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Do You Want the IRS Doing Your Taxes?

The average American spends over 26 hours per year doing taxes. That's too much. The obvious solution is to simplify the 70,000-page tax code. But that's politically difficult. So Austan Goolsbee, among others, has an alternative idea: have the IRS do your taxes for you. This return-free system is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. One of them is the obvious conflict of interest when your tax collector is also your tax preparer. Another reason is that the IRS is not up to the task. As I explain in an op-ed being distributed by McClatchy News Services, the IRS rarely has all the information it needs to fill out an accurate return for any one individual, household, or business. People change jobs. They have kids. They get married, and sometimes divorced. They buy homes and cars. Who knows what kinds of deductions they qualify for? The IRS probably doesn't.
And if the IRS makes a mistake on your return, you would be liable for it. If you want to stay on the right side of the law, you would have to calculate your own taxes anyway, to make sure the IRS got it right. So much for saving time.
Return-free systems have already been tried in California and the UK. Neither attempt can be called a success.
It is heartening that officials are looking for ways to reduce the burden of doing taxes. But a return-free system would treat only the symptom, and poorly at that. The root problem is an arcane, 70,000 page tax code. The solution is to simplify it.