Obama had his chance to simplify the tax code. His own deficit reduction body, the Simpson-Bowles Commission, recommended tax simplification along with spending cuts to reduce the deficit and save our children from debt bondage to the Chinese. Unfortunately, Obama immediately distanced himself from Simpson-Bowles, as did most Congress members of both parties. For that reason, they simply have to go.
With my computer genius 12-year old son Tony, I created the Simple Taxes website (simple-taxes.com) asking voters to pledge to oppose incumbents who won't simplify taxes. Visit it. There's no charge, no ads, and only one typo.
I got the idea for the website back in the 1980s, years before there was a Web. As a political science professor at a respectable university, I tried to do my own taxes. I was single, no house, no deductions, and one income stream. I had a Ph.D., so how hard could it be? Too hard for me, that's how hard. I underpaid by $20 and got fined. Ever since I have paid professionals to do my taxes, and seethed at the tax code which forces us to do that.
My wife is brilliant, has her own Ph.D. and doesn't mind paperwork, but even she does not dare tackle taxes. It takes her 40 hours just to collect the paperwork for our financial adviser to do our taxes. This does not bring out her best. Watching mommy, our daughter fears for her future, saying: "I don't want to grow up because then I'll have to do taxes, and then I'll be grumpy."
The National Taxpayer Union's Taxing Trend project reports that Americans lose 7.64 billion hours annually complying with the tax code. That is time and money the politicians owe us. USA Today reports that the IRS 1040 instruction book grew from 4 pages in 1945 to 52 pages in 1985 to 179 pages in 2010. There has to be a better way.
The tax code has grown too complicated for even the most dedicated IRS employees to understand. If they can't understand taxes, what chance do we have? There has to be a better way.
I'm not anti-government. I worked for the Clinton administration back in the 1990s. My dad spent 35 years as a public servant. I graduated from the University of Maryland, so some of my best friends are bureaucrats. But to be for transparent government, you have to be against our multimillion-word tax code.
Politicians insert provisions in the tax code to encourage "good behavior" and to help their friends and constituents. But that democratic dysfunction retards economic growth by channeling investment into unproductive tax shelters, and harms our democracy by making us cynical. Increasingly, Americans think that taxes are for suckers, people like me who can't get special favors from politicians. That's the attitude that made Greece what it is today.
There has to be a better way! This is it. Take the pledge to vote against any incumbent who does not sponsor bills to radically simplify taxes. If we want our nation back, we need a tax code so simple that even the average Ph.D. can do his or her own taxes. That would give us a growing economy, a tax code that doesn't give us ulcers, and a government we can trust.
The time for action is now. This November, remember next April.
Robert Maranto is a professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.