From the article:
> Internal presentations lay out company tactics for fighting “encroachment,” Intuit’s catchall term for any government initiative to make filing taxes easier — such as creating a free government filing system or pre-filling people’s returns with payroll or other data the IRS already has. “For a decade proposals have sought to create IRS tax software or a ReturnFree Tax System; All were stopped,” reads a confidential 2007 PowerPoint presentation from an Intuit board of directors meeting. The company’s 2014-15 plan included manufacturing “3rd-party grass roots” support. “Buy ads for op-eds/editorials/stories in African American and Latino media,” one internal PowerPoint slide states.
I'm always stunned and disappointed at how easy it is to game the American political system. I say that with great respect for this country and the freedoms it affords me, but those freedoms mean little if skullduggery like this goes on.
TV commercials back in tha day didn't have any of that, although nowadays they can play ultrasonic sounds that apps on your phone listen for to facilitate analytic tracking.
> manufacturing “3rd-party grass roots” support
...is effectively trying to achieve advertising goals outside advertising channels using deception - astroturfing, etc.
Isn't that the point of a political system without hegemon? And open political system is not one that is fair to all. It is a system that is open to gaming by all.
A democracy and a "completely fair system" are completely different things. I don't think anyone has any idea how the latter would work.
In that case, the hegemon is a faceless allocation of capital and dark interests as opposed to a strongman. This setup is probably better for individual freedoms than a dictatorship, but "results may vary" for anything else. I don't think a plutarchy is an open political system; a plutarchy is, by definition, closed to all without obscene amounts of capital, or access to it. The Wikipedia article on plutocracy is an interesting read on that .
There is a gray line, like Prop 22 in CA, where Uber, Lyft, et al. convinced voters to vote yes on Prop 22 by spending over $220 million on ads and campaigning . Does this constitute a plutarchy? I would say no, because the voters were still the ones who chose the outcome! That's a big difference from a backdoor deal with a politician or inviting a them to a $43,000 "lunch" which will change their mind on your issue. However, it does highlight another issue — that of political advertising — but that's something for another time.
The main issue here is that the US did not adequately plan for mitigating the influence of money in politics. The NY Times ran an article highlighting the shock and horror with which the British see the American political system :
> Justin Fisher, a professor of political science at Brunel University London, said the American system was seen in Britain “as the worst of all worlds,” focused on “raising money and not about getting ideas across.”
Living in Switzerland, I came to the conclusion that their political setup is demonstrably better than that of the US (though also, arguably, more workable because of Switzerland's small size). In Switzerland, it would be nearly impossible for a lobbyist to pay a Swiss politician to make an important policy change and get away with it. And in most other Western European countries it would be a scandal/make big news if a politician got €50k to change their mind on something.
In the US, that happens every day.
the voters were still the ones who chose the outcome
I was just trying to differentiate between voters actually voting on an issue vs. a politician changing their position without any input from their constituents.
The dollar amount may be relatively low, but the value to an incumbent politician is that wealthy stakeholders will not fund a challenger.
They also aren't able to factor in independent expenditures (especially direct independent expenditures), or facilitation of donations (bundling) as opposed to direct donation, as well as the credible threat of doing those things, as well as direct donation, in the opposite direction.
> Well, according to www.opensecrets.org, oil, gas and coal companies donated at least $43,000 to Zincke’s campaign. That’s more than 10 percent of Ryan Zincke’s total contributions from Political Action Committees.
I've seen other articles which back this up for other lobbying too: tens of thousands, not millions!
Your interpretation of the facts seems to be based on the preconception that voters in Montana have an antagonistic relationship toward the coal industry in the state. Such that there would be a conflict and companies would have to lobby the elected representative to do something they want at the expense of what is constituents want. That’s not what’s happening. Montana voters know where the jobs come from. And in fact, polls show higher trust in corporations than the government: https://www.wsj.com/articles/more-trust-in-business-than-in-...
Read Gallup’s polling on the issue. Americans are incredibly suspicious of government and government regulation: https://content.gallup.com/origin/gallupinc/GallupSpaces/Pro.... Just 23% of people say there’s “too little” regulation of business. 45% say too much.
Now think about the $43,000 in lobbying, except assuming that voters in Montana want what’s best for the coal companies in their state. In that view, it makes more sense to understand that lobbying not as changing the vote, but coal companies communicating what they want to a politician that knows that his voters support giving coal companies what they want.
> Just 23% of people say there’s “too little” regulation of business. 45% say too much.
poll. Most people will pretty sanely say that pointless regulation is just anti-competitive so "broadly more regulation" is easy to be against. It'd be more difficult but I think some health or environmental specific policy would be better to poll about.
It's a result of years of being lied to by politicians with an anti-EU agenda. It's very similar.
There is a reason why despite two years of full Republican control they could not agree on the repeal they kept banging on about for the better part of eight years, and why repealing Obamacare was not really talked about in 2020 lest Democrats successfully bludgeon Republicans over taking away their constituents' health insurance.
See also the discussion in this thread, which mentions other unpopular provisions like the Cadillac tax (also repealed!): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24410307
They backtracked on this after Democrats wielded this as a cudgel in the 2018 blue wave.
I don't think they are so hard to buy, but the currency you need isn't $. It's votes. $ are only useful in so far as they are means of getting votes. The $ you give them doesn't go into their pockets, or at least not in places discovering a bribe means someone ends up in jail. So what it is used for? The only use I can see is to earn more votes, by advertising, databases of voters, party machines and the like.
Votes can be delivered in other ways. The media can choose to spin it's stories one way or the other, which gives them an inordinate amount of leverage. In a state that employs a lot of people in coal mining, an employer intimating "if you vote for X, you get to keep your job" can have much more sway that a measly $43k.
Google's problem is they are a capital intensive, high wage, and consequently employ bugger all people for each $ they turn over compared to low wage enterprises that employ a lot of minimum wage people. Also they don't editorialise, and they don't advertise, and they are geographically dispersed. If a coal mining corporation swings the votes of 1,000 employees they could change the outcome of an election, but Google, despite employing vastly more than 1,000 can't do that. That leaves two options - lobbying and $ donations, which as you observe aren't that effective.
What has just transpired in Australia is an excellent example of what happens when Google does find the will to flex some real political muscle. I wrote about it here , but put briefly the newspapers decided to use their waning political muscle to get the Australian politicians to force Google hand over money from the ad revenue they generate from search. The pretext was very weak, so weak they could not define the sorts of activities the newspapers must be paid for so the proposed legislation literally named Google and Facebook, and demand they hand over $ to the newspapers. Capitalist cronyism at it's best.
I guess the newspapers thought they could deliver votes and Google couldn't. The politicians definitely thought so, as they floated a draft bill and it was at it's second reading. But it crossed some line for Google, the line that normally stops them from editorialising on their digital properties. They publicly threatened to shut down search in Australia and ensured it was broadcasted on every news channel in Australia, they put a 1/2 page banner on they search page (something most Australians see at least once a day) saying the same thing. Australian's read the sub-text: all your gmail.com accounts and emails, all your Google contacts, all your Android photos and a whole lot else besides is under threat.
Or at least that's my reading of what happened. In any case last Friday which was only a few days after that, the Prime Minister announced Google was being much more reasonable. As far as I could tell, Google's position hadn't changed at all from 6 months ago and they hadn't donated a single extra $, but they had just demonstrated they could shift a lot of votes.
It’s easy to be a cynic, but you still need to match your beliefs up against reality. This particular belief really shouldn’t have survived the Trump era. Trump won in 2016 and almost won in 2020 despite Clinton and Biden having a huge financial edge from donors in the biggest industries (Wall Street, media, tech, etc.) See: https://mobile.twitter.com/annalecta/status/1323370439306055.... See: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/26/927453369/outspent-in-the-hom...
Bloomberg spent $100 million in Florida alone only to have Trump win it by a bigger margin than in 2016.
See also: https://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/09/trump-spent-about-half-of-wh... (“Trump spent about half of what Clinton did on his way to the presidency.”).
In the 2018-2020 timeframe, gun control supporters vastly outspent gun control opponents. They failed. Supporters of Prop 209 in California vastly outspent the opposition. They failed by a huge margin.
It’s actually hard to “game” the American political system. What companies like Intuit do is spend money to expose existing fault lines. Republicans are up and down the line opposed to easy tax filing because they think it’ll make it easier for government to raise taxes if people have to manually do their taxes every year. Intuit didn’t create this political fault line. It’s pre-existing. It’s based on ideology. The money is to connect Intuit’s issue (tax filing software) to this existing political fault line.
Lobbyist groups don’t care (too) much about who’s elected. They want to influence the lawmaking process.
The election examples above are not particularly relevant to lobbying. But they are relevant to money in politics, so I for one upvoted your comment. You definitely hint at the distinction between elections (and the relative lack of effectiveness) and lobbying, but I imagine people were confused by your reply (though “game the political system” is also vague).
I think you meant to say it would make it harder to raise taxes if people had to do their returns manually. I also think you're mistaking the excuse offered by Republicans for the underlying reason. After all, if it were true then Republicans would be logically be opposed to any sort of electronic filing, whether offered from the IRS or by a third party.
> Republicans are up and down the line opposed to easy tax filing because they think it’ll make it easier for government to raise taxes if people have to manually do their taxes every year.
I think republicans tend to be against easy tax filing since it would involve wider access to the plethora of loopholes that exist in our tax system. Automatic filing would really level the playing field if small businesses and individuals got access to some of the loopholes that corporations regularly exploit.
1. Ignoring, of course, accounting tricks required to set some of these up by offshoring profits/income and other advanced techniques around valuation.
As is the failure of the Keystone XL pipeline where according to HN that sweet, sweet oil money would be impossible to defeat. Well, it was defeated.
The mistake people make is “oh this problem hasn’t been fixed and someone is spending lobbying dollars so it won’t be fixed, so that must be the reason”.
I’d ask if Intuit wasn’t lobbying against cheaper ways to files taxes so we really think it would have been implemented?
> Intuit didn’t create this political fault line. It’s pre-existing. It’s based on ideology.
I'm not sure what you're trying to say here, in moral terms.
Is your intention to defend Intuit's actions?
(Unfortunately, mentioning Trump and the election quickly triggers people's defense mechanisms and attracts downvotes like here, even if the comment is using it as just supporting data in their argument.)
If the effect of money is really not significant, why don't politicians simply ignore the funding and do what they think their constituents want?
America has an insane bribery problem.
I wonder if this is more or less applicable to Politics in general, and not specifically American Politics.
Time magazine disagrees with you.
Maybe the full backing of Wall Street, Tech, and the media combined pushed Biden over the finish line. But it was at best a nudge. And how modest that effect was should be good for thought for skeptics.
Trump had a banner advertisement on youtube on election day. NetPAC and similar corporate pacs donate as much or more to Republic candidates as dems. Similarly, you have many powerful people in silicon valley, including Paul Graham criticizing companies for dropping the veneer of impartiality that favored trump, and moving to actually uphold their own values.
Wallstreet similarly didn't exactly do much to favor biden.
You can't talk about the media without mentioning fox, which is the largest single media institution, and favored Trump until at least December.
Yes, biden had much stronger support from individuals, and in some cases that translated to endorsement from institutions. But it didn't really translate to institutional support like you seem to be implying. I mean the only sort of institutional support you could argue is that generic GOTV efforts favor dems, which while true isn't strong favoritism.
There's a vast difference between targeted lobbying for a particular policy position (especially when there isn't a clear opposition, who is the group that lobbies for clear govt managed tax handling?) And political campaigning.
For the first, you don't even need to appeal to voters.
I had heard the government required TurboTax to have a free edition. But back in 2019 (and before), if you Googled "TurboTax free" you'd be taken to a decoy free edition; the real one was called their "freedom edition," and was hidden from Google's listings. If your tax situation is 'too complicated,' the free edition tries to upsell you to the "deluxe edition," even if the "freedom edition" could have handled the situation just fine.
Thankfully now you can find the actual free version on Google, but it's still very confusing that the "free edition" is less free than the (still somewhat hidden) IRS Free File ("freedom") version. And the faux Free Edition is still being heavily advertised.
For anyone else looking to stop paying Intuit, the IRS provides an intro and links to their official Free File options. 
TurboTax sounds like Free Software Foundation's evil twin... "When we speak of freedom, it's a matter of price, not liberty. You should think of freedom as in free beer, not free speech!"
Why do I know this? I don't have any Windows computers, I mostly work on a Mac, and Intuit doesn't make TurboTax Business for Mac, only for Windows. TaxAct has an online service for filing 1120S/K-1 for LLCs which can import data via CSV that works on any OS, so Intuit responded by no longer offering CSV exports and ensuring they're broken using F/OSS tools. Really is making it a challenge to comply with the law this year for my LLC without me having to have Windows + Office 365 licenses.
I've looked into renouncing my US citizenship, but that costs a few thousand dollars. And, the US can reject it for several reasons, one of which is tax avoidance. Also, as per the rumors, it is nearly impossible to get a US Visa after that (and I still have American relatives who I would like to see). Seeing as us expats don't have a senator or congressman, we don't really have someone to fight for us. At least I am still allowed to vote. Before every election that I am eligible to vote in, I email the candidates and ask them what their stance is on taxing foreigners (and don't get me started on the fbar). Based on their response I vote.
I’m an American living abroad and got US citizenship for my children. I constantly wonder if I made a mistake.
I do get some tax savings, and most of my income and assets are in the US so I save for them there. But I know the burden of having to file taxes and possibly pay them when they’re old enough is a heavy one.
You only need to pay Federal income tax and since most countries have higher taxation rates than the US, most expats and up with no tax liability on their income. Capital income taxes are a major pain though.
Let me tell you, Turbo Tax often gets a worse off final result. For example, I changed jobs in Q2 and exceeded my Social Security contribution last year. For some reason, the cheaper competitor actually caught that and got me a better result than Turbo Tax.
I now have to copy fields, but I double checked them anyways, so I think it's faser to input them myself. It's just triple clicking on a pdf and middle clicking on the browser
(Disclaimer: my wife is an employee, and they are great as employers too.)
I have no formal connection to them, just a very satisfied customer.
I've used it for the past 2 years, and it has worked great for me, albeit I don't have very complicated taxes. I'm actually afraid of what happens if the acquisition goes through, definitely expecting the free tax filing to disappear soon after that occurs.
According to this announcement  from 2020-12-03, Intuit has completed the acquisition of Credit Karma.
I logged in to Credit Karma today to do my taxes, and the tax link on the main page took me to tax.creditkarma.com where I found the familiar Credit Karma tax stuff, with a notice on the bottom of the page that says:
> Tax preparation services are provided by Credit Karma Tax, Inc. a subsidiary of Square, Inc.
So, it appears that Square is indeed now handling it, but it is still tied in with Intuit's Credit Karma. I wonder if that is just some transitory thing for the 2020 tax year and for 2021 it will be on a Square domain, and the Credit Karma mail site will link to TurboTax for tax prep instead?
Square will have to build up the customer base and visibility of the tax product, provided they intend to do anything with it similar to what CreditKarma was.
Intuit should simply not have been allowed to buy them.
The purchase of Credit Karma is textbook "buying out a competitor", especially since Credit Karma's tax solution was offered for "free" to customers.
Why did the government not intervene? There's hardly better evidence of political capture by the corporate America as that one.
It's fine by the DOJ to have the number of players reduced from even 4 to just 3 and they are only really forced to act when it comes down to an attempt to reduce from 3 to 2
I guess the book needs an update to this example, a chapter on what it means to take innovation too far.
Filing taxes does seem complicated here in the U.S. when you may have also other forms of ordinary income. So many rules, forms, etc. I wonder if people use something like TurboTax because they are just not aware how to complete this task, unless, systematically hand held in a way and just walk through getting it done before the deadline.
- receive a tax summary of what the Swedish tax agency believes about your earnings.
- check that tax summary if it is OK (you receive a summary from all your employers in the beginning of the year. Just check if it adds up)
- go online and change any numbers you believe are wrong (in my experience they are usually usually they are correct down to a granularity of a couple of hundred SEK). At that level calculating it precisely gets very hard, due to how your employer reported sick leave and such. I have always ignored anything below 1000sek (~$100)
- do any deductions. Many are already pre-filled (like deductions on interest, household services and such).
- sign it with your online ID
Done. Last year this process took my wife about 35 minutes. Most people are a lot less diligent.
* Investment income
* House or other capital sales or purchases
* Stock option purchases or sales
* Child custody, dependents
etc. I don't see how any country's tax code would capture these income or loss streams without some manual filing process.
Sibling comments suggest that other countries successfully automate much of their taxes.
Otherwise you either have to do it or you are missing out on credits.
It‘s pretty straightforward too. If you want you can only file your basic personal data and bank account and have the information already submitted by the employer electronically picked up. That way you can get any obvious credits for e.g. uneven earnings.
I would wager this is most people working a 9-5. That's my point.
It's optional, entirely. In the US, it is not. You are forced to file, every year, by penalty of law (really nasty IRS calls/visits/audits). And in order to file, you must wade through endless forms and confusing tax law, usually missing a tax break costing you more - unless, that is, you use software.
And that's the rub - those software vendors are the ones lobbying against simplifying tax processess so that citizens are forced into using their software. It's not a "maybe this is happening". This is a "definitely happening" thing for decades now.
People that are self employed tend to need to do self-file, or those with slightly more complicated investment approaches but even then that's generally not a particular hard task.
One of the other advantages of it, is it discourages a rebate based approach to incentives. With most people not needing to file taxes each year, rebates wouldn't be particularly effective at encouraging behaviour. The government instead opts for subsidies, so the item is cheaper _at the time of purchase_. No shelling out the extra money and then eventually clawing it back, without any interest it might have accrued for you.
It was quite a shock when I moved to the US and got to experience the "delights" of filing taxes here.
And for those that don’t, how many are losing out on money because of an error?
I’m not saying it can never be wrong, just that the system is simple and employers have done it for years. If one really wanted to check comparing to a website like https://listentotaxman.com/m/ is easy.
My parents have almost 100 working years between them and have never once filed a tax return.
For those who do file, the return is quite straightforward. There are some weird bits — capital gains on stocks are much more complicated than the short/long hold in the US — but on the whole a UK return is a couple of dozen pages (many of which are skipped) and easily within the scope of a self-filer.
If you're US Based, think of it as being similar to the withholding calculation, only significantly more accurate.
I've known a few people that manually check their taxes each year, and never known them to find mistakes. Most people just don't bother.
HMRC already has the information it needs to calculate the information correctly. The same is actually true of IRS too. For almost all cases, the IRS can accurately calculate your taxes for you. In several countries, the agency responsible for taxes pre-populates your tax document for you, and sends it to you to sign off on each year. Doing taxes often involves no more than skimming through a document to verify accuracy, and mailing it off.
And it's not just the gov't. I assume your employer is the one transmitting the info back to the gov't. I've had my employer miscalculate my social security tax in one paycheck.
Anyone who really wants to not pay doesn't, so there is never a critical mass of passionate people.
Thanks but no thanks. This is like "why do you need an attorney if the government can give you one for free"?
A "cheap" fix would be to eliminate deductions, and automate marginal withholding. An expensive fix would be to service deductions on a rolling basis, applying them to future income withholding.
I am self employed, and it took me a few years to figure out properly how to pay and not overpay for all my taxes. The entire tax system is insane, depreciated assets, tracking car mileage, LLC fees and taxes, annual report filings, and paying quarterly taxes.
It seems to me that the first step in citizens reclaiming their democracy back and having our faith and integrity restored in our institutions is to take charge of the lobbying process and rescue it from corporate interests and other bad influences. I would go so far as to suggest all lobbying of politicians be done in public and that to bypass the system of public scrutiny be made a felony.
This may sound like highfalutin idealism and overkill but after what we've witnessed in Washington in recent weeks we
can no longer ignore the fact that trust in our governance is at an alltime low - and that as citizens we have a collective responsibility to ensure we fix the problem.
We have to break the nexus of mistrust between the Citizenry and Government and desperate times call for desperate measures.
I think the carpetbagger comparison is rather apropos. In the same way as carpetbaggers, you can be a lobbyist who genuinely suggests things that are good for the American people and also are good for the corporate interests you represent. Alternatively you can lobby for things which benefit your corporate interests at the expense of the American people. Unfortunately seems like lobbying in the US is almost entirely the latter. And maybe postbellum carpetbaggers were in fact more of the former. But it's a similar scenario.
They were the civil war's equivalent of Haliburton in Iraq.
Which is to say, that's a terribly obtuse way to deal with the problem, and does nothing to keep this kind of abuse from surfacing in other domains.
It's not a unique idea. In fact, I first heard it from IRS employees themselves.
The actual root problem here is Grover Norquist + friends (comprising a large part of the republican party), who are opposed to all taxes, under basically all circumstances. Norquist is on record saying that it's GOOD that taxes are overly complicated, because it makes people dislike them more, and trust government less. There's an obvious marriage of convenience between the anti-taxxers and TurboTax, which is why TurboTax is able to hold the whole American tax infrastructure in stasis with seemingly miniscule amounts of contributions.
Remember, loads of other countries do this easily. Income is easy to track on the government side: they have all of the employment information, and can fill in the blanks easily. Tax day should really just be a chance for you to double check the calculation. It's a political problem, not a technical problem.
(Also, what the others have said about regressive taxes is 100% correct.)
It does not make it a better tax, it does not make necesarily make it cheaper to manage, and it has the gravest of dangers of misaligning the incentives between the net tax payer and the net tax consumer.
One argument in favor of filing taxes yourself is that you can transfer the stocks to a different broker. No single broker knows what you have been doing with your stocks. However, the government already exists as a central entity and it can simply receive a full record of all taxable events from all brokers.
Where do you see this misaligning the incentives between the net tax payer and the net tax consumer?
If anything, it would make cryptocurrency based credit cards viable as a means of payment because the taxation problem is no longer intractable for the individual tax payer.
You switch it to the store. Now the store charges you 11 dollars for the bottle of wine. It looks like you paid no taxes, but you did. Now you dont know your tax rate, you dont see it, and they can be raised without your approval as it is hidden from you.
VAT taxes work like that and have reached sometimes 30%+.
Furthermore, it doesnt make taxes simpler, the business still has to do tax handling for you, which means you also pay that company accountant.
It’s actually a great idea.
In any case in practice this is obviously not done, as cigarettes, alcohol, food, basic online purchases etc have sale taxes.
And yes it is done. Food, clothes, toiletries aren’t tax in most states in the US or Canada.
Of course alcohol and tobacco aren’t exempted. You’re trying to discourage use not encourage it.
If you exempt the necessities of living (food, etc) I’d suggest the rich would be tax on a far bigger percentage of income than the poor.
And even if they didn’t spend it, any capital gains or interest income would still be taxed too.
And you’re ignoring the fact that a consumption tax would capture spending from black market income as well. Expanding the pool of income taxes.
The post you are responding to is talking about getting rid of income taxes. Those are income taxes.
It is also a pretty distortive tax, and it creates smuggling, robbery, and disproportionally punishes those that consume those products and are also on the poorer spectrum.
Zucman and Saez have a decent figure for this, which this article in the Atlantic includes as a high resolution version  or a non paywall one at . People quibble with the details here (particularly post taxes and transfers like social security), but much of the income and much of the wealth is in the top 10%. The bottom 90% basically saves nothing,
and while many at the true bottom decile / quintile spend it only on the goods you would exclude, you still end up with “we can’t tax wealthier people, without being regressive” for most of the middle.
For example, car payments, home sales, electronics. These are all “normal” things for most people, so unless you want to raise taxes on the bottom 50% or so (who currently do not pay much in income taxes), you have to exempt a much wider variety of goods.
What does that leave you with? Yachts? Cars over a certain amount? Houses over a certain amount? It’s not impossible to figure out how to do it, but you then get to pile on import taxes (“Fine. I’ll buy my yacht in the Bahamas and sail it here rather than pay 10x in taxes”) and so on.
Fundamentally, in designing a taxation system, you’re deciding how to fund the government and redistribute wealth. It turns out that spending, even of non basic goods, isn’t a good proxy of what an individual can afford to contribute without noticing. Income isn’t perfect, but spending is actually pretty bad.
Add on top capital gains and you're collecting the same or more than you are now.
P.S. I don’t think when people call for “just sales tax” they also mean “oh and sure plus capital gains” (besides, this would just shift back towards dividends).
I would not be surprised if articles like these are just another form of PR for tax preparation companies. The goal of these articles seem to be to convince us that taxes are complicated and difficult.
I don't think it's a case of people making free tax filing is difficult. It genuinely is far far harder than it has to be.
The government can't automate it because a lot of these deductions are not things they can learn about looking at your W-2.
Tax preparation should be automatic and handled by the government, full stop.
I still think we're playing into the tax preparation industry by calling it daunting. I maintain the current process, while inefficient, is in fact easy for most Americans.
The IRS provides free fillable forms regardless of income level. The process for individuals is to first collect all of one's tax documents, read the instructions, and copy the numbers into the correct boxes. The forms calculate most of the math for you. If you make a mistake, the IRS will likely tell you. Not perfectly efficient, but far easier than I was led to believe.
The IRS probably could provide a more or less pre-filled form for many people. They have the information on most taxable income already. However, they dont. The reasons for this are complex, like the tax code, but mostly boil down to "politics".
 Here's the main tax form: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040.pdf
For federal taxes, payroll systems typically transmit your data to our taxation office on each payrun, and then a few weeks (or sometimes, immediately) after the end of the financial year, your details are already in the system and you just need to hit the button to submit.
Our tax office has also tried to make it easier for individuals with simple requirements to keep records of work-related tax deductions, etc, such that you can use a mobile app to record them, and then it can also be imported into your return with a single click.
I think for many people - myself included - it's easy enough that you can (and I have) complete it on your phone on the way to work on July 1st (the first day of our income tax year, and the first day you can file for the prior year).
They absolutely are not - the crux of the issue is tax prep companies should be a very niche product - the government should provide an efile option. Since most people's taxes are fairly simple they should be automatically done for you so all you have to do is log in and approve of the autogenerated form. At the very, very least e-forms should be pre filled out with what the government already knows about you because your employer, bank, or brokerage reported to them.
All this standard in almost all other developed countries. It's absurd there is for profit companies calling the shots in this area.
In Australia, you just log on to a portal on the tax office web site and most types of income are already in there, pre-filled. You spend a few minutes putting in any deductions or other income, and then it works out if you're eligible for any credits, offsets etc. and you click 'File'. It's free and doesn't generally take me more than about half an hour per year.
in india, the govt makes 4/6 tax returns available to be filed on the govt portal itself. It has a simple workflow based approach, asks you a few questions and in minutes you are done.
Software companies exist alongside them but there is no "bad blood" between the two because they both do the same thing. the software companies products make it easier for tax professionals to keep a record and such but otherwise millions of users just dont bother with paid offerings.
that is a much better alternative than the one US has