The problem isn’t that we’re teaching parallelograms; the problem is the tax system itself

Recently there’s been a very popular meme being shared on Facebook:

While it’s certainly cute and funny, it also very much misses an important point: Given that the government already has all of our relevant tax information, there’s no legitimate reason why we can’t get our tax returns pre-filled by the government, as is done in several other countries.

So what’s the issue? Well, as US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) detailed in a very comprehensive report last week, tax preparation services are a $32 billion industry which has no desire to see any significant changes made. As this excellent ProPublica article details, Intuit (the makers of Turbo Tax) spent $11.5 million in the last five years lobbying against legislation for government-prepared returns, despite bipartisan support for the issue tracing back to a 1998 bill requiring the Treasury Department to develop procedures for such a system by 2008.

On one hand, Intuit’s argument sounds sensible, especially to small government conservatives/libertarians: “Why should we trust the government to do our taxes for us? Who knows what kind of mistakes they’ll make? This is just another example of big government taking over our lives.”

What this argument misses though is that no one is calling for it to be mandatory for the government to prepare your taxes. Rather, advocates are only calling for people to have this option. If you have a rather complicated financial situation and don’t trust the government to do your taxes (or even if your situation isn’t that complicated), you can still pay to have a financial professional do it for you. But for those who don’t want to, they can have their tax return pre-filled by the government, saving them time and money.

Furthermore, our tax system is incredibly complex, among the most complex in the world. In order to teach it correctly in school, it would require a significant expenditure of resources, one not worth eliminating the geometry curriculum for. As this excellent Vox article from an American couple living in Sweden, each with a PhD, details, even some of the most highly educated people can’t understand our tax system. But in Sweden, it’s not an issue.

So as you complete your taxes this weekend (if you haven’t already), rather than complain about how complex our ssytem is and how we should be better prepared for this in school, take the time to write your elected official and let them know that you support moving to a system where the government fills out your tax return. If enough people do it, it can hopefully outweigh the influence of that fat check from Intuit.

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