Tax Policy: A Modest Proposal

I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that most members of Congress don't have much direct interaction with the tax system. They've got accountants to do it, and they look it over and sign the forms. Probably with a “man, I'm glad I didn't have to do that” sigh of relief. Then they're on to talking to the next lobbyist or something.

Near as I can tell, the biggest problem with the income tax system in the U.S. isn't whether it's progressive, or flat, or whether the rates or too high or too low. No, the problem is that it's too complicated. I'm not even sure that full-time experts (i.e., those accountants) actually understand it. TurboTax is magic in terms of making it possible for consumers to do the taxes, but even it bails out on the fine points of the AMT.

The complication causes two problems (aside from enabling a large business sector that derives its income from helping people and corporations pay less tax). The first is that the richer you are, the more you can avoid paying. The second is that you don't actually know if you're doing it right, and there's probably something you did wrong that they can hunt you down for, if they decided to do so.

Therefore, we present a modest proposal for how members of Congress should prepare their taxes.

All members of Congress shall be required to submit their taxes on time, without extensions. In preparing their taxes they may use:

  1. Pencil, paper, and a pen for signing their their forms and checks.
  2. A four-function calculator.
  3. A telephone to call the IRS help line, using the regular hold queues, with no indication that they are members of Congress.
  4. Their paper copies of records and receipts.
  5. They must complete the AMT calculations for the record, whether or not it appears that the AMT will apply to them.
  6. For each tax benefit, they must write out, in legible longhand, “The XXX tax deduction/credit does not (does) apply to me.”

I imagine that if these rules were adopted, the tax code would be rather simpler in short order. In the current economic climate, I also imagine that this would be denounced as a job-killing proposal because of its effects on the employment of accountants.