychologically disturbed adolescents to access semi-automatic weapons? It wouldn't work here.

It's the same argument ad nauseum about every political issue since before the civil war. The US is unique, the US electorate have strong and immutable views, the US cannot learn from anyone else. Time and time again, educated people dismiss the possibility of change, dismiss the possibility of persuasion and compromise and reconciliation, dismiss the possibility of shifting the Overton window and changing the zeitgeist. That isn't common sense, it's political nihilism. The consequences of that nihilistic ideology are writ large on the American political landscape and they are proving to be disastrous.

Whether or not American culture can be changed is besides the point. My point is that the article misidentifies the reason we don't have automatic tax filing. It's not the $5 million in Intuit/H&R Block lobbying, which is not a large amount of money. Intuit/H&R Block are simply riding much more powerful political forces that exist for other reasons.

(For the same reason, the $5 million in NRA lobbying each year is not why we don't pass laws limiting access to semi-automatic weapons for "disturbed adolescents." It's voters like me who are morally opposed to the government keeping a list of who can and cannot exercise their 2nd amendment rights. The lobbying is just so the NRA can remind politicians how many of us there are.)

Sounds like you'd be surprised how cheaply politicians are bought.

BTW--"sensible gun reform" has majority support.

That’s a self-refuting assertion. If lobbying works, why would it be so cheap? The economy has tons of competing interests—if they could get their way through lobbying, that should bid up the cost of “buying” politicians.

For example, Grover Norquist has no personal stake in keeping tax filing complicated (he doesn’t own stock in Intuit or H&R Block as far as I know). But he spends a lot of time on the issue for ideological reasons. You’re telling me that there’s not a billionaire Democrat who could throw $5 million a year at the tax issue for funsies? Or public unions who would benefit from simpler tax filing allowing taxes to be raised more easily? If it was just a matter of outspending Intuit and H&R Block, someone would do it. But I could give you $10 million a year (double what the tax companies spend) for this issue, and you would not be able to lobby tax simplification into law.

Why would people spend money on something like this “for funsies”? You don’t even take your own idea seriously or provide a credible reason other than “why not”. Intuit and H&R Block have a specific goal and target it with specific dollars each year. Over time that builds influence and control.

Grover Norquist absolutely has an interest in keeping taxes complex, it’s his entire basis for influence and power. His fight is about lowering taxes anyways, not complexity.

Here’s the flip side to your stance. If lobbying has no influence, why do privately held businesses spend so much on it each year? Wouldn’t these rational actors stop wasting money if there was no ROI?

You can’t build influence and control with $5 million a year in lobbying. It’s just not very much money. There are a lot of public interest organizations and concerned individuals who could spend that kind of money (and do). They spend it on other issues instead because they know this tax filing issue won’t go anywhere.

You’re missing the point of the Grover Norquist example. Why is tax filing something Grover Norquist cares about? He’s rich—this doesn’t affect him directly. And he doesn’t make any money off tax preparation. He campaigns against tax filing simplification because it taps into a very large anti-tax movement that he’s part of. It is that movement that keeps tax filing complicated. Intuit and H&R Block don’t create that movement through lobbying; they lobby to tie their issue into the larger movement.

As to the amount of lobbying: private companies don’t spend much money on lobbying every year. Total US lobbying expenditures is $3.5 billion, out of a $20 trillion economy (and a $4 trillion federal budget). (And that’s not just companies, but includes public interest organizations.) If lobbying had direct, non-speculative impacts on legislation, companies would do a lot more of it. Look at the tax filing example. H&R Block makes more than $3 billion in revenue each year. If lobbying had direct results, they wouldn’t be able to protect that cash cow with less than $3 million a year in lobbying. A competitor would come in and outbid them for legislation. (Indeed, corporation versus corporation lobbying is probably the most typical kind. E.g. all the money Google spends on copyright lobbying is best seen as a proxy war with Hollywood over whether copyrights should be weak, which favors distributors like Google, or strong, which favors Hollywood.)

Of course lobbying is important enough that companies do it. But it’s not transactional like people make it out to be. Lobbying involves hiring professionals to make presentations to staffers about specific issues, tying them into general platforms that politicians already believe. Tax filing is a great example. Intuit and H&R Block aren’t going in and spending $5 million to convince people who love taxes to oppose automatic tax filing. They’re using that money to lobby legislators who already want Americans to be outraged each year in April 15. They connect their specific issue to the larger platform the politician already supports. “Simpler tax filing is the first step to Danish style 60% tax rates.” Then, they educate the legislator about relevant pending legislation. “Elizabeth Warren has introduced an automatic tax filing bill.” And they arm the legislator with arguments and white papers they need to oppose the lesilation. “Making deductions opt-in will result in a $45 billion effective tax increase on seniors, who will be to scared to challenge the ‘bill’ sent by the IRS.”

==You can’t build influence and control with $5 million a year in lobbying. It’s just not very much money.==

You still haven’t provided any evidence. Your comments in this thread are mostly ideological arguments.

From the article about them directly lobbying against bills on this issue:

==The disclosures show that Intuit as recently as 2011 lobbied on two bills, both of which died, that would have allowed many taxpayers to file pre-filled returns for free. The company also lobbied on bills in 2007 and 2011 that would have barred the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, from initiating return-free filing.==

The article doesn’t establish that the lobbying was the cause of the death of the bill. You did not refute rayiner’s central assertion.

To believe his assertion you must first admit that the market competition is apparently broken and we have numerous profit-seeking companies who invest heavily in lobbying while seeing no benefit.

There will never be a direct link made because no politician will say, “I am voting against this bill because Intuit took me to a nice dinner and contributed $100k to my re-election campaign.” We do have evidence that constituents want taxes simplified, bills have been presented to fix this problem, companies lobbied against the bills, and the bills died. What’s your theory?

He was not saying that lobbying was completely ineffective. He was saying that lobbying rode supported an ideological belief that taxes should not be simplified, and the cost to lobby against the combination of the 5MM in lobbying plus the ideology is a lot more than 5MM. His evidence was that the relatively low value of 5MM hasn’t been outspent by an interested party, there being so many such people who could afford it. I don’t know if that is the case but I would like you to address the central claim. I don’t have a theory of my own.

I would suggest the burden is on proving that there is a legitimate group of people who think taxes should be complicated for ideological (not political) reasons. You readily accepted that premise without any provided evidence. It seems to me that politicians are making a calculation that it is advantageous politically to have complicated tax filing process. Oddly, in the recently passed tax bill the House GOP campaigned heavily on the idea of taxes filing so easy it could be done on a postcard, an admission that people want simplicity. When the law ultimately passed, they didn’t follow through on that promise, maybe due to lobbying maybe for political reasons.

No party has as much direct interest in this issue as tax preparers. That they haven’t been outspent is not itself evidence of anything.

I did not accept the premise. Please don’t mistake my attempt to improve the discussion as agreement with anyone. I just want this discussion to be better. I don’t think demanding burden of proof is a comment worth making; could you at least explain why you think there can’t be such people?

I do agree it is interesting that the GOP campaigned that way, incidentally. Regardless of what degree of support for complicated taxes there may or may not have been, support for simplified taxes in the large, populist wing of the Republican Party plus presumably broad support in the Democratic Party should mean more changes to tax collection soon.

==could you at least explain why you think there can’t be such people?==

It's not that there can't be such people, it's that there hasn't been any credible evidence provided to prove there actually are such people. That both sides of the political spectrum use the same language is pretty strong evidence that there is broad support ideologically for a simpler tax code.

Bringing up Grover Norquist seems like a red herring, as he is himself a lobbyist. His organization, Americans for Tax Reform, describes itself as a group that "believes in a system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today." [1] Yet, they are used by rayiner as an example of an organization ideologically opposed to simpler taxes and tax filing. If anything, we should be adding ATR's own $5 million of annual spending to the total lobbying dollars being spent against a simpler system.

==should mean more changes to tax collection soon.==

This is the central point. The tax code was just completely overhauled and it included almost zero simplification, even though it's main proponents used that exact messaging in their sales pitch.

The article suggests that the lack of action is, at least in part, because of lobbying. It provides the evidence of lobby spending related to this topic and the ultimate death of those bills. The also have a quote from Former California Republican legislator Tom Campbell, he says he "never saw as clear a case of lobbying power putting private interests first over public benefit."

[1] https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Americans_for_Tax_Refo...

those with rayiner’s naïveté are part of the problem. glad they are in the minority.

bribery is the only possible explanation for congress refusing to do what their constituents plainly want.

It's rather difficult to determine elligibility to purchase firearms without keeping a list. Unless your statement implies that everyone should be eligible, in which case: reasonable people may disagree on this point.

Very true, but it's not unique to the US. The UK re: Brexit us a great case in point

But it's impossible to move the Overton window because of the massive TurboTax bribes.

There's probably a dozen people on HN reading this thread right now who can throw more cash at politicians than Intuit spends on lobbying each year.

Cheaper to hire an accountant to deal.

But they don't.

Except complex tax law benefits corporations as well, creating emergent properties that can be exploited. You'd have to outspend more than Intuit to change things.

"Seriously, Intuit spends $2.5 million per year on lobbying—there are dozens of things that raise more on crowdfunding each year, such as the “Opal Nugget Ice Maker.” "

The difference is that these companies keep spending the money hooking up with the right people (lobbyists) that get them results. Sure the public, charitable companies, trusts, and so on could compete with them for politicians. They don't, though. So, the lobbyists getting politicians fame, fortune, and re-election are the ones that win since those are what politicians are all about. That's also why the companies lobbyists work for seem to get all this legislation that benefits them at our expense despite so many good reasons to not do that... if they worked for us.

Lobbying, if applied, should be one of first things to consider that might motivate a politician's actions. The evidence favors that it does here in the U.S. a lot. It and votes from popular/hated topics seem to drive most of political, decision making.

Except you’re forgetting public unions, which lobby extensively and would benefit if tax filing were simplified (allowing taxes to be raised more easily). If spending the money would get the result, they’d do it.

It’s also possible that unions have other areas that are more important to them as a group (worker rights, fighting right-to-work, healthcare, etc). In fact, I’m not sure any group has as much interest in this as tax preparers, hence their annual lobbying.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact