As a former tax lawyer, it’s been difficult for me to give up the experience of preparing my own tax returns, even though it generally leaves me in a bad mood. It takes so darn long and, by the end of the process, I end up thinking that the old Simplified Tax Return gag makes more and more sense.
This year, however, after hearing the author on a few radio shows, I read Rick Yancey’s wonderful book, Confessions of a Tax Collector, which turns the day-to-day work of an IRS tax collector into a fascinating, funny and insightful series of character studies. The fact that Yancey makes you feel sympathetic to the plight of tax collectors shows his great skill. And, for anyone who has ever spent some time working for the government, there are some details that are so dead-on for certain character types that you’ll think Yancey might have spent a few days at your office. You start to really pull for this wacky group of existential cowboys who serve as the last line, determined to make sure that the beast gets fed.
There’s a great four step mantra that Yancey keeps referring to: “We know where they are. We know what they do. We know what they have. We will execute what they fear.” It’s a lonely life, but Yancey catches you off-guard and succeeds in writing the ulitmate revenue agent fairy tale: the revenooer gets the girl.
So, I finished the book with my own wacky desire to “pay my fair share,” an effect that the hundreds of pages of 1040 instructions has never accomplished so effectively.
However, I have to admit that a few recent items have conspired to try to diminish the warm fuzzy feelings about paying taxes I have this year.
1. David Callhan’s The Cheating Culture , which uses today’s large law firm billable hour culture as a major example of his thesis, notes that at least $250 BILLION of taxes are simply not paid each year.
2. The story of the current state and possible fate of the IRS Master File and the continuing saga of the never-finished IT upgrade at the IRS almost defies description.
3. If you might be wondering why you need to use a private vendor to e-file, the stats in this chart might give you an idea why.
Ironically, IT may lead to a simplication of our tax system, but not in the way anyone envisioned – if the current situation takes the nose dive some fear, the national sales tax approach might be the only workable option to fund the government.