Tuesday, November 22, 2011


While struggling through some tax forms for Uncle Sam, I noticed this tucked away in the fine-print:

The IRS isn’t shy about taking up your time...

It’s like something from a Soviet-era bureaucracy. What’s striking is that the times listed are estimated, expected averages! And that’s for a single form. Heaven forfend if your ‘individual circumstance’ is complicated.*

And how exactly, did they arrive at these precise averages? Did they time 1,000 average filers to see how long it would take? (e.g. where did the 2 extra minutes come from to ‘prepare and send the form’? Is that reserved for licking the envelope?)

According to Forbes magazine, 6.1 billion hours are spent annually filling out tax forms. That’s an incredible statistic:
“... the equivalent of more than 3 million workers toiling away full time, all year. By way of comparison, the Federal government employs the equivalent of 2.1 million full-time civilian workers and Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, has 1.4 million workers in the U.S.”   
I’m no raving income tax abolitionist (ahem), but surely there must be room for simplification. The productivity drain here is monumental and absurd. No wonder an entire industry thrives around tax-preparation -- it’s too complex for normal citizens to deal with.

One last irony: the above photo is from the section of the form subtitled, Paperwork Reduction Act Notice.

Have you got a tax-form horror story? (American, Canadian, or other nationality) Share it in the comments!

* in my case it turned out fairly straightforward -- unless perhaps I did not truly understand the form...