IT'S TAX TIME. I know this because I'm staring at documents that make no sense to me, no matter how many beers I drink.
Take, for example, my Keogh Plan. If you're wondering what a Keogh Plan is, the technical answer is: Beats me. All I know is, I have one, and the people who administer it are always sending me Important Tax Information. Here's the first sentence of their most recent letter, which I swear I am not making up:
"Dear David: The IRS has extended the deadline for the restatement of your plan to comply with GUST and various other amendments until, in most instances, September 30, 2003."
I understand everything in that sentence, up to "David." After that I am lost. Apparently I have until September 30 (in most instances) to get my plan -- no, sorry, the restatement of my plan -- to comply with something (but what?) called "GUST." And of course various other amendments. But how do I do this? And what if I don't?
The letter doesn't make this clear. It does, however, say this: "You must adopt EGTRRA prior to the end of the plan year beginning in 2002." I am, frankly, reluctant to adopt anything called "EGTRRA," which sounds like the name of a giant radioactive chicken that destroys Tokyo.
The thing is, this letter isn't from the Internal Revenue Service ("We're Working to Put You in Jail!"). It's from people on my side, people who sincerely want to tell me something, probably important, about GUST and EGTRRA. But I won't even try to finish their letter.
I'll put it, with all the other tax documents that I do not understand, in a folder marked "Taxes," and I'll mail it to a guy I know named Evan. A few weeks later he'll mail me back a tax return that I will sign and send along to the IRS without reading any part of it, except where it says "SIGN HERE."
That's right: I have no idea what my tax return says, even though I'm legally responsible for it. I just have to hope that, when Evan prepares it, he's not in a prankish mood:
IRS auditor: Mr. Barry, can you explain why, on Page 27 of your return, stapled to Form 4992, "Depreciation and Amortization," is the thymus gland of an otter?
Me: That's not mine!
IRS auditor: Also, on Page 23, you claim, as dependents, and I quote: "The Entire Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
I'm not the only taxpayer who has no idea what he's sending to the IRS. This year, only 28 percent of all Americans will prepare their own tax returns, according to a voice in my head that invents accurate-sounding statistics.
Why can't Americans do their own taxes? Because the federal tax code is out of control, that's why. It's gigantic and insanely complex, and it gets worse all the time. Nobody has ever read the whole thing. IRS workers are afraid to go into the same room with it. They keep it locked in the basement, and, once a day, they open the door, heave in a live taxpayer -- some poor slob who failed to adopt EGTRRA in time to comply with GUST (and various other amendments) -- then slam the door shut, before the screams start.
As a result, we have reached the point where even the IRS doesn't know what the Tax Code says. Last year, the Treasury Department discovered -- I am still not making this up -- that the IRS paid out more than $30 million to people who filed for the slavery tax credit. Yes! Thirty million dollars! Only guess what? It turns out there is no slavery tax credit! Whoops!
It would not surprise me if, any day now, they discover that there is no such person as "Keogh."
The question is: What can we, as citizens, do to reform our tax system? As you know, under our three-branch system of government, the tax laws are created by Satan. But he works through Congress, so that's where we must focus our efforts.
Here's my proposal, which is based on the TV show Survivor: We put the entire Congress on an island. All the food on this island is locked inside a vault, which can be opened only by an ordinary American taxpayer named Bob.
Every day, the congresspersons are given a section of the Tax Code, which they must rewrite so that Bob can understand it. If he can, he lets them eat that day; if he can't, he doesn't.
Or, he can give them food either way. It doesn't matter. The main thing is, we never let them off the island.