Monday, April 15, 2013

The goal of the US tax system is to maximize cheating for the 1%

Neil Irwin has a great post up today about how easy it could be to do taxes:

For millions of Americans, the IRS already knows most, or even all, of what it needs to know to enable you to complete your income taxes. Your employer reports how much it paid you in wages to the taxman; your brokerage firm reports how much stock dividend income you received; your bank tells the IRS how much you paid in deductible home mortgage interest.

So wouldn’t it be great if you could log into and see a form with all that information already plugged into a 1040? You could then add or update any other relevant information (say, a charitable deduction that did not get reported), and hit “send.” For millions of people with relatively simple tax situations, filing annual income taxes would be no more punishing than paying a parking ticket online...There have been bipartisan proposals in Congress to create exactly such a program of “return-free filing,” including a 2011 bill proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.). It seems like the kind of sensible, modest thing the government can do to make peoples’ lives quite a bit simpler.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Confusing budget baselines is a feature, not a bug

 Image: Paul Ryan and the Path to Prosperity (source)

Dylan Matthews over at Wonkblog has made a heroic effort to compile data from the different budgets.  He details in this post why, exactly, this is so difficult:

All of which is to say is that seemingly simple questions about the budget, like “Does Obama or Ryan cut the Medicare budget more over 10 years?” are rather hard to answer honestly. And that’s leaving out dumb mistakes that get made when you’re trying to get the data out fast. For example, when I was entering numbers for Social Security yesterday, I took care to subtract out the $130 billion in cuts due to chained CPI. Only I cut them from the baseline, not the actual program spending. So what is actually a cut looked like a spending increase. Derek Thompson alerted me to the issue and it got fixed, but the damage was done.

That was a stupid mistake on my part, and I should have done better. But policymakers should do better, too. The reason we have institutions like the CBO is so we can have a common set of assumptions about what policies are going to take effect, what the economy is going to look like and so forth, to enable easier comparisons between policies. So it’s mildly infuriating when institutions like the OMB work at cross-purposes and make it harder for citizens to understand exactly which politicians want to cut what from what.

But Matthews, I think, misses the entire point.  Politicians want people to be confused about their budgets.  How could citizens support budgets if they actually knew what was in them?  I'll use Paul Ryan as an example, because he basically owes his career to being able to obscure his true intentions in confusing budgets.  Here is Paul Krugman calling him out in 2010:


Photo: When the NRA was against 2nd amendment rights.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to work on this blog as much as I had thought.  Expect sporadic posting until June.

Here are a few links I think are worth reading that I know I won't have time to write about:

The problem with Alan Simpson [and Washington and the media]
When the NRA supported gun control
Florida's Stand Your Ground law