The IRS will do your taxes for you (if that’s what you prefer)

After years of expensively purchased delay, Turbotax and its fellow tax-profiteers are losing the fight to make you pay them to tell the government what it already knows.

Cory Doctorow


A vintage drawing of Uncle Sam toasting with a glass of Champagne, superimposed over an IRS 1040 form that has been fuzzed into a distorted halftone pattern.

This Saturday (May 20), I’ll be at the GAITHERSBURG Book Festival with my novel Red Team Blues; then on May 22, I’m keynoting Public Knowledge’s Emerging Tech conference in DC.

On May 23, I’ll be in TORONTO for a book launch that’s part of WEPFest, a benefit for the West End Phoenix, onstage with Dave Bidini (The Rheostatics), Ron Diebert (Citizen Lab) and the whistleblower Dr Nancy Olivieri.

America is a world leader in allowing private companies to levy taxes on its citizens, including (stay with me here), a tax on paying your taxes.

In most of the world, the tax authorities prepare a return for each taxpayer, sending them a prepopulated form with all their tax details — collected from employers and other regulated entities, like pension funds and commodities brokers, who must report income to the tax office. If the form is correct, the taxpayer signs it and sends it back (in some countries, taxpayers don’t even have to do that — they just ignore the return unless they want to amend it).

No one has to use this system, of course. If you have complex finances, or cash income that doesn’t show up in mandatory reporting, or if you’d just prefer to prepare your own return or pay an accountant to do so for you, you can. But for the majority of people, those with income from a job or a pension, and predictable deductions, say, from caring for minor children, filing your annual tax return takes between zero and five minutes and costs absolutely nothing.

Not so in America. America is one of the very few rich countries (including Canada, though this is changing), where the government won’t just send you a form containing all the information it already has, ready to file. As is common in complex societies, America has a complex tax code (further complexified by deliberate obfuscation by billionaires and their lickspittle Congressjerks, who deliberately perforate the tax code with loopholes for the ultra-rich):