Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Simple enough...

Frank Schuler was the County Extension Agent when I was a kid in Henry County. Besides looking after the 4-H program in the county, Frank also kept the local agricultural community informed on the latest news from Purdue University, and helped people with their gardens at a time when a lot of people still depended on a garden to help feed the family.

One of my favorite stories about Mr. Schuler involved a lady that was worried about some type of bug that was eating her tomato plants. She had captured one of the offending critters, placed it in a Ball jar, and hauled it down to Frank’s office.

When she handed the jar to Frank, and asked his opinion on the best way to kill such a bug, he carefully and thoughtfully examined it from all angles through the jar. He then loosened the lid, dumped the bug out on the floor, and stomped on it.

A lot of times we tend to make things more complicated than they need to be.

This month is when most of us get to file our income tax returns. It’s a pretty complicated system. There’s close to 70,000 pages in the federal income tax code. Individuals, businesses and non-profit organizations spend about 6 billion hours and $265 billion every year figuring out, filling out and filing forms.

It’s so complicated that the Internal Revenue Service spends $11 billion every year just getting it collected. It’s so complicated that United States Representatives and Senators can’t seem to get it right. Even the United States Secretary of the Treasury has admitted to being caught up in the confusion.

A lot of us have our taxes figured by a professional. Probably a good idea, but taking your records to 10 different tax services will most likely result in 10 different answers on the amount you owe, depending on how many of the 70,000 pages they have read.

Even the IRS itself can’t avoid confusion. An IRS audit of a company in Hagerstown a couple of years ago resulted in 3 different conclusions by three different agents. I guess you should be as careful about choosing your auditor as you are about choosing your accountant.

Of course, even if they were able to make the income tax simpler, I’m not sure they could ever make it fair. A few years ago, Willie Nelson went “On the road again”, trying to raise $17 million the IRS claimed he owed in back taxes.

Now, I know Willie has made a lot of money in his life, and I know that we have to pay taxes to provide for government services. But I also know Willie uses the same roads, and receives the same police protection (although maybe a little more police attention), as a person that pays $1000.00 in income taxes, or a person that pays no income tax at all.

I simply can’t imagine how the government figures any one person could owe $17 million for the same services another person is receiving for little or nothing.
If the government was really concerned about making things simple and fair, they could eliminate the income tax and the IRS. They could fund legitimate government functions through a sales tax that everybody would pay. And if they were really concerned about the poor, they could exempt food, lodging and medical care from the tax.

Of course, looking at how the government handles things, I’m not convinced they’re all that interested in making things simple and fair. I think they’re more interested in collecting money. Sometimes $17 million at a time.

It’s just that simple.

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