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Post details: Amazing Tax Time

Amazing Tax Time

Americans have two opportunities to experience a labyrinth: corn mazes in the Fall and tax returns in the Spring. If you love to be completely and literally amazed, prepare for your annual April 15th showdown with the Dark Forces of Obfuscation. You will not be alone. The byzantine structure of the infamous form 1040 would baffle even Theseus with an industry length ball of thread.

Passing through narrow passages of terse instructions only to learn at the end that you need to fill out yet another form that is a maze in its own right is but a start. Move on and you'll soon get sucked into multiplying lines upon lines by seemingly random numbers, into juggling obscure credits and trying to sort out all the supportive documentation on the floor of your living room. And if you think you are still on top of the game, try to comprehend some of the arcane deductions that the instruction manual has to offer - here I quote from page 34: "Attorney fees and court costs paid by you in connection with an award from the IRS for information you provided after December 19, 2006, that substantially contributed to the detection of tax law violations, up to the amount of the award includible in your gross income". A rare jewel.

Taxes should not be a rocket science. We are not trying to cure cancer or synthesize a truth pill for politicians here. This could be a simple matter: you add your income, apply a percentage (which could even be progressive), write a check and be done. And if Uncle Sam wants to sponsor certain activities, he can do so directly. For instance why subtract charity contributions. If the government wants to promote charitable donations, which is what this is all about, they can match every dollar from private funds with 28 cents from federal coffers and that's it. There is no reason to burden the Tax Code with it.

And 1040 is only half of the story. The disbursement of the collected funds is another puzzling labyrinth. Theoretically it is our representatives who decide about the distribution, but I wish we had a more direct way of controlling the flow of money.

There are items in the federal budget that are vital - like fixing highways, maintaining Defense and Foreign Ministries, helping people in distress, sponsoring educational programs or protecting nature. Say two thirds of your return would cover that. But many tax revenues are currently being wasted on inefficient bureaucracy or poorly designed social engineering projects. Now imagine that there was an extra line on the 1040 that would ask you what to do with the non-vital third of your taxes. It could read like this (just a sample):

  • Support Biotechnology Labs
  • Bail Out Merrill Lynch
  • Build a Bridge from California to Australia
  • Invade Somalia
  • Support the National Gallery of Arts
  • Establish a Museum of Corn Derivatives in Kansas
  • Fight Global Warming
  • Send a Platypus to Moon

Furthermore, imagine that citizens themselves could submit suggestions what to include in the ad lib portion of the budget. Many people have ideas that bickering politicians would never even dream of. And this one line would allow other people to hop on the bandwagon of their choice and make it happen. Compulsive fitness junkies could vote for a nationwide system of bike paths, curious people would fund research in nanotechnology, prima ballerinas could redirect portion of their taxes to exchange programs with Moscow's Bolshoi Theater.

And hey - the Wall Street Bankers could even pay for their beloved bailouts. From their own pockets!

Oh, the sweet thrills of science fiction.

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