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I think this is a great idea. The risk of the IRS totally screwing up is just too high. And having an outside contractor do it is potentially even worse.

E.g. the State of Oregon contracted with Oracle to create a health insurance marketplace. $200 million dollars later there was nothing but lawsuits. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cover_Oregon

Let that sink in. Two hundred million dollars and they couldn't get a fucking website working. Two hundred million dollars!

Anyone who has played with TurboTax or H&R Block software knows that the software is at least pretty good. There are plenty of nuances in the tax laws, and the software at least attempts to cover those. Sure, a good tax accountant probably can do a lot better, but for 98% of people the software is good enough.

Does anyone seriously believe that the IRS would do better? Why waste taxpayer money to find out?






> Does anyone seriously believe that the IRS would do better?

It’s interesting to see the same arguments resurface as they do for healthcare.

Most non-Americans here live in countries where salaried employees have almost zero contact with the country’s ex agency. No returns, no filing, it all just magically happens behind the scenes.

So it’s kinda weird to hear Americans say “that’s impossible! How can you trust government?!”.

The worst thing about American exceptionalism is that it blinkers Americans from things that are not only done better by some other countries, but also the things that literally every other rich country in the world manages.


To be fair, American exceptionalism has little to do with the glories of our IRS.

Our tax code is also absurdly complicated- https://www.businessinsider.com/2014-how-many-pages-in-the-u... as an example. As I've said elsewhere, some of the most significant opposition to the IRS pre-filing taxes is trusting that it operates in good faith - or at least competently - and appropriate applies all deductions that a person is eligible for. Simplifying the tax code would go a long, long way to alleviating most people's concerns, I think.


that concern is simply not valid. The IRS would send you a proposed return and you could make whatever changes you want to make.

And many people will still go to a private tax service to verify that everything that could be accounted for is accounted for. The concern isn't that people wouldn't be able to make changes, the concern is that people would naively accept whatever they are told they should get back, even if that isn't the case.

To be fair though, I think this is somewhat less of an issue after President Trump's tax reforms; with the doubling of the standard deduction, it's become less fruitful for most people to attempt to itemize their deductions.


American tax is significantly more complex than other countries - I would guess more than any other country - due to challenges such as county + state + federal taxes and interactions between them.

Source: worked on a payroll system that had to be heavily rearchitected when we tried to deploy it in the US.


> American tax is significantly more complex than other countries

Yes

> such as county + state + federal

Plenty of countries with this, aren’t there? Germany, Australia, Switzerland, etc?


The IRS already does your taxes based on the information they already have. Ever had the IRS helpfully "correct" your filed taxes and send you more money or send you a bill?

You can dispute it, but in the multiple times it has happened to me, they were right, and refunded or charged me sometimes modest sometimes small amounts.

They could've just done that and saved me the $$ spent on Intuit (do it yourself) or accountant services.


Yup, once every so often we get a letter from the IRS about a discrepancy. Every time, they are correct.

in the multiple times it has happened to me, they were right, and refunded or charged me sometimes modest sometimes small amounts

The one time it happened to me was much more opaque. Basically, some years after filing, the IRS said something like "you owe us an extra $5". Without much explanation as to why.

Okay, easy thing is to pay $5. But what if it was $500? Still not cost effective to pay an accountant to help you understand why. And what if it's $5,000? Is it worth battling a Kafkaesque bureaucracy for that? What if it's $50,000?

The current system sucks but it sure is better than having the starting point for taxes being the government tell you exactly how much you owe them and you having to battle them to prove otherwise.


Yes, but if the US tax code weren't so darn complicated wouldn't that reduce the chances of the IRS totally screwing up?

I just finished my taxes and filing taxes in the US is such a stshow. But where do we start? We want to simplify filing, but that might depend on simplifying the tax code, which might be orders of magnitude more difficult. Sigh!


that might depend on simplifying the tax code, which might be orders of magnitude more difficult

Actually, it would be trivial to simplify the tax code. It couldn't be done overnight, it might take a long weekend. All you have to do is come up with a very simple tax scheme with no complexities and no loopholes. Why couldn't a simple tax system be contained in a 10 page law?

At first make it optional for anyone to switch to the new scheme. After a few years, start a 20 year phaseout of the old system. Tell the holdouts that, first year of phaseout, they must pay 5% of the tax required by the new system and continue to pay 95% of the amount calculated by the old rules. After 10 years it becomes 50%/50%. After 20 years the old system is gone completely. Holdouts can switch completely to new system at any time, but once you switch you can never go back to the old system.


Good point. But I think lobbyists and special interests would throw a wrench into all of that.

If we simplify the tax code, some group somewhere will no longer benefit. I'm sure they and their lobbyists will fight extremely hard to make sure this part of the tax code remains. Multiply this by all the different groups that would be in a similar position and now you might see why I think simplifying the tax code would be extremely difficult.


now you might see why I think simplifying the tax code would be extremely difficult.

Of course. You are 100% right. I was describing a fantasy world, you are describing practical reality.

Edit: just to be clear, I'm not trying to be sarcastic in this post, even though it contradicts what I said earlier about how "trivial" it would be to simplify.

The reality is as you describe. Any serious simplification would be extremely difficult to achieve.


The IRS would basically tell you what they already know. You still could file a return if you chose to do so. You could also buy TurboTax if you wanted to.

I can’t see any downside to the taxpayer, only upside. E


The downside, allegedly, is that the IRS may not operate in good faith and take all of the appropriate deductions, etc. If the tax code were vastly simplified, I think all of the objections go away.

You still can change the return if you don’t agree.

I don't think the IRS or government hires worse people than, say, TurboTax. However, the procurement process for contracting the work is a byzantine nightmare, of which companies who are management and administrative heavy are the only ones who can possibly compete.

The net result is you have systems being put together using objectively bad processes and whose outcomes are guaranteed to be more expensive and less likely to work as intended.

A former employer of mine was a small startup in the intelligence analysis space, and had a product that generated a lot of interest in various government circles, as it solved some problems better than what they were currently using. The red tape to actually get any sort of contract approved was so tough to get through the owner seriously contemplated hiring a company whose sole purpose was helping other companies negotiate said red tape.

In the end, they pivoted to the commercial space.

To bring this back to the original point: I would love to have a super-simple tax system that didn't require paying third parties to file for me to make sure that I filled everything out correctly, and leveraged the tax code to best fit my circumstances. However, I do not have much faith that such a thing will come about anytime soon... once bitten, twice shy, that sort of thing.


Considering Oracle was pulling any liberal arts graduate with a pulse off the street to manage the programmers, I believe it.

This sort of argument comes up all the time, claiming governments somehow screw everything up but private industry has some sort of amazing track record at producing value.

There’s a continuous stream of evidence to the contrary, particularly if you’ve ever worked for large companies and seen the kind of wasted resources that go toward pet projects and other high value items that fail miserably.

The difference of course is that one costs tax payers whereas the other costs shareholders, and in one case (government and tax payers) there is some hope of oversight and accountability. If shareholders actually knew about this sort of waste I am not sure they would ultimately care because they may chalk it up to the cost of doing business.


> There’s a continuous stream of evidence to the contrary, particularly if you’ve ever worked for large companies and seen the kind of wasted resources that go toward pet projects and other high value items that fail miserably.

There's also a continuous stream of evidence not to the contrary, particularly if you've ever worked for the government and seen the kind of wasted resources that go toward pet projects and other high value items that fail miserably.

The difference of course is that one costs taxpayers whereas the other costs shareholders, and in one case (government and tax payers) the only feedback mechanism is votes every couple of years, which don't really make any difference because incumbent reelection rates are in the high 90s even though Congress's approval ratings often drop into single digits. Whereas shareholders (or their proxies, mutual funds) can simply sell a company's stock if it looks like the company is wasting resources; stocks get traded every day.




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