Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2017/ Tax Alienation

Tax Alienation

For years I did my taxes using paper. This was not difficult because I am a simpleton and my taxes were relatively simple.

I started out doing arithmetic by hand, so that I could practice multiplication. But year after year the poor tax people would have to correct arithmetic errors. So I started using my computer as a calculator, and then I started using a spreadsheet to precompute numbers for me to transcribe.

This worked pretty well, but it occurred to me that transcribing numbers from a spreadsheet to paper and then from paper to another electronic database was kind of inefficient. (On the other hand, it keeps people employed, which I foolishly endorse.) To reduce its staffing and save money, the government was also pushing people away from paper and towards electronic filing.

Eventually I gave in. I did not want to file my taxes directly online, so I looked for a tax program that worked on Linux. I ended up using the (freeware, proprietary) program StudioTax . It was clunky, but it got the job done.

At some point (2015?) StudioTax switched to the .NET framework, and installing it became much more difficult. It would take me hours of fighting with Wine to get it working, and once it was working it crashed a lot. But I could still enter in my tax forms and get a result which could be e-filed.

This year was the breaking point. When I did taxes on paper I paid attention to the different manipulations the government went through to compute deductions and expenses. It was kind of interesting to see the arithmetic tricks they used. This year I entered in the numbers, let StudioTax do whatever computations it wanted, saw that I had a return coming to me, and sent off the results. I filed my taxes weeks ago, and have not once bothered to look at the PDF of the tax forms that the program generated.

I do not like this turn of events at all. I want to know how taxes are computed. I want to go through the process of figuring out how the government decides whether I owe or am owed money. But I do not have the self-discipline to work through the process step by step when the computer does everything for me. Furthermore, I don't have a good sense of whether I am getting ripped off. Auditing the process is in my self-interest.

I do not know what I will do next year. Thanks to unemployment and my midlife crisis, it is likely that I will have next to no income to report. That ought to make my taxes easy. I am considering going back to paper taxes. Eventually I will be prohibited from doing this, but I might be able to squeeze a couple more years of paper taxes out of the government.

I would actively like to avoid entering my data into a cloud platform. But as StudioTax becomes more and more difficult to install, I am running out of options.