Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Ticking Clock Called April 15th

Today is April 15th, the day that federal taxes are due. My life is oriented around this day. As of this writing, my return is not yet in my hands, but I am assured by Carl, my accountant, that it will be ready in time. I have no idea how much I'll owe. I hope it's not very much, but I'm prepared to be disappointed.

I am not an anti-tax zealot. I have no objection to paying them. Taxes are what free people pay for the privilege of living in a free country. I may object to how much I have to pay or how it's spent, but not to the concept of taxation itself. Further, even if I think I am over-taxed and the government wastes money, it's up to me to pay what I owe. It's the law of the land, and I have no patience for free-loaders.

Still, there is a part of me that resents how large a roll April 15th plays in my life. The complexity of taxation seems intentionally baked into the cake, making it necessary for me to hire an accountant to navigate me through the maze of schedules and forms. I feel helpless. When Carl delivers my return to me today, it will resemble a college thesis written by a math major with the gift of gab. I won't even bother to look at the pages and pages and pages that follow the cover page, because it's the cover page that helpfully distills the matter into a sentence that I can understand, " please sign where indicated and make a check payable to the United States Treasury in the amount of $........" 

Although I love Carl and I happily pay him for his invaluable services every year, I resent that I need him. The fact that our system of taxation is so bizarrely complex is at the root of almost every dysfunction in Washington since it is precisely this complexity that gives those in Washington their power. Imagine how fast K Street would become an abandoned city if our 50,000 page tax code were replaced with a flat tax with no deductions. Try to imagine how less sinister our Congressmen and women would be if they were stripped of their ability to micro-manage our lives through the tax code. The reason that most of Washington is against tax reform generally and the flat tax in particular is because they all know this to be true. 

Personally, I would be in favor of a flat tax even if it meant I would have to pay more. Ironically, even if it could be proven that a flat tax would increase revenue to the government, nobody in government would want it. They would rather retain the power to encourage me to use wind-powered, carbon-neutral solar-paneled lawn mowers by giving me an accelerated depreciation allowance and a tax credit, that I will have to hire an accountant to figure out how to claim.