How policy remains stupid, stupid, stupid

Republicans.  No, sorry, more than that.  A hell of a lot of status quo bias as well.  And powerful, intense interests with narrow, but substantial benefits.  Loved this Planet Money episode on how incredibly stupid our tax filing system.  In the rest of the modern world, tax returns are simply not a big deal.  Most voters have straightforward taxes and the government already has the key information on file.  You get a pre-filled tax return and you can check through it to make sure everything is in order, and that’s that.  Not so, as you well know in America.  Instead, here we waste millions and millions of hours– not to mention the frustration– and spend lots and lots of money (to the benefit of HR Block, Turbo Tax, etc.) to so something that is a cheap, straightforward function of the government.  Yeah, America!

The Planet Money story is about a tax law professor who tried to change this in California.  They actually got a pilot program going for California state taxes.  As you might imagine, taxpayers, loved it.  It’s just smart, sensible policy.  So, what happened?  HR Block, Turbo Tax, etc., lobbied like hell against it.

And you know who else?  Grover Norquist “no new tax” pledge Republicans.  Thought the convoluted logic that seems to always guide Norquist, he claimed that people would not carefully check their forms and thus the government would get more money out of them thus new taxes.  The real reason, though.  Norquist and his allies want paying taxes to be unpleasant.  They want people to waste time and money and suffer frustration and blame the government for it.  Of course, in California at least, the government could do better, if Norquist types weren’t blocking it.

So, there you go?  A way inferior policy that we are stuck with because narrow interests benefit like hell and narrow-minded ideologues don’t mind inflicting suffering and waste to make a point.  Welcome to public policy in America.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to How policy remains stupid, stupid, stupid

  1. ohwilleke says:

    It will never be easy for families with two self-employed people like mind.

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