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Why Are Taxes So Complicated That Even Really Smart Economists Can't Do Them Correctly?

The nomination of Timothy Geithner, former head of the New York Federal Reserve, seems to be teetering slightly on the news that he messed up his tax returns for a few years, though he has since repaid his back taxes, with interest. The question is: Why does no one think when the head of the New York..

The nomination of Timothy Geithner, former head of the New York Federal Reserve, seems to be teetering slightly on the news that he messed up his tax returns for a few years, though he has since repaid his back taxes, with interest. The question is: Why does no one think when the head of the New York Fed can't complete his taxes, that taxes are too difficult to do, not that he was too dumb to do his taxes correctly?Let me get this straight. When working at the IMF, Geithner's employer did not pay payroll tax, but gave him an allowance to pay it himself, which he then failed to do. The argument is that, as an economist and general smart guy, he must have either intentionally fudged his taxes, or, if he didn't intentionally fudge them, then he is just not a smart guy. But the truth is that I-while certainly not nearly as capable as Geither, but a relatively competent person-find my taxes to be incredibly complicated, and I have one source of income and no dependents. I still have to pay TurboTax some ungodly fee to do it for me, and it's still almost certainly wrong*, and I just pray I never get nominated for a Cabinet position because the interest on my messed up taxes will be crazy by then. If I worked for some complicated multinational organization with obscure payment procedures, it would be exponentially worse.


This isn't an argument for a flat tax or anything that crazy, it's just that our tax forms need to be drastically simplified, and the IRS needs to offer an online service for free that does the same thing as TurboTax or other tax preparation software. Can you imagine what the meetings with the H&R Block lobbyists must be like: "Hello Senator on whatever committee oversees the IRS. We need you guys to keep these forms as analog and as complicated as possible, or we'll all be out of a job." To me, if Geithner can't do it, there is no reason to assume I should be able to, and there must be a better solution.*Note to IRS agents reading this post: "Almost certainly wrong" is hyperbole, which I am using as a literary device in order to make my point stronger. I am sure that my returns are totally above board. Please do not look at them too carefully, as you already seem to have decided they were fine. Just go about your business.