Driving around Arlington and Falls Church, VA today, only a spit from the District, especially with gusty winds. One thing we spotted around town, as back home in Colorado, was panhandlers at traffic lights, looking pathetic and holding up signs “Homeless, Hungry, please help”, “Anything Helps. God Bless” and the like. What was interesting is that in many cases just across the street, or 50 meters down the street, was another person dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, or Uncle Sam, or a Giant Dollar Bill, or an Eagle, also with signs, encouraging passersby to drop in and get their income tax forms filled out by a tax service.
There seems to be some controversy as to how long the tax code is. The US tax code — that is Title 26 of the US Code of Federal Regulations — is some 13,000 pages long (Reference here, and at www.gpo.gov). But to really understand it, you’ll need to read all the commentary on adjudications and judgments, bringing the tally to nearly 80,000 pages.
Really? No wonder people are intimidated and feel like they have to succumb to a solicitation of someone dressed up like a statue. Ironic, isn’t it, that the “sign flipper” encouraging people to drop in to get their Form 1040, Schedule A, B, C and D, and perhaps all those 1099 forms sorted out is dressed up like the STATUE of LIBERTY — the very symbol of freedom in America? And we are so beholden to a tax code so long and incomprehensible — and a federal organization so intimidating: The IRS — that we pay billions of dollars to such companies like H&R Block and Liberty Taxes to help ensure that we compute our taxes correctly and don’t end up in a small room with an IRS auditor.
I don’t know if Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan would have worked. Maybe 17-17-9 (sounds like a fertilizer maybe, no?). But a massive overhaul and simplification has got to be in everyone’s best interest — except of course the “special interests.” And it would free up more money for investment and saving. The Laffer Center estimates the cost of confusing and convoluted tax regulation at close to half a trillion dollars a year, over $30 billion of which goes to professional services like the company paying the guy to dress up like a statue and flip signs. No wonder they can afford to pay someone $8 or $10 per hour to stand out in the cold wind and flip signs while looking silly.
I’m looking at the homeless guys on street corners holding signs in a whole new light. At least they don’t represent legal efforts to unproductively suck billions of dollars from the economy.
I’d still rather just give them a pair of socks and a granola bar. A lot less than my accountant.
Joe Girard © 2013