I haven't been cutting hair (posting) in The Barbershop for several days because I've been drafted into the service of the federal government. And you thought that we had gotten rid of the draft in the early 1970s.
Actually, it wasn't a military draft. But I and millions of other Americans were inducted into the federal government's service just as surely as if we had been summoned by the Army.
I'm referring to the time that hundreds of millions of Americans are required to spend this time of year conforming to the complicated--nay, insane--demands of filing income tax returns.
I have an accountant do my tax returns because they've become too complicated to do myself or trust to a software program. That's so because I file a corporate tax return along with my personal return. Because my wife is an unsalaried real estate agent she is considered a sole proprietor, making the personal return as incomprehensible as the corporate return.
But having an accountant doesn't save you from the time bandit. You have to keep records the entire year, and then--here comes the challenge--assemble them all is some sort of orderly way to submit to the accountant.
For example, because we sold some of our shares in a mutual fund, we had to declare capital gains. We had originally purchased the fund sometime in the 1980s, but I couldn't find the records. You need the exact record to establish the "cost basis" (the price you paid) and any distributions and dividends that had been paid (and reinvested) along the way. Because they are taxed along with your shares' gain in value.
I had to dig to the back of my closet in hopes of finding every record documenting every quarterly dividend received for over 30 years, even if they amounted to only a few bucks. I ripped through every file drawer I have and every tax return I've filed since then. It meant carefully searching my account on the fund manager's web site, and not finding the necessary documentation, contacting the fund manager, only to be told that their "available" records only went back to 1996. "Available," maybe at hand, but it's impossible to believe the institution's records, carefully stored somewhere, didn't cover every historical transaction. I wasn't getting anywhere and wasn't in the mood to argue.
After almost a full day's search, I at last found the documents, hiding in nearly the last year of tax returns I dug up. They were there because I had redeemed some of the shares nearly a decade ago, and had to labor through the same exercise. I had just forgotten I had done it.
For those men who are too young (I'm not) to have experienced the military draft, here was the deal: The government took total control over you. Nameless bureaucrats sent you where they wanted and when they wanted. Even into jungle warfare. They could literally take your life. And they paid you almost nothing to do it.
Granted, assembling and filing out your tax forms take only a sliver of the years that military service required. But, it's the same damn thing in that you have to do it, or else you can be fined and thrown in jail. You have no choice. You are in the government's employ and you don't get paid a feaking cent.
I'd hazard to say that the public anger boiling up at tax time isn't just because Uncle Sam is taking your money. It's also the theft of your time, of a portion of your life that you could use more productively, for yourself and the American economy.
I haven't been a big fan of the flat tax, although it has to be simpler than the current system. The problem is that every time Congress decides that it's in the country's interest to give homeowners, ethanol producers, corporate basic researchers and all the rest tax breaks, it creates another exemption in the tax code that must be documented, and thus more and more paper work, until we're drowning in it.
I suppose that if we go to the flat tax, it won't be long before special interests--some campaigning for the common good and others for their greed--would be back to Congress demanding that those matters require special consideration. And with each concession comes a more complicated tax system.
Imagine what it would be like if Congress adopts a national sales tax.