Tax rates are at historic lows

Ben Peck of The American Prospect has a list of the “Top Ten Tax Facts.” The whole thing is worth reading — as is the source material Peck links to. Here are some highlights:

1. The government has collected less in taxes as a proportion of the economy in the past three years than it has in any three-year period since World War II, and tax rates are at historic lows.

… 4. Corporate income taxes for the past three years have hovered at just over 1 percent of GDP, lower than for any three-year period since World War II. The average for OECD countries is 3.5 percent.

… 10. Only two OECD nations collect less revenue as a percentage of GDP than the United States — Chile and Mexico.

So if you love lower taxes so much, just move to Mexico already.

If you prefer showing to telling, Chuck Marr of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the “Top Ten Federal Tax Charts.” Marr’s charts illustrate the facts in Peck’s list. Tax rates are at historic lows.

This is a fact. It is a true thing. You can look it up. But as with many facts these days, this fact is rejected by people who feel that facts are only factual if you “believe” in them.

Thus we have one of the stranger aspects of American politics just now: Millions of citizens angry with President Obama for raising their taxes despite the fact that he actually lowered them.

I know this isn’t simply perverse stupidity on the part of these citizens. These folks have been lied too aggressively by a powerful propaganda machine. And those with employer-provided health care might be confusing the bigger bite that premiums are taking out of their paychecks with a bigger bite from taxes.

But still, reality has to count for something. And the arithmetic here is not complicated.

So at some level it really is just stupid and perverse to blame Obama for higher taxes when he has lowered them. Thus at least part of the mandatory response to these folks is to point out — as nicely as possible, if they will allow nice as an option — that they need to shut up, wake up, and move back to reality. Spending your days seething with rage about something that is the opposite of true is not a recipe for personal happiness. (See also: Anti-tax anger directed at the ginormous tax-cut package of the stimulus-providing Recovery Act.)

* * * * * * * * *

Taxes are the one bill I have that I’m required to calculate myself. My Internet provider, my wireless carrier, my electric utility, my water company, my insurance company and the bank the holds my mortgage all just send me a bill. So does the township for our local taxes.

Yet the state and the federal government both require me to fill out a set of forms calculating my own bill. This seems superfluous, since both the state and the federal government will also be doing the same calculations in order to double-check that I’ve done this properly, threatening costly consequences if I get it wrong. So why can’t they just send me a bill?

Matt Yglesias explains why: We have to calculate our own tax bills because it’s more difficult and complicated that way. “Who Wants Taxes to Be More Complicated?” The short answer is that the tax preparation lobby does, and more importantly so do politicians who base their careers on railing against taxes:

Why don’t you just lie on your taxes? You don’t lie because you’re worried that the IRS will catch you. And why do you worry about that? Because all the various entities who’ve paid you over the course of the past year have to submit paperwork about your income. Your employer, your bank, your stock broker, etc. — record and transmit almost all relevant information about your money to the IRS, meaning that if you lie you’ll get caught.

But by the same token, the IRS could simply collect all this information and send you a tax bill. You could read it over, sign at the bottom, and either include a check or wait for your refund. It wouldn’t be fun, exactly, but it would sure be simple.

Needless to say, taxpayers should have the right to dispute the veracity of the IRS’s calculations and submit their own form. And some classes of people are going to routinely have unusually complicated tax finances. Journalists, for example, often have miscellaneous travel expenses related to freelance assignments. People running substantial small businesses will still need accountants.

But for the vast majority of the population, most of the pain of tax compliance could be eliminated by a few keystrokes at IRS headquarters. So why don’t we do it?

Two reasons. One is lobbying by the tax preparation industry to discourage states and the feds from developing easier tax-paying systems, as California recently did. The second is lobbying by anti-tax conservatives. When the Golden State implemented its ReadyReturn system, it did so over the objections of Grover Norquist and his anti-tax pressure group Americans for Tax Reform, which fears that if taxes become less annoying voters might be less unhappy about paying them. After all, if the government did something to make your life easier it would be harder to tout the difficulty of tax compliance as a reason to abolish the progressive rate structure.

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  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    For all the people who carp about lawyer bashing, I note that one reason why the debate over taxes continues is because quite a sizable chunk of the people writing tax laws happen to be lawyers turned politicians. You can’t tell me that’s desirable complexity.

    Canada has been making small steps toward making it easier to compute your taxes, although one thing that used to be done which stopped in the 1980s was you could get a numerical table that told you exactly how much income tax you ought to have paid given a certain income level.

    One program I’ve been swearing by for a long time now, and I don’t know if there’s a USA equivalent, is this: TaxMan. Its only deficiency is that you have to file on paper, which takes longer since you need to mail stuff in, but it’s totally free and is reasonably user-friendly if you have prior experience with the way the tax system works.

    But really, the advent of personal computers in the 1980s should have made it easy for governments all over to roll out an infrastructure of easy tax computation for people: take your forms to Revenue Canada’s local office (or the IRS’s), and a friendly perosn working there will punch your numbers into the appropriate screens. Fifteen minutes later, you sign a printout and you’re golden.

    Instead it took until 1995/1996 for the Canadian (dunno about the US) government to issue rulings that allowed for people to print their own tax forms with tax prep software which is the greatest ripoff like EVER because you pay $30 for one program, NOT USABLE FOR ANY YEAR FOLLOWING, since of course tax rulings and brackets change from year to year. (>_<)

    So, yeah, fun times, right?

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    …you pay $30 for one program, NOT USABLE FOR ANY YEAR FOLLOWING, since of
    course tax rulings and brackets change from year to year.

    In fairness, the latter doesn’t immediately necessitate the former.  The yearly changes could be accounted for by providing free (or even low-priced) updates to the already-purchased software.  The H&R block packages already provide updates to the current year’s software throughout the tax season.  It would take little extra effort for them to provide an update next year that works with the software I bought this year.

  • Apocalypse Review

    Yeah, but that’s not now they worked it back then. It’s an easy racket, too, since people who don’t know about free alternatives will buy the program, use it once, and then never again.

  • http://twitter.com/mattmcirvin Matt McIrvin

    In the days before TurboTax and the like, my dad used a commercial product that was just the 1040 and associated worksheets converted to a spreadsheet.  I think it was for Lotus 1-2-3, and though the output in those dot-matrix-printer days wasn’t as pretty as what Intuit produces, the IRS was actually willing to accept the printed forms.

    It wasn’t free like TaxMan, and it probably wouldn’t do anything to maximize your return under complicated tax situations, but the simplicity of the concept was admirable.

    As for the IRS figuring your taxes for you, they actually will do it under certain conditions:

    http://www.irs.gov/publications/p17/ch29.html#en_US_2011_publink1000174225

    but it’s a pretty bare-bones service, and many people obviously won’t pay the lowest tax they could this way.

    Speaking personally, when I was doing my taxes on paper, I always found Massachusetts’ tax forms more frustrating than the federal ones.  I think it was more a matter of physical design than anything else.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Two reasons. One is lobbying by the tax preparation industry to
    discourage states and the feds from developing easier tax-paying
    systems, as California recently did. The second is lobbying by anti-tax
    conservatives.

    Um. Third reason. The IRS doesn’t actually have ALL the information
    needed to do someone’s taxes. Yes, they might have the majority of your
    income reported to them, but a lot of other info isn’t. And maybe they
    could get some of it, if they contacted the right agencies, but that is a
    lot of extra work, which would all have to be done well in advance to
    get it done in time to send you a bill, then have it paid. For instance,
    did you get married/divorced/have a child this year? Those things drastically change your tax bill, but the IRS is not notified of changes in status. Did you make a contribution to charity? Unless a suitably large amount went to one charity, that isn’t reported. Did you have a cash transaction, such as gambling winnings under a certain amount, or payment for a job you did for maybe a neighbor or friend? That income isn’t reported, but should be included. And there are lots of other examples. The IRS may seem omnipotent, but that’s hardly true.

  • christopher_young

     And yet in other countries the overwhelming majority of people who aren’t self employed have no trouble paying taxes, and paying them accurately, even if they have more than one job. It can be done. Most years of my working life I never even filed a tax return. On the occasions I did, it was a very straightforward document.

    Of course things will be more complex for those who are self employed, but let’s remember the 80/20 rule here.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

     Ok, but a lot of that could be simplified right out if tax rates for anyone earning less, than, say, $60k a year were cut sharply and everybody required to file as individuals. In Canada, there is no true “joint preparation” for married couples in which one tax form is sent in. Instead, both members of the couple send in their own forms, and under the existing tax law, indicate how their deductions should be transferred between each other.

    Would anyone really complain if the marginal tax rates went 5% $20-$30k, 10% $30k-$50k, 15%, $50k-60k ?

    I’d say the loss of a lot of deductions would be worth the drop in taxes at the bottom end, balanced by higher marginal tax rates at the top end.

    At that point there’d be no excuse for the IRS needing you to provide your W-2 when they get a carbon copy of it from your employer anyway.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507398586 Tim Fargus

    If you’re taking the standard deduction and just filing your W-2, then there’s no reason for the IRS not to do this calculation for you and send you a bill. If it’s at all more complicated, then you can of course reserve the right to file yourself, or you can dispute the IRS’s calculations, but there’s no reason that a simple tax filing ought not to be handled by the IRS, rather than being handled by you, then by the IRS, then the two compared.

  • Micaiah

    You are completely insane. Why should any money a private citizen earns be reported to the central government? It isn’t the government’s money and it isn’t the government’s business.

  • EllieMurasaki

    How do you propose to ensure that the government has enough money to fund highway repairs, national defense, and the public school system if not by taxing every citizen who earns more than a certain amount in a year, and how do you propose to ensure everyone is taxed fairly according to their income level (which of course means taxing higher-income people a higher percentage, because a thousand dollars means a lot more to someone who makes $25K a year than to someone who makes $250K, and so does ten percent of income) without having people report their income? Or if you think highway repairs, national defense, and education ought to be handled by private companies, how do you propose to ensure that every child is educated, every pothole fixed, and every citizen kept as safe as possible, without regard to the income of the child’s family, the community whose road it is, or the citizen?

  • Micaiah

    The central government should go hat in hands to the states which created it to beg for its funds. That was the intent of the founders. The state governments should have to beg from their own citizens the funds they want. The government shouldn’t fund highway repairs (or highways), the central government has no constitutional authority to be involved in education in any way. No government should be. Public education is a complete disaster. There is no fair tax. Any more than there is a fair payment to a mugger. You are being ridiculous, every pothole is not fixed now. Every child is not educated now. And the US government is the greatest threat to peace and liberty on the planet. It is envolved in endless wars of aggression against people all over the planet including Americans. It is destroying the wealth of the nation at a cataclysmic pace. We are charging headlong into third world status and your paradigm, of “the government is the solution to every problem” is the cause of it. The government isn’t the solution. It is to a very great extent, the problem. Every solution it proposes further diminishes freedom, and consumes the wealth of the productive.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Is a child free to become an engineer if she is never taught calculus? How is she more productive as a housekeeper than as an engineer? If she wants to be a housekeeper and not an engineer, that’s her own business, of course, but if she wants to not be a housekeeper and no one has taught her anything that would enable her to be anything but a housekeeper, how is she free to be anything but a housekeeper?

    Is someone free to much of anything if he dies because there is no one to make or enforce the rules about safety features in transportation?

    I share your opinion of the US government’s role in international affairs, but gutting the government is going to create a great many problems for which there will be no solution other than recreating government, and it won’t solve any problems other than the ‘problem’ of the megarich thinking they have no obligation to repay society for the advantages society gave them without which they would not be megarich.

  • Micaiah

    Your thinking is limited by your solution. Your solution is hardly a solution. If government schools were required for learning calculus we would still be using the abacus. No we would still be counting on our fingers. There are many ways to learn. Government schools are an obstacle to learning. The most uneducated home school parent is more successful at teaching, than the average government paid teacher.

    Yes, gutting the government would cause some problems, and it will never be done. The problems it would create though are problems of addictions to government redistributions of wealth. Our society has been conditioned to believe that we can all live at the expense of everyone else. When a society reaches that point, there is no turning back. The system will collapse. That is our future. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    How do you propose to teach a homeschooled kid calculus when the homeschooling parent doesn’t know jack shit about either teaching or calculus and, because the parent is homeschooling instead of earning money, cannot afford a calculus textbook?

  • Micaiah

    Do the research. Uneducated homeschool parents produce better results than the average certified government school teachers. 2. Children are home-schooled at about 1/10 the cost of a government school, perhaps $250 to $600 a year, with significantly better results. So, if the government would stop robbing them to fund dysfunctional schools, they would be in even better shape to purchase the things that are important to them. 3. There are probably hundreds of ways to learn calculus without buying a textbook. Khan Academy http://www.khanacademy.org/ would be a place to start. MIT Open Courseware  http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/#mathematics. You might even check your local library. And a quick check of amazon.com shows that we can pick up a calculus text starting a $0.00. Your mind is too narrow. You should broaden your horizons. Give liberty a chance. A free people can accomplish many things. A people addicted to government is suitable only for slavery. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    And what of the cost to the families who find themselves struggling because they need to be two-income families but also need someone to stay home and teach the kids, or the cost to the single-parent households where it is not actually possible for the parent to both earn an income and homeschool the kids? What of the cost to society a few years down the road when there’s a dramatic drop in the percentage of people who know that dinosaurs didn’t walk the earth at the same time as humans and that douching with Diet Coke doesn’t prevent pregnancy?

    What country do you live in, by the way? How do you avoid (as I’m sure you must due to your ideological opposition to the concept) taking advantage of any tax-funded benefits to society?

  • Micaiah

    1. People should live within their means. If you want something work and save to get it, you don’t rob a bank. 2. Who cares what people think about dinosaurs? There much evidence that dinosaurs and people did live together anyway. Look at the ancient art work. 3. Why is it the government’s business to be telling people what does and doesn’t prevent pregnancy? What country do you live in anyway? Is that really in its constitution?

    It is not possible for me to avoid either being robbed by the government or benefiting from the government’s robbery of others. But, just because you benefit from a crime committed by others doesn’t mean the crime is okay.
    Question: Do you favor acts of aggression against others without cause?

  • EllieMurasaki

    You really are too fucking ignorant to talk to, aren’t you?

    (Go to a supermarket sometime and look at the little numbered labels on the shelves with the mayonnaise jars. Now imagine that the jar is labeled ‘benefits of living in a civilized society’ and the number on the price tag is your tax bill. No one is forcing you to buy mayonnaise, or a civilized society, but if you want it you had fucking well better pay for it. And with that I’m done with you.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    I should probably clarify that my parents did look into homeschooling me. Dad homeschooling me was not on the table because he’s always been the primary breadwinner, and Mom homeschooling me, my parents concluded, would have ended poorly. She’d have had to relearn everything I needed to learn, as well as learning how to teach, and as a kid I was really into science which was never her field, and that’s before we factor in our personality conflict. If homeschooling were our only option, what would have happened to me?

    Also, go watch an episode or three of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader. The general population of adults–I don’t know about whether they’re smarter than fifth-graders, but certainly they’re less knowledgeable on fifth-grade material, and people need to know their shit in order to teach it.

  • Micaiah

    What would have happened to you, would have been what you chose to make of yourself. The problem with the general population of adults is that they were sentenced to public school. Public school teachers are the general population. Your premise is wrong though, I think. The problem is not so much the ability to teach as to foster learning. Kids love to learn. My three year old won’t stop asking me why. The problem with government schools is that for a great percentage of kids, by the time they get to the fourth grade the system has taught them to hate learning.

  • EllieMurasaki

    What would I have had to make choices with, with no one to teach me? And seventh grade in a Catholic junior-senior high did more to fuck with my love of learning than the rest of my K-12 career. Wasn’t the Catholic bit at fault; sixth grade was at a perfectly fine Catholic elementary. But it certainly wasn’t public schooling’s fault either.

    Any random person off the street has a degree in education and in all the subjects that a child is expected to become moderately knowledgeable in before becoming an adult? Wow, our education system’s good.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Your thinking is limited by your solution. Your solution is hardly a
    solution. If government schools were required for learning calculus

    Surprise, surprise, that’s how people get taught it some fraction of the time. In (HORRORS!) government-funded high schools. Or in government-funded colleges.

    Our society has been conditioned to believe that we can all live at the expense of everyone else.

    Seriously. Just.. please. Stop right there. Your lack of understanding of the fact that every society for thousands of years has had some kind of ruling body to take care of societal and communal affairs is painful to watch.

    Please, just stop acting like a dog humping this abtract notion of the USA. You look ridiculous.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Less ‘ridiculous’ and more ‘pitiable’. It’s almost as though Micaiah genuinely doesn’t know that without an institution to establish the rules of the game, level the playing field, and keep an eye out for cheaters, a few people will grind the rest into the ground, and anyone who’s part of that ‘rest’ is being denied the very freedoms Micaiah proclaims as paramount.

  • Micaiah

    Invisible is right. Intelligence of your response is just… well invisible. You have no response so you spew sewage. I hope you were outside.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Another thing northern Mexico has going for it that should be very appealing to libertarians are lots of guns and a fierce, laissez-faire business climate. Sure, if you’re a small business-owner whether or not you are involved in the drugs, guns, and/or slave trade, you’ll probably be paying protection money to Los Zetas or some other gang group of private security entrepreneurs, but it sure beats paying taxes, amiright?

  • Emcee, cubed

    And yet in other countries the overwhelming majority of people who
    aren’t self employed have no trouble paying taxes, and paying them
    accurately, even if they have more than one job.

    As do people in the US. The amount of people  who actually deal with the IRS in more than a “that’s who I send my tax return to every year” way is extremely small.

    And yes, it would be nice and wonderful if the US had a simpler tax code. But we don’t. And it doesn’t look like we will any time soon. (Which right now is a good thing, because the only plans I’ve seen put forth lately to “simplify the tax code” consists of having the rich pay less by making the middle and poor pay more.) We have to deal with the tax code we have at the moment. And with the tax code we have now, the IRS can’t just send a bill. They need more information from people, most of which is taken at face value unless there is a glaring red flag to make them investigate.

    At that point there’d be no excuse for the IRS needing you to provide
    your W-2 when they get a carbon copy of it from your employer anyway.

    They don’t require it now. I think they still ask for it when you file a paper return, but the return won’t be rejected if you don’t. And since a large portion are now e-filed, sending in a W2 doesn’t happen very often.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    On the complexity of filing taxes…I’m just glad that I’m no longer living in PA and working in NY.  Having to do a Federal return, a return for two states, and the PA municipality return got tiring after doing it for seven years.
     

  • Splitting Image

    Personally, I think the best argument for doing your own taxes is that it forces (some) people to look at their own financial situation and actually try to understand how much they are paying in taxes.

    If you think that the problem of people thinking their taxes have gone up when they have in fact gone down is bad now, wait until you see how bad it would get if most people did not have to calculate their own taxes every year.
    I’ve had to argue with people for years over whether or not that little bit of overtime they worked made them pay more in taxes than they made, and in nearly every case, the problem turned out to be that the nimrod in question sent everything to a tax preparer to do and had never actually looked at a tax form long enough to understand how the annual taxes were calculated. Nationalizing the tax preparation business (by simply having the government do it) would magnify that problem considerably.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    Personally, I think the best argument for doing your own taxes is that
    it forces (some) people to look at their own financial situation and
    actually try to understand how much they are paying in taxes.

    I’m not so sure about that.  I do my own taxes, but I couldn’t tell you how what I paid in 2011 compares to what I paid to what I paid in 2010.

  • Daughter

     You may  not remember your total tax burden from the previous year, but don’t you know whether you received a greater or smaller refund, or wrote a larger or smaller check?

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    Nope.

  • Daughter

     OK, why not? I’m hardly a math genius, and I don’t know the exact figures, but I could tell you whether or not I owed or got a refund the last few years, and give you a rough estimate of the amount owed/refund amount. Plus, you’re supposed to have your previous year’s taxes in front of you when you do this year’s.

  • Daughter

     Plus, you’re a software engineer. I would assume that means you have some facility with numbers.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    Are you really asking me to justify myself to you?

  • Daughter

     Yes, I am. We’ve talked a lot on this blog about people who are willfully ignorant, when informing themselves isn’t that hard to do. According to the IRS, you should hold on to 7 years of prior returns. Whether you do your taxes yourself or have someone else do them, you’re supposed to have last year’s taxes in front of you so you can note anything that’s changed. You’re an intelligent person.  It’s not that hard to know what you paid last year.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    As far as I’m concerned, you have crossed a line.  Whether or not I know how my tax burden compares from year to year neither breaks your arm nor picks your pocket.  Therefore, I maintain that is none of your business.

    Furthermore, I find your comments to me on this matter self-righteous and condescending.  Please desist.

  • Daughter

     What I wrote to you is hardly comparable to what Fred wrote above:

    Thus we have one of the stranger aspects of American politics just
    now: Millions of citizens angry with President Obama for raising their
    taxes despite the fact that he actually lowered them.

    I know this
    isn’t simply perverse stupidity on the part of these citizens. These
    folks have been lied too aggressively by a powerful propaganda machine.
    And those with employer-provided health care might be confusing the
    bigger bite that premiums are taking out of their paychecks with a
    bigger bite from taxes.
    But still, reality has to count for something. And the arithmetic here is not complicated.

    So at some level it really is
    just stupid and perverse to blame Obama for higher taxes when he has
    lowered them. Thus at least part of the mandatory response to these
    folks is to point out — as nicely as possible, if they will allow nice
    as an option — that they need to shut up, wake up, and move back to
    reality.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    I asked you to desist. This will be my last response to you.

  • Kirala

    It’s not that hard to know what you paid last year.

    I can’t speak for Jarred (although I can understand his response), but for myself, while I could easily find out what I paid and received in return (I do keep the forms), I couldn’t tell you without digging through the Giant File Box that tends to open three times a year (once at tax time, and around two other times to actually file all the documents/bills/etc that have been piling in the inbox).

    The number doesn’t stay in my head because 1) it’s a return, not a payment, for me; I never have to write it out (computer filing!) 2) it’s returned via direct deposit, and while I do check my finances, it’s only at an eyeball level (I could estimate to the nearest $500 for you, but no better) and 3) it’s apples to oranges, as my employment situation has not been stable for years and therefore my tax rates and situations vary accordingly.

    #3 is the chief reason why I haven’t tried to notice my exact taxes. #1 is the chief reason why I don’t care overmuch. The whole eyeballing-finances has worked for me at an income level most consider poor, with money to spare; I figure I could afford to be taxed more to support social services. I’m only now considering a detailed budget because I want to know how far I can push my margin to make my now-active student loan repayment move faster. That is, when I wish to become involved to change my situation, I have a need to educate myself. I think willing ignorance worked okay when the status quo was okay for all affected by my decision.

  • Pondering

    But the size of your refund/tax bill has nothing to do with your overall tax burden…so if that is all you key your comparison off of, you still have no idea whether you paid more or less in taxes from one year to the next.

  • Apocalypse Review

    Another issue about taxes is that deductions are usually calculated as though every paycheck were multiplied through the whole year. This really shafts people who work only part of the year and have to wait ’till April to get their refund, and also people who get a raise after a tax cut set to take effect mid-year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507398586 Tim Fargus

    Another issue beyond that is that if you have two jobs, the taxes on each are calculated as though it’s your only job. For the last 6 years, I have ALWAYS owed money come tax time because I only make a couple of thousand dollars a year at my tutoring job, and they deduct almost nothing.

  • Daughter

     You can adjust for that by revising your W-4 and asking them to take more money out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507398586 Tim Fargus

    But you can’t ask them to take a percentage out. You can just ask them to take an amount out, and my second job has very, very sporadic hours. It’s just never really been an option for me, because sometimes for several months I won’t work at all, and sometimes I’ll work quite a bit.

  • Daughter

    TaxACT online offers free tax prep for most Americans, and only cost $10 if your tax situation is complicated.

  • Donalbain

    Does everyone have to file taxes? I thought that it was only people with complex situations like the self employed, or freelancers. Don’t you have an equivalent of PAYE?

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    Every individual or couple who makes above a certain amount (the exact breakdown for the 2011 tax year can be found here) has to file a tax return with the federal government.  I don’t know how various states do things.

  • P J Evans

    It’s a little more complicated than that – even if you make less than that minimum, if your employer withholds money for taxes – and I think most businesses do – you have to file a tax return to get it refunded. (I worked in a minimum-wage part-time job for a couple of years. I got all the money back that the IRS collects as withholding, but I had to file the form first.)

    If you have income from capital gains, you’re going to have to use Schedule D. I’d rather pay a real tax preparer to deal with that one.

  • Michael Cule

    Umm, perhaps I’m not understanding the situation but:

    1) Most people in the UK don’t file a tax return at all. If you’re employed and have no investments beyond one of the tax free individual savings plans then you’re not going to have to fill anything in. HM Revenue and Customs have all the details they need already. We seem to be saying that everybody in the US has to fill in a form. Is that the case?

    2) I fill in a form and do it on-line, which is not only the most convenient way to do it but also gives me the latest deadline. I’ve  never needed to employ an accountant nor purchase special software. Admittedly my tax affairs have always been quite simple.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

     1)  I posted a link to a page describing who has (had) to file a 2011 tax return with the U.S. Federal government upthread.  The simple answer is “everyone in the U.S. who receives an income they and/or their family can actually live on has to file.”

    2)  The complexity of the U.S. Federal tax return depends on a number of factors.  For many of us (like those of us that have pretty straight-forward income sources and take the standard deduction), it’s pretty quick and easy to fill out the form.  For other people (people for whom it makes sense to itemize their deductions, own farms, own their own business, etc.), it gets more complicated.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    1) Everyone in the U.S. has to fill out a form if they have income. You can legally skip if you know you’re not going to owe on taxes, but you really shouldn’t, because lots and lots of things look at your previous year’s tax return. Plus the only way to get a refund is to file.

    2) We do have the ability to do it online, but that only really works well if your taxes are very simple anyway. Plus it can become a pain too, because they need to send you something that you need to send back within a certain time frame, and if your post office is extremely slow (as mine is where I live), it’s a crunch.

    Everyone I know uses an accountant if they’re past the “single, no kids, one part-time job” stage. Because calculating taxes is a massive hassle. 

  • hapax

     

    Everyone I know uses an accountant if they’re past the “single, no kids,
    one part-time job” stage. Because calculating taxes is a massive
    hassle.

    And this is attitude that I really, really hate.

    Not that it isn’t true, mostly.  But I do my own taxes, spouse does his own taxes, and as the forms increase in complexity and decrease in accessibility (it is very very difficult to get your hands on actual *paper* forms anymore, and the online ones require memory hogging software to use)  it has become extremely difficult to get answers to simple questions from those who should have the duty to provide them.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve approached my bank and my City’s HR department with a question about something shown on my w-2’s and 1099s (those are the forms that are used to report wages and investment income (such as interest) both to taxpayers and to the IRS), only to receive a blank shrug and a stare and a “I dunno, ask your accountant”.  The response that I don’t HAVE an accountant is received either with incomprehension or rudeness (“Well, why don’t you get one?”  Oh yeah, in late March?  Any accountant who isn’t swamped up to zir eyeballs by then pretty much *must* be incompetent)

    The assumption that everyone not only has the wherewithal to afford an accountant, but also the time and information to evaluate and hire one, and the willingness to entrust their private financial affairs to a stranger, implies massive, massive doses of privilege.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    No, actually, it doesn’t. An accountant costs far less than they save in both time and taxes. I was personally inspired to start using an accountant because of my friend who did in college — she was in college full-time, in a program in which she had to do a full-time internship, and she was working a full-time job to pay for college, and the small amount of money she spent up-front on paying an accountant ($30 iirc) was more than worth it in terms of the money, time and hassle she saved. 

    You know what implies massive doses of privilege? The idea that everyone can do their own taxes. The friend I’m talking about is brilliant. And dyslexic. She’s always had serious problems with math. I didn’t used to have problems with math until I threw out my back. Now I can either choose to be in unbearable pain, which isn’t conducive to thinking, or take pain medication which makes my thought processes scattered, my memory crap, and my precision with language a mess. What it does to my math skills — well, the other day I had to think for a second about what 2+2 equals.

  • hapax

     

    An accountant costs far less than they save in both time and taxes.

    I keep hearing people *say* this, but I have yet to see one scintilla of evidence beyond anecdata.  And even if they save people time and money on average, that doesn’t mean that they are going to be useful to everybody in every situation.

    Not to mention the fact that you ignore my point on the investment necessary to select and hire an accountant.  I don’t know about where you live, but around here competent accountants don’t exactly go door to door in March, references in hand.

    You know what implies massive doses of privilege? The idea that everyone can do their own taxes.

    I will donate one hundred dollars to any charity you name if you can cite ANYWHERE that I said anything like that.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    The time investment necessary to hire an accountant is to drive or take a bus or walk to the local H&R Block (or whatever) office, walk in, and say, “I need someone to do my taxes.” Nowadays, it’s looking online to find someone. Now, is it a privilege to be someone who has enough community connections to know about this? Yes. But it saves money and time. The more complex your taxes are, the more of both it saves. Plus there’s the saved cost in lack of anxiety, if you’re the type of person to normally be anxious about that kind of stuff, which I am. 

    You did not outright state that anyone can do their own taxes, no. But you did rant about how massively privileged it is to think going to an accountant is normal, and you absolutely did not acknowledge that it might be a necessity for many people. Believe me, I would LOVE the privilege of not needing an accountant. The thing that makes an accountant a necessity for me is anything but a “privilege.” Just as it was for the friend who inspired me to start using an accountant. 

    And I don’t understand the resistance to it. It’s like hiring someone else to change your oil (yes, the privilege of owning a car, though it’s actually a necessity in most of the U.S.) It doesn’t mean you don’t know how much you owe or are owed in taxes. It saves time, money, and anxiety. Emotional costs are real costs. 

    Back when I moved to this apartment and wasn’t disabled, I hired Two Men and a Truck to move my stuff. I’d moved and helped other people move countless times in my life, and I said no more. I was middle class at the time, so I did have the necessary income to hire them. The hassle it saved was more than worth the cost, and I vowed to never again put myself and my family and friends through renting and driving a truck and lugging boxes and furniture around. Before the choice was taken from me, I thought of taxes in a similar way. 

  • hapax

     

    The time investment necessary to hire an accountant is to drive or take a
    bus or walk to the local H&R Block (or whatever) office, walk in,
    and say, “I need someone to do my taxes.” Nowadays, it’s looking online
    to find someone.

    If you are comfortable handing all your personal financial information to some temp with two months training,  I am glad that works out for you.  I have seen too many cases of such fast-food financial franchises royally screwing up taxes, disappearing into the aether, having the home company refusing to stand by their work or provide follow-up assistance, and even engaging in identity theft, however, to be willing to jeopardize my financial security and mental health in that fashion.

    But it saves money and time. The more complex your taxes are, the more of both it saves  … It saves time, money, and anxiety. Emotional costs are real costs.

    Again, prove it.  For me, specifically, and my particular situation.  Otherwise, stop making general assertions that you cannot back up.  My *informed* conclusion is that it would save me none of the above, and cost me more.  Your conclusion, based on nothing but YOUR particular situation, is irrelevant.

    But you did rant about how massively privileged it is to think going to an accountant is normal

    Again, citation or it didn’t happen.  I in fact agreed that many people rely upon accountants to fill out tax forms now, and “ranted” that it was massively privileged to assume that EVERYONE has an accountant or can and should get one, and to refuse to provide information to taxpayers and employees and customers on the basis of that assumption.

    If you can’t tell the difference between “this is perfectly normal” and “everyone is like this, so I needn’t bother to do my job”, I can’t help you.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The time investment necessary to hire an accountant is to drive or take a
    bus or walk to the local H&R Block (or whatever) office, walk in,
    and say, “I need someone to do my taxes.”

    Up here, H&R Block take a chunk of anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of your expected refund, or charge a pretty steepish fee (IMO) to prepare a tax return if you do not want “instant cashback”. OTOH Revenue Canada and various colleges/universities advertise free (or v. cheap – one college I know E-FILEs for you and it’s $15 flat) programs where you just hand them the forms and they grind it all out for you.

    If I had a high-volume laser printer and a better record-keeping system than I do, I’d probably hang out a small shingle come tax time since I’m familiar with the forms and the computer programs involved. :)

  • P J Evans

    I asked someone who was in the local chamber of commerce, and they recommended someone. It’s cost me $125 this year, minus a bit because the signing was done via PDF and e-mail, so all I had to come in for was to hand over a check and collect the W2s and 1099s.

  • Apocalypse Review

    Canadians also almost always have to fill out a tax form, particularly as we’re encouraged to do so in order to claim the GST refund benefit (a quarterly payment which, for low income people, works out to around $60-100/quarter and can be a real break when you get the $$) and some other benefits as well – provinces without a Harmonized Sales Tax sometimes have a one-time provincial credit for sales taxes which means an extra $50 or so in your pocket come refund time.

  • Cathy W

    The availability of online filing is probably one area where it’s quite accurate to say that the tax-prep-software companies have influenced policy. The IRS doesn’t allow e-filing through its own site; it partners with private tax-prep companies. You can generally file for free if you qualify for the “EZ” form – single, income under a certain amount, no dependants, claiming only the standard deduction.

    My situation isn’t much more complicated than that – I still claimed only the standard deduction, which is where things get hairy, but TurboTax wanted to charge me $49.95 for e-filing my federal return and an additional $30 for a printout to mail to the state. I’ll file on paper, thanks.

  • Daughter

    I have used TurboTax in the past, but this year I kept seeing ads for the free online software TaxACT. I’m married, I filed jointly, I have a kid, and we have multiple forms of income, and it was free for us to e-file with TaxACT.

    We later had to amend our return, and so we had to upgrade to premium. The upgrade was $9.95.

  • Cathy W

    …I wish I’d known that a week ago. :)

  • P J Evans

    I can e-file my state return, too; I get a paper copy from my preparer. (I used to use the EZ form. I wish I still could.)

  • TheFaithfulStone

    Speaking as one of the few people who has to deal with the IRS every year, let me tell you that they are an absolute PLEASURE to talk too.  I mean that seriously  – I think we should make all these tax whiners call the IRS and ask a question (it can even be a dumb question.)  They’ll speak to a nice man or woman who speaks perfect English and is not reading from a script.  They’ll explain exactly what you need to do.  They’ll even anticipate the next few questions you might ask and answer them!  Since they have your tax return information up and in front of them, they’ll generally take a glance at it and give you some free advice if it looks like you need it.  They are empowered to solve your problems, and if they can’t, they will tell you exactly what you need to do to get it resolved, and explain why they can’t solve it.

    As far as “phone” customer service goes the IRS is an example to be emulated.

    They could do something about their wait times, but I suspect that has more to do with the tax whiners constantly cutting their funds for that sort of thing.

    If you gave the me choice between dealing with AT&T or the IRS, I would call the IRS every single time.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    That’s quite a difference from the “disgruntled civil servant” stereotype, isn’t it?

  • Apocalypse Review

    TBQH how much of that is actually honestly due to Republicans bashing the IRS about 1997-1998 and passing that “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” thing? It kills me to have to admit they’re like a stopped clock, but in that particular situation…

  • VMink

    That’s true irony, isn’t it?  The IRS has taken great pains to be as customer-friendly as possible, and it shows.

    Know who else is pretty painless to work with?  The NY and NV DMVs.

  • Daughter

     During the Clinton admin, I remember a series of congressional hearings were held in which people testified about horrible treatment they had received at the hands of the IRS. Post-hearings, congresspeople vowed to reform the agency, and a series of reforms were put into place. We’ve benefiting from the results of those.

  • Tricksterson

    I remember that too.  I also remember having to feal with the IRS in the 80s.  Not a pleasant experience.  Interesting that it was under Clinton, a Democrat, that the IRS was brought to heel.

  • Ursula L

    Interesting that it was under Clinton, a Democrat, that the IRS was brought to heel. 

    It’s not that surprising.

    When the people in charge of the government have the attitude that government can’t generally do or be good, they have no incentive to try to make the government better.  

    But if someone believes that it is the job of the government to promote the public welfare, and they believe that this is a reasonable and achievable thing, then if they see a problem, their intent is to fix it, rather than just complain that government is no good.  

    If someone thinks that government is the problem, an unfixable mess to be limited or destroyed, they’re never going to figure out how to make government better, because they don’t think it’s possible and won’t even try.  

  • hapax

     

    Know who else is pretty painless to work with? 

    Despite the slang expression “going postal”, I have always found postal workers to be helpful, friendly, and cheerful.

    The folks at the property tax office were delightful, too.  And the Elections Commission were both witty and scary-competent.

  • TheFaithfulStone

    But still, reality has to count for something.

    Bristol Palin nearly won DwtS.  There’s an old adage about what to do “if the customer is wrong” – and there’s probably some similar guiding principle for being a “conservative” (which like “literally” means the exact opposite of what it literally means.  It’s a contranym.)

    1) If you’re in the tribe you’re right, if you’re wrong, you’re not in the tribe.

    IOKIYAR

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alan-Alexander/502988241 Alan Alexander

    As far as I’m concerned, you have crossed a line.  Whether or not I know
    how my tax burden compares from year to year neither breaks your arm nor
    picks your pocket.  Therefore, I maintain that it is none of your
    business.

    Furthermore, I find your comments to me on this matter self-righteous and condescending.  Please desist.

    An interesting comment, coming as it does in response to a blog post about people who are not only willfully ignorant about their own tax situations but who persist in falsely believing that their taxes have been raised by our Kenyan-Marxist usurper President and who aggressively pursue tax cuts for the rich that will devastate social services for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.  Viewed in that sense, it is quite possible that you not knowing your own tax burden does break arms and pick pockets, if only metaphorically. Out of curiosity, do you think Obama has raised your taxes? And do you favor the various GOP plans that will raise taxes for most Americans and slash social spending in order to finance tax cuts for the super-rich?

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    but who persist in falsely believing that their taxes have been raised by our Kenyan-Marxist usurper President

    This does not describe me.

    Out of curiosity, do you think Obama has raised your taxes?

    Allow me to answer this by quoting myself:

    I couldn’t tell you how what I paid in 2011 compares to what I paid to what I paid in 2010.

    What part of  “I don’t know how the amount I pay in taxes from year to year” was unclear, exactly.

    So the answer to your question — which I think should have been obvious from my the statement I just quoted — is, “I don’t know.”  I will now amend that statement by adding that I really don’t care, either.  I don’t complain about how much taxes I have to pay.  The closest I ever came was the year I cashed in some stock options.  Even then, I wasn’t complaining about how much taxes I had to pay but lamenting that I didn’t have more withheld up front when I cashed in the options.

    And quite frankly, your questions strike me more as assumptions and/or accusations.  Ones that do not actually apply to me.

  • Ursula L

    If the requirement to fill out tax forms results in make-work for professional tax preparers, then I think it is worth remembering an earlier post (sorry, I don’t remember the name) when Fred pointed out that in a recession where the biggest problem is a lack of work for workers who are willing and able, making work is a sensible response to the shortage of work available.  

    When there is a shortage of something, you make more of it.  

    But it would be better for the economy, I think, if taxes were high enough that the government could hire and train enough people to provide necessary legal tax advice,  giving them public sector jobs with the associated benefits and security. Rather than relying on private companies that hire and barely train a bunch of temps for two months of the year.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XXCAJ2ASBA3KJGMCSLD6VBIBNM Isatu Elba

     

    Viewed in that sense, it is quite possible that you not knowing your own tax burden does
    break arms and pick pockets, if only metaphorically.

    I think that whole aside is kind of veering away from what I think the original poster’s point was — that it’s less likely for someone to notice a change in their tax rates if someone else prepares their tax return for them and they never have to look at the paperwork.

    Obviously it’s still possible for someone to prepare their taxes on their own for years and yet have no idea if they got a refund or actually still owed money (or they might have simply forgotten from last year — perfectly understandable) but in that scenario if the person really was being intellectually honest if they were concerned that their tax rates had gone up they could go back and check since they have the paperwork in a box somewhere. If the government prepared their taxes for them and just sent them a check, that information would be somewhat harder to come by even for someone who was genuinely curious and trying to refresh their memory. No one is saying (I think) that everyone who does their own taxes remembers everything about them off the top of their head, but the argument is that having that stuff physically near you makes it easier — if you’re worried about changes in tax rates — to check to see if you really did pay a higher tax rate this year than the last year.

    (Of course, all of this is ignoring the fact that you can look up most of the information about the tax code on the Internet anyway, making it hard for someone to seriously argue that the stimulus package was a tax hike or that Obama has raised the income tax rate, but that’s a whole nother issue!)

  • g127

     I live in the Netherlands now, and they started filling out you’re online-tax forms for you. You just have to check if there are any mistakes and press enter. It took just 10 minutes this year. The IRS might think about investing more in ict. It might save the tax-payers a lot of time (and money).

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    We didn’t have income tax before 1913 so taxes are very far from historic lows.

  • Daughter

     I suppose “historic lows since the 1930’s” or “historic lows for the last 75 years” would have been more precise.

  • Tricksterson

    Or historic lows within the memory of nearly everyone alive?

  • Ursula L

    We didn’t have income tax before 1913 so taxes are very far from historic lows. 

    Just because there wasn’t a federal income tax before 1913 doesn’t mean that people didn’t pay taxes.

    It just means that they paid taxes in different and less-fair ways.

    There were property taxes. There were poll taxes – pay if you want to exercise your right to vote!  There were head taxes –  everyone pays the same, whether you’re a starving day-laborer or a millionaire aristocrat.  There were heavy tariffs on imports – imported good were extraordinarily and unnaturally expensive, and the tariffs were designed not to nurture domestic production but to collect as much revenue as possible.   

     The graduated income tax is by far the most fair way to calculate taxes.  It recognizes that people need to live – that paying a certain amount might be easy for someone very wealthy, but be a matter of life or death-by-starvation for someone who is poor.  It recognizes that the rich use public resources in a much more intensive way than ordinary people – the owners of the regional grocery store or furniture store chains run many heavy trucks over the road system every day, while I just drive my used compact car to and from work, so they cause more damage and wear to the infrastructure than I do.  

    A billionaire  can pay hundreds of millions in taxes, and still live in extraordinary comfort, wealth and luxury.  Someone working a full time minimum wage job can’t even make enough in a full 40 hour work week to cover rent on the cheapest place available and the most basic and deficient cheap diet, let alone paying dollar-for-dollar equal tax to a billionaire.  

  • Ursula L

    Another thing to consider is that, while many people don’t understand how much (or little) taxes they pay, filling out the forms does provide some education about the way the tax rate works, and keeps it from feeling utterly random.

    If you fill out your own forms, using the standard instructions, you have some understanding of how the tax system works.  You have the forms you’re sent telling you about your income.  You have a chance to think about your deductions.  You look at the printed tax chart to find what your taxes are, and you see in plain print that you’re paying more than someone who makes less than you, but less than someone who makes more than you.  You’re somewhere  in the middle. 

    If you just got a bill in the mail, you  would not be going through the routine of filling out the forms and looking at the charts.  

    It would seem even more arbitrary than it does now. 

    The way the system is now, figuring out your taxes is an effort where you collaborate with the IRS.  The individual taxpayer owns part of the process of determining the financial contribution they make to the government to keep society running well.  Everyone has access to what the law is, in a form that is designed to let you work through your responsibility in a series of well-defined steps.  

    Going back to New Testament stories of tax collectors, these people were hated.  And part of the problem was that ordinary people had no control over their place in the tax system.  

    Individuals were appointed tax collectors, and they had to give the government a certain amount of money, and they had the right to demand “taxes” from a defined section of the population.  They weren’t paid, but rather were allowed to demand as much as they could get away with, keeping any surplus over the amount they were assigned to collect.  

    The result was endemic corruption.  The tax collector neither enforced nor obeyed any law.  The tax payer had no way of knowing whether what the tax collector was demanding was the actual taxes they owed.  A poor and powerless tax payer was easily bullied into turning over money, while a wealthy individual had the power to refuse payment.  

    Those printed tax forms that come in the mail or that you pick up for free at the library, those keep our system honest and just.  Any tax reform needs to increase the transparency that those forms offer, rather than eliminating them and going to an opaque process where you just obey the bill that the government sends you.  

  • Emcee, cubed

    If you’re taking the standard deduction and just filing your W-2, then
    there’s no reason for the IRS not to do this calculation for you and
    send you a bill.

    Did you get married/divorced/widowed/have a child/your child turned 19? All of these thing affect your tax bill, and the IRS does not have access to this information. Marriages, divorces, deaths, birth certificates are all kept at the state or county level. Did you win $500 in Vegas that should be taxed? The casino doesn’t report amounts that small to the IRS, so they wouldn’t know about it. If they send a bill that doesn’t include it, how many people are going to go back and tell them about it? But many people will include it if they are doing it themselves. (Yes, some won’t, but I think more will this way than a bill being sent.)

    Another point on this, which I just learned myself. IRS does not receive third-party info such as W2s until May. IRS does not get that information directly. Companies report W2 and 1099 info and such to Social Security, who then sends it on to the IRS, presumably after they are finished doing whatever they do with it. So again, changes in how things are reported and where they are reported to could make things happen differently, but as they stand now, the IRS sending a bill to everyone isn’t either practical or possible.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The more I learn about the “back-end” of the US tax system the more I wonder if aspects of it haven’t been purposely designed this way, kind of like some state governments purposely scheduling DMV hours at inconvenient times to make hay out of te “guvmint bad” contingent in the population.

    In Canada, as near as I can tell, all standard tax slips (T-slips, we call them – our T4 is your W-2) are sent straight to Revenue Canada as well as to the taxfiler in question. There is probably secondary reporting, but some offices (i.e. provincial social services offices) depend on tax info from a filer to properly issue benefits – i.e. until you file a return and report taxable income, they can’t do bupkiss.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Warning! Wall-o-text! I am an accountant, but not the tax-kind-of-accountant. YMMV.

    A big part of why the U.S. federal income tax code is as complicated as it is lies in what it’s actually used for versus what it purports to be. On its face, taxes are about the government collecting revenues to operate. But various political agents have, over the last century, altered the tax laws to encourage certain behaviors, discourage others, and use tax deductions/credits/exemptions as an indirect subsidy to certain special interest groups.

    Yes, you pay taxes on your income, but gambling winnings influence which tax bracket you use, while losses do not; gains from selling stock can be calculated one way or another, depending on when the stock was purchased and sold. Anyone who says they don’t get any financial assistance from the government should double-check their income tax forms for what deductions they’re claiming.

    Why doesn’t the U.S. government issue you an income tax bill?
    Well, the courts have ruled that individuals and businesses are entitled (but not required) to take all lawful steps to minimize their taxes. That language, “entitled but not required”, means that the tax code includes options and choices to be made by each individual tax payer. (“Do I take the standard deduction, or do I itemize? Do I put money into the 401K or the Roth IRA?”) The government cannot make these choices for taxpayers, and it would be a flagrant conflict of interest to ask them to. (at best, the government would calculate the maximum amount of tax due legally)

    These decisions aren’t clear-cut. After your divorce, should you file jointly for that year, as single, or married-but-filing-seperately? If you move mid-year, what state(s) do you file taxes in, and where will you claim residency?

    One other thing: the myth of “the government”
    There’s a huge problem with Yglasias’s argument, and that’s the myth of a single, well-informed “government”. The reality is that there is no “federal government”, except in the vaguest sense. There are agencies, departments, and bureaus, but there are often siloed or even disconnected from each other. Even if all the different elements did communicate, there are fifty state governments with their own splintered sub-groupings.

    Consider the 2010 Census. It was performed by “the government”, right? But doesn’t “the government” have access to your tax filings which lists your name, address, SSN, and dependents? Doesn’t “the government” have access to your driver’s license, your vehicle registration, your property tax records? Why does “the government” have all of these people knocking on doors to get information that “the government” already has?

    Much like the filmmaker’s mythological “newspaper archives”, this notion of a single, centralized repository of data called “the government” is quickly seen as absurd.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Full disclosure. My husband works for the IRS (I have mentioned this here before, though not in terms of actual tax/IRS discussions, and it’s been a while, so not sure if anyone remembers. So been running some of this past him, to make sure I’m not getting anything factually wrong.

  • Will Hennessy

    …and thus I am still voting for Obama despite the fact that I just got screwed on my taxes this year.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    ursula- even with that the level of taxation wasn’t near what it is today.

  • Daughter

     But, I’ll repeat, federal income tax rates are lower than any time since the 1930’s–which means lower than at any time that virtually anyone alive today has been paying taxes.

  • Ursula L

    ursula- even with that the level of taxation wasn’t near what it is today.

    Chris – prove it.  

  • hagsrus

    Just a note: http://www.freefile.irs.gov

    I’ve used the free Turbotax the last few years, which gives me NY State as well as Federal. My situation is fairly simple (Schedule C) but I’m terrible at arithmetic, even with a calculator.

    They have other options than Turboxtax as well, but I think you do have to go through the freefile portal to get access to the no cost versions.

    Only gripe is a search function that doesn’t seem to work smoothly with my favourite  Firefox, but Chrome  handles it no problem.

    “Everyone can use IRS Free File. If your adjusted gross income was
    $57,000 or less in 2011, use brand-name software to do your taxes for
    free. If your income was more, use Free File Fillable Forms.”

  • Emcee, cubed

    I just spent the last few months working as a site coordinator for VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance). This is a joint program between United Way and the IRS to do tax returns for low income households. Its focus is specifically on making sure as many people as possible get the Earned Income Tax Credit if they qualify for it. One does not have to get the EITC to have their taxes done, however. There are limitations (the household has to make less than $50K for the year, they can’t do businesses or rental income, and if you are in a community property state, they can’t do married filing separately – there are others, but these are the most common), but if you qualify, it really is a great program, and it is free. Many of the volunteers (at least here, may be different in other areas) are IRS employees, and while some preparers are specifically trained by the program, all returns are quality reviewed by even more experienced people (I generally used my IRS volunteers to do this, as they were most likely to catch mistakes or missed opportunities.) I highly recommend it to anyone who can qualify, come next tax season – since this tax season is over.

  • Emcee, cubed

    Also, to clear up another issue, there is a difference between “federal income taxes have gone down” and “everyone’s tax burden is smaller than last year”. Just because someone knows they paid $X last year, and this year they paid more/less, doesn’t tell you anything. With times being what they are, many things are happening that could raise a person’s tax burden, without taxes going up. For instance, if you have to take money out of an IRA/401K to help pay bills or debts, unless you are 59 1/2, you pay a pretty high tax on that money. Maybe you had to sell some stock you had. Money from stock sale is also taxed. Did you have a foreclosure or short sale on your home? Did you negotiate credit card balances to a lower amount (“you owe $4000, but we’ll take a payment of $1000 and call it even”)? Cancellation of debt that is not bankruptcy is considered income. When you’ve done things like that to tide you over, your tax burden goes up. So it may look as if your taxes went up, when they didn’t. You just have more taxable income than you thought, or you have income that is taxed at higher rates.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Did you negotiate credit card balances to a lower amount (“you owe
    $4000, but we’ll take a payment of $1000 and call it even”)?
    Cancellation of debt that is not bankruptcy is considered income

    That has to be the most asinine tax ruling ever conceived. Debt forgiven is not suddenly income for you; nobody magically put a $3000 check in your ass pocket for that, you just don’t have to pay all the rest of that off umpty umpty years from now struggling on the minimum payment and you certainly wouldn’t be eligible for tax relief for all the extra interest you paid!

    If I’d known about this before now I’d have been shouting from the rooftops to write in to Congress and the President to amend the tax laws to exclude all debt-alteration agreements from taxable income, so at least the unemployed don’t have to suffer the indignity of getting hit in the wallet twice for getting out from under a debt that would otherwise be unpayable – once for having to scrape up the lump-sum to pay it all off and then again come tax time when a refund gets wiped out thanks to the IRS review of your tax forms.

    As it is, this should be made retroactive to 2009 effective immediately.

  • Pondering

    Well, except you did already receive the benefit of the money for whatever it was you spent it on, whether necessary or frivolous.  You paid yourself at the expense of the debtholder.

  • Pondering

    Sorry for double post but I can’t edit the first. 

    As with most tax law (and the Slacktivist motto), it’s more complicated than that.  Cancellation of debt can be excluded from taxation IF you are, and can, demonstrate that you are insolvent at the time of cancellation.  So if you are truly ‘in debt’ in your overall financial life, you do not face this penalty – if you are willing to do the work necessary.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    And the debtholder is usually a large institution that has made the calculation to absorb that loss (strictly someone up in accounting worked out the acceptable loss ratio for unpayable debts) from their books, and can often claim a tax write-off on the corporate income tax to boot.

    So not only does the debtor who thinks he or she has gotten a leg up get it coming and going from the IRS,  the tax burden has basically been shifted from the company to an individual with a lot less money.

    Of course this is conservative economic philosophy* so I do not suddenly expect Republicans in Congress to take up the standard of the battle against tax shifts like this.

    * Inasmuch as “transfer the tax burden to the poor” can be called a philosophy and not simply outright meanness.

  • MaryKaye

    One might choose not to use a tax accountant because it *does* save money, and it seems deeply unsavory to save money that way.   Part of why richer people pay  proportionately less taxes is that they can afford to–they can get expert help in cutting their taxes as much as possible.  But the revenue has to come from somewhere, so by optimizing your taxpaying you are just shifting the tax burden onto those who cannot or do not employ a good expert.

    This is why I didn’t use an accountant for many years.  When I adopted a special-needs child and wanted the adoption credits, I finally hired one, and have stuck with that since right now my child needs all the money we can get.  It amounts to over $1000 a year.  But if I weren’t in financial trouble I would go back to doing my own taxes, because I think the “accountants can always save you money” statement, if true–in my case it does seem to be true–is a symptom of something wicked and wrong and I don’t want to benefit from it.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    daughter- they didn’t have anything like the inflation we have today either.  taxes are almost moot really. You pay for higer gas, higher prices, no yields on anything.

  • Daughter

     If your argument is that people feel their tax burdens more today because the prices of everything else are much higher, that may be true. That doesn’t change the fact that rates are at historic 75-year lows.

  • P J Evans

    They had inflation that was sometimes worse – have you heard the expression ‘not worth a Continental’? They had booms and busts because business, including banking, was unregulated. A lot of people outside the major cities had large enough lots to produce a lot of their own food, right up until fairly recently.

    You might want to verify your statements before you put them out in front of people who actually know something about history.

  • Donalbain
  • Emcee, cubed

    Also, please be aware that there are unscrupulous tax preparers out there. The IRS is presently starting an initiative to go after preparers who file an inordinate amount of incorrect returns. They make an assumption of incompetence rather than fraud, but either way is bad for the taxpayer. Because regardless of who does the return, the taxpayer is responsible.

    One major warning flag is any preparer who “guarantees” a refund, or advertises that you don’t pay unless they get you a refund. These type of preparers tend to post tax credits that the taxpayer isn’t eligible for, add deductions that aren’t allowed, etc., to create an inflated refund. You pay them (usually a percentage of your “refund”), then it comes back saying the return is incorrect, and you get a much smaller refund, or actually owe money. These returns can sometimes slip through if they don’t set off any major red flags, meaning you might get the refund. This is actually worse, because when it is realized (and it likely will be), you will have to return that money, with interest and penalties. (Penalties will often be waived if you make good faith efforts to pay back the money.)

    These are a small percentage of preparers, but definitely something to be wary of.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    ursula- I don’t think anyone would doubt the government a hundred years ago was smaller than it is today. they didn’t raise anything resembling the kind of revenue they do now.

    daughter- No i don’t doubt they are. My grandmother is upset because she has nowhere to put her money. the banks are paying no interest, the bonds are yielding nothing. What is she gonna do buy Apple stock or something?   people didn’t have these sorts of problems before.

  • Daughter

     “People didn’t have these sorts of problems before.” Maybe not, if you’re talking about post New Deal America–the same time period characterized by high tax rates. Wikipedia lists the history of recessions in the U.S. and the severity of most was much greater prior to the New Deal.

  • Daughter
  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    My grandmother is upset because she has nowhere to put her money. the banks are paying no interest, the bonds are yielding nothing. What is she gonna do buy Apple stock or something?   people didn’t have these sorts of problems before.

    You’re right. Eldery women didn’t use to have the problem of being upset about not getting a good investment on their money.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    pj- I was referring more to recent history there. There is no where to put your money now because the interest rates are so low. savings acconuts make nothing. bonds . neither even keep up with  the rate of inflation.If yu are old and on a fixed income it’s big trouble. 

    we have booms and busts now, we’re in one, the latter.  regulations can improve the quality of an area of business but the booms and busts usually come from someplace else not fraud.

    ursula= “If someone thinks that government is the problem, an unfixable mess to be limited or destroyed, they’re never going to figure out how to make government better, because they don’t think it’s possible and won’t even try. ”

    Thats not true. Gulliani did an amazing job in New York. There have been many great republican governors (I’ll leave out presidents so as not to sidetrack) and many terrible democrats and vice versa. the communists believed too strongly in government.   

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    the communists believed too strongly in government.

    The communists? Which communists are these? There are, what, 2000 members of the Communist Party in America. Which ones are in charge of your tax policy?

  • Lori

    we have booms and busts now, we’re in one, the latter. 

    Your definition of “bust” includes a period of record breaking corporate profits, apparently because you define “bust” based on whether your grandma can get a good interest rate from a risk-free place to park her money?

    This is an interesting position coming from a person with such great confidence in the free market.

     

    regulations can improve the quality of an area of business but the booms and busts usually come from someplace else not fraud.    

    You truly have no idea how we actually got into the mess we’re in right now, do you?

    An old Southernism comes to mind—you’re so confused you don’t know whether to scratch your watch or wind your butt.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    no I meant believing in government doens’t mean you will do a good job running one. the communsits in russia and elsewhere who believed too strongly in the ability to centrally plan an economy among other things.

    no elderly people used to have an easier time dealing with inflation than they do now. a few years ago for example.

  • EllieMurasaki

    no elderly people used to have an easier time dealing with inflation than they do now. a few years ago for example.

    Define ‘few’. I bet Social Security recipients got better cost-of-living benefit increases during the Clinton years than under Bush, because under Clinton we were running a surplus and could thus afford to do such things, and because Clinton, unlike Bush, wasn’t trying to dismantle Social Security in the name of privatization and other libertarian ideals.

  • Lori

     

    no elderly people used to have an easier time dealing with inflation than they do now. a few years ago for example. 

    Citation needed. Don’t forget to clearly definition you terms, because right now this statement is fuzzy enough to be essentially meaningless.

    Who counts as “elderly people” (note: you need a sample size significantly larger than “Chris’ grandmother”). What constitutes an “easier time”? Exactly which years are “a few years ago”?

  • Münchner Kindl

    um, wait a moment. Didn’t Fred write a column last year/ several years ago around April 15th and looked at the depiction of “send income tax form to tax office until deadline” from popular media like the Simpson up to the right-wing politicans… and declare that this was bogus because most normally employed people in the US had taxes automatically deducted from paycheck and if they didn’t earn above a ceiling, they didn’t need to file anything? (They way it’s done in most European countries)?

    So has this fact changed, or has Fred’s perspective changed from employed to unemployed/ self-employed?

  • Daughter

     I generally read all of Fred’s columns and I don’t recall that one, so if you can find a link, will you post it?

    And since that’s not generally how income tax works in the U.S. (virtually everyone working has to file), I can’t imagine Fred writing a column that says what you said.

  • Donalbain

    So, you all fill in this big form and then the government writes back to you and tells you if you need to send them more money? What happens if they ask you for more money just after your oven or fridge has broken down and needed to be replaced?

  • P J Evans

    No, that’s part of the form too. If you really need more time, you can ask for an extension.

  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    Ellie- Yes in the 80’s and 90’s inflation had been tamed. Bush ramped up money printing by huge measure.  gold, a pretty reliable inflation indicator, had been 300 an ounce all through that time. Now it’s up near 2000 an ounce. Libertarians are opposed to the existence of the federal reserve at all so wha Bush and greenspan had going is about as far as you can get from it.  

    I’m certainly not defnding Bush, just stating that interest rates and yields are so low my grandmother doesn’t know where to put her savings in order to earn money to live. inflation punishes  savers and the elderly the hardest.

    lori- I don’t think there is much debate over the fact that we are in a recession now. High unemployment, poor prospects for advancement, etc

    interest rates are low because they made the decision to do that. they were low during the boom years as well .  Anyone with a savings account knows that. That was the whole greenspan method, paper over systemic problems with more money.

    My grandmother is 95. She’s retired and has no other source of income than what her savings can do for her.  an easier time is relatively recently when she could earn more interest on things like bonds . 

    If you have x amount of dollars and inflation goes up and you have the same amount of money thats that much less you can afford. inflation is a tax.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Um…what exactly is a 95 year old saving for?

    I don’t get US Social Security–there’s no Age Pension?

  • Cathy W

    She’s saving to live to be 96? :)

    There is a retirement benefit from Social Security, but it doesn’t pay a whole lot. An elderly person with nothing to live on but Social Security gets on average $1230/month – for comparison, the poverty level as computed by Health & Human Services for a single person is $930/month. And without knowing the specifics of Chris’s grandmother’s situation, I suspect that a woman in her age range might get less than the average benefit – there’s a good chance she didn’t work outside the home enough during her life to qualify for the full benefit on her own account, and survivor’s benefits from a deceased husband wouldn’t necessarily make up the difference.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    And without knowing the specifics of Chris’s grandmother’s situation, I suspect that a woman in her age range might get less than the average benefit – there’s a good chance she didn’t work outside the home enough during her life to qualify for the full benefit on her own account, and survivor’s benefits from a deceased husband wouldn’t necessarily make up the difference.

    Wait, so the amount of support you get is proportional to the degree to which you were in paid work in the past, rather than how much you need?

  • We Must Dissent

     

    Wait, so the amount of support you get is proportional to the degree to
    which you were in paid work in the past, rather than how much you need?

    Yes. Just like unemployment benefits.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I see. So people most likely to need social support, like those who experienced various forms of disadvantage for an extended period in their life, get the least. Including people who chose the “traditional family values moral path” so loved by social conservatives–like the parent or spouse of someone with a disability who stayed out of the workforce long-term in order to provide care. Or the stay-at-home mum, for crying out loud?

    Conservatives know that it’s painfully obvious to the rest of us that among their values, none is higher than the pursuit of personal wealth? They know that we’re onto them, right?

  • EllieMurasaki

    So people most likely to need social support, like those who experienced
    various forms of disadvantage for an extended period in their life, get
    the least. Including people who chose the “traditional family values
    moral path” so loved by social conservatives–like the parent or spouse
    of someone with a disability who stayed out of the workforce long-term
    in order to provide care. Or the stay-at-home mum, for crying out loud?

    You should hear my mother sometime. Staying at home as she does, she keeps adding a zero to the numerator and a one to the denominator of whatever fraction is used to calculate Social Security benefits. (I do not know if her math is accurate.) But if she goes to work, all the money will be eaten up in taxes and gasoline (I really do not know if her math is accurate), and also there will be no one to answer daytime phone calls of “Mom, I’m sick/hurt/bent my glasses, come get me?” from her two children remaining in K12 school (that I can believe).

  • Tricksterson

    Another factor is that people on Social Security are only allwed to earn up to a certain amount before being penalized.

  • EllieMurasaki

     Oh? Because I’m thinking of–hell, what’s it called–the thing where it takes about half a football game for J. Random Pro Football Player to max out his Social Security taxes for the year.

  • Tricksterson

    Mindboggling outrage?

  • EllieMurasaki

    That too.

  • We Must Dissent

     That the FICA payroll tax for Social Security only applies to the first $106,800 of qualifying income.

  • Lori

    Including people who chose the “traditional family values moral path” so loved by social conservatives–like the parent or spouse of someone with a disability who stayed out of the workforce long-term in order to provide care. Or the stay-at-home mum, for crying out loud? 

    The assumption is that a woman of traditional morals who stays out of the workforce to provide family care has a working husband and that during retirement she will continue to have the benefit of his income. If he dies she receives a percentage of his SSI in addition to her own. A divorced women can, under some circumstances, also get some benefits when her ex dies. The obvious issue is that unless the man earned enough money in his working life to pull in a high SSI payment the widow’s benefit is not going to be enough to live on.

    Obviously this leaves many older women with significant financial strains, but as we all know from the recent discussion about whether or not being a mom is work Conservatives do not give a rats’ behind about “traditional” women who didn’t have the good sense to land a rich husband.

  • P J Evans

    My mother’s widow’s benefit was about half of what my father got from SSI. Which made it about $800 a month.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    And people are worried about Social Security going “bankrupt” with such miserly payments. (>_<)

  • Dan Audy

    Wait, so the amount of support you get is proportional to the degree to which you were in paid work in the past, rather than how much you need?

    Yup, that is the United States for you.  And only dirty commies support that while real Americans support throwing them out on the streets to survive by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.

  • Lori

     

    Um…what exactly is a 95 year old saving for?  

    One would think that if there was ever a time to start burning principal one’s 90s would be the time. Many people continue to save no matter their age though, either out of ingrained habit or in order to “leave a legacy for their children”. I assume that’s not just a US thing.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    One would think that if there was ever a time to start burning principal one’s 90s would be the time. Many people continue to save no matter their age though, either out of ingrained habit or in order to “leave a legacy for their children”. I assume that’s not just a US thing.

    No, it’s not. Although in Australia if you’re sitting on half a million dollars cash you can’t put your hand out for the Age Pension. The thresholds are pretty generous, but a person with large asset reserves can’t expect society to fund their retirement in order for their kids to get a massinve inheritance.

    My question was getting at Kubrik’s Rube’s point. Assuming a meagre income to live on, an eldery person would need what, $15k per year?* To be getting that from investment income at a 7% return you’d have to have more than $200k principal, which is more than enough to keep a 95 year old going for the rest of their life.

    *Most (80%+) elderly in Aus own their homes outright and so have very small housing costs. Is that the same in the US?

  • We Must Dissent

    I don’t know, so I can’t comment on housing costs for the elderly in the US, but don’t forget medical expenses when considering how much an older person would need to live on.

    Medicate doesn’t cover everything. For outpatient treatment, Medicare typically covers 80% of the cost beyond the deductible, $140 for 2012. For inpatient treatments, there is a $1156 deductible on the first 60 days. On top of that, if you didn’t work 40 quarters in which you payed the appropriate payroll tax, you have a several hundred dollar monthly premium.

    Oh, and Social Security benefits are subject to income tax.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I don’t know, so I can’t comment on housing costs for the elderly in the US, but don’t forget medical expenses when considering how much an older person would need to live on.

    Oh, sure. I was deliberately conservative in my estimation of required income, and allowed for a generous interest rate. I wanted to err on the conservative side in calculating the principal one would have in order to live off the earnings alone.

  • Lori

    I don’t think there is much debate over the fact that we are in a recession now. 

    Technically we’re not in a recession and haven’t been for quite a while.

     

    That was the whole greenspan method, paper over systemic problems with more money. 

    This is at least partially true. The issue is not that you identify this as a problem, it’s with your understanding of how it happened and what needs to be done about it. Free Market, Yeah! is not the answer.

     

    My grandmother is 95. She’s retired and has no other source of income than what her savings can do for her.  an easier time is relatively recently when she could earn more interest on things like bonds .  

    Yes, and? I have nothing whatsoever against your grandmother, who I am sure is having a difficult time. My parents certainly are. You still need a much larger sample size.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    “My grandmother is 95. She’s retired and has no other source of income than what her savings can do for her.  an easier time is relatively recently when she could earn more interest on things like bonds .”

    I’m confused by this. Presumably what she earns in interest- whatever the rates- is less than the savings itself. And for the savings to make money it has to be invested, not available for use. So if she can live on theoretically strong interst rates, why can’t she live on the savings itself?

  • Amanda

    Maybe you folks should try using TurboTax. I, erm, borrow a copy from a family member (not sure if that’s legal, but it works and I don’t have to pay for it, just copy it over to my computer) and have been using it for years. The neat thing is it saves all this information on your computer, and when you’re done doing your taxes for the year, it spits out all these neat graphs and charts telling you how much money you made, how much you paid in taxes, how much of a refund you got, and how all this stuff compares to last year (if you used TT last year so it has that on file). I know EXACTLY what % tax rate I’m paying.

    It’s also really good at finding deductions I didn’t know about. For my 2010 taxes I got this awesome deduction, that I think is something Obama did, that made my refund much bigger than it was this year, when I think the Republicans got rid of it so I didn’t get it again (yeah, I’m fuzzy on the details). I was actually surprised that, being as UNDERemployed as I am now, I didn’t get all my taxes refunded this year. All this talk about half the people in the country not paying income taxes… half the country is poorer than me? WOW. How do they make it?

    At least I DO still pay a lower tax rate than Mitt Romney.

    Granted, I wasn’t married in 2011 (though I am now!), so I guess that will make my taxes less complicated. I need to figure out if filing jointly or separately is the way to go. I’m on Income Based Repayment for my student loan debt, and if I file jointly, they’ll count my husband’s income on top of mine, so my payments will go up. Might cancel out any benefits we get from filing jointly. But I’ve heard with TurboTax it’s pretty easy to try it one way, then try it a different way and see what you get.

  • MaryKaye

    I did a very quick Google and found a table of historical US inflation rates.   The last three years 2009-2011 were -0.34, 1.64, 3.16.  It’s been mostly between 1.5% and 3.5% for some time.

    I am old enough to remember 1979-1981 when we had 11.22, 13.58, 10.35.  It was pretty devastating; if you were on a fixed income of any kind you were rapidly spiraling into poverty. Inflation at this level is a real problem. The current rate is a LOT lower and is pretty typical for the US.

    There are a lot of things wrong with our economy but inflation per se does not strike me as a big one. The thing that’s currently ruining us is unemployment.  If we can get that under control we’ll be doing a lot better.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino
  • http://twitter.com/lesterhalfjr Chris Hadrick

    mary kaye- the inflation stats exclude food and energy.

    My grandmother is very very sturdy. She is just one of those people, gets up at like 4 AM.

    Lori- the economy stinks come on.

  • Lori

     

    the economy stinks come on. 

    Yes it does, but that isn’t what you said. Words mean things. The word recession is not a synonym for stinky economy.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Ahem, core inflation strips food and energy. The overall measure still includes them.

    I’m aware of the SGS Alternate Measure, but you’re not helping your case by being unaware of the methodological issues with inflation.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    What is it with people like Micaiah who fetishize some abstract* notion of freedom and the Constitution as though it were TEH MOST IMPOTANTS EVAR and fail to realize that there are some things that just do get done better by a government?

    Every wealthy nation on this planet has needed a considerable expansion of the role of government in maintaining society and ensuring that all who live within it have access to the basic necessities of life.

    To claim otherwise – that taxes can just keep being cut – is the sheerest folly and assumes the government runs on thin air.

    * I would say “Platonic” as in the perfect “Platonic solids” or “Platonic ideal”, but because people also call nonsexual relationships “Platonic” I prefer to use the word “abstract”.

  • EllieMurasaki

    And they ignore the Preamble, too. Establish justice? Somebody’s gotta pay the cops and judges. Insure domestic tranquility? Promote the general welfare? These are things that are much easier to achieve with regulations including but not limited to minimum wage, worker safety, and a list of what the fuck goes into a Hot Pocket, with highlighting on the allergens. Secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity? I refer you back to the question of how a kid is free to grow up to be an engineer if nobody makes sure she has the chance to learn calculus.

    I’m just utterly floored that this one is ignoring ‘provide for the common defense’ along with all the rest.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    People always fantasize that teaching is “easy”, but actually it is not.

    Knowing the material in your own head is one thing. Getting it across to someone else in a communicable form is something people can spend an entire lifetime trying to improve upon and never quite getting to 100% success.

    People like Micaiah are why:

    1. The USA is now graduating more financiers than engineers (because actually designing and building things is hard work, whereas fiddling numbers in a computer for ever-more gossamer paper vehicles designed for the sole purpose of transferring much wealth into the hands of a few is comparatively easy. For all that the financial profession is testosterone-dominated and the men in it like to pretend to themselves they conduct socially necessary functions, the fact is that they’re all being hyper-masculinely competitive over numbers in a computer with negative effects for the part of the economy that still supplies them with their double espresso lattes and their bagels.)

    2. The USA is slipping in educational achievement statistics compared to other G7 or G20 nations (anti-intellectualism, when raised to an art form by one of the political parties, inevitably means that the people whose job it is to take peoples’ kids off their hands for ~8 hours per day can’t do as good of a job as they normally would. It is one of the cruellest ironies that the very economic and social policies the Republicans tend to favor have the knock-on effect of making poorer kids harder to educate in the first place.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    It is one of the cruellest ironies that the very economic and social policies the Republicans tend to favor have the knock-on effect of making poorer kids harder to educate in the first place.

    Your phrasing implies that you think that’s an undesirable side effect rather than half the point.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Ah yes, pardon me, I don’t think like a Tea Partier does. :P

  • AnonymousSam

    o hai dere gliberatarian!

  • EllieMurasaki

    I prefer ‘fuckwit’, as it encompasses all the ignorances this person is displaying and has fewer syllables.

  • P J Evans

    He wants to live under the Articles of Confederation, where the  national government had to beg the states to pay the taxes they owed? Where the states were charging customs tariffs on goods fromother states, even if they were just being shipped through? Where ‘national’ anything was just an idea?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Anything to keep money piling up in his own coffer (or, much more likely, the coffers of those whose ranks he falsely assumes he will someday join) rather than having any part of it get spread about to help people even though those people include him.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I want to know just what it is about living in the United States of America that seems to so drastically increase the probability that someone like Micaiah will come along and rant about the evils of government while having absolutely no understanding that living in a technologically advanced society does not come out of nothing, but comes from a complex interplay of social and economic forces for which the government has to set ground rules to make sure people with relatively little economic power in comparison to others don’t get ripped off.

    Something as simple as the law that says a company has to tell you what it puts in your food means we eat, in general, more safely than we did, say, 200 years ago. Granted, 200 years ago most of us would be killing or growing our own food, so ingredient labelling wouldn’t be necessary, but say some of us became shop proprietors and started selling the stuff other people caught, killed, or grew.

    Well at that point if I’m the guy selling you a fish the trader from the next town over brought in, without knowing that trader personally I have no way to prove the fish is safe to eat. But if there was a law in the town that said nobody could sell food without a list of what went into the food, then at that point someone who buys a fish from a shop can get the sheriff to bust the trader or the shop proprietor for adulterating the fish if someone gets sick.

    Ok, I’m getting into tl;dr territory so I’ll stop there.

    The point is we’ve tried vigilante justice and it didn’t work out so well. So rather than me grabbing my gun and blowing the fish-adulterator’s head off, I get to have a judge hear me, hear the other person, and then decide if a civil tort has been commited, or the judge’ll hear the sheriff, me, and the fish-adulterator’s, and decide if a law has been broken.

    Criminal law. Regulation. Courts for civil cases. Legislatures.

    All the above is the necessary and proper function of government and they have to be paid for. That’s what taxes are meant to be – to pay for government!

  • EllieMurasaki

    Micaiah’s not the usual flavor of libertroll; Micaiah’s arguing against tax-funded national defense, which typical libertrolls are smart enough not to do. They might not want any other governmental function but they know national defense has to be funded and coordinated at the federal level.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Never let it be said that there was a person who couldn’t be found to hate government so much they don’t even want a “night watchman state“.


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