Simplify - Scott Adams' Blog


Yesterday I needed to sign a form and mail it to my accountant. The form was my acknowledgement that I understand some new tax laws that, obviously, I don’t understand. So I was starting off with a ridiculous task. Things didn’t get better.

I couldn’t remember exactly what needed to be signed, or where I had left the documents. So I researched my email to find the instructions from my accountant, printed them out, and only later noticed that key parts of the instructions were eaten by my printer. No problem. I rummaged through my pile of documents until I found something that looked as if it needed my signature, and signed it.

I considered taking a copy before sending it off, but 30% of the time that simple process ends in tears. Sometimes the printer eats the original, sometimes it begs for ink cartridges, sometimes I’m out of paper, and sometimes the printer software just doesn’t work. I decided to skip that step.

At this point, all I needed to do was slap some postage on an envelope, print an address label, and mail that puppy.

Except I wasn’t sure I had the correct address for my accountant. Her office has relocated several times. So I had to research that. Armed with the correct address, all I needed to do was print postage on my nifty Dymo label-maker and postage-printer. Except I wasn’t sure if postage rates increased since the last time I used snail mail. So I had to research that too. The USPS website said postage was still 45 cents for less than one ounce. Perfect.

But my letter included multiple pages, and it felt as if it might be more than an ounce. Luckily, I had a postal scale. I plopped my letter on the scale and the readout said, as always, “low battery.” I use the scale about once a year, which is just the right frequency to drain the battery between uses. So I hunted down a battery, installed it, and weighed my letter. It came in at .8 ounces. I was good to go.

Before I printed my postage stamp, I knew from experience that it was wise to print a test stamp to make sure the printer was aligned. So I did, and the test stamp printed perfectly. Next I printed the actual stamp, which, for some reason, misprinted just enough to make me uncertain the Post Office would accept it. Shit. I printed it again and set aside the 45 cent miscue.

At that point there was debris all over my desk, including the backings from the label and stamp, the sticky note with my message to myself, the misprinted instructions letter, the old battery, the misprinted stamp, and the tear-away from the self-sealing envelope. I sorted the garbage from the recyclables and put the dead battery with my other dead batteries for eventual recycling too. I still needed to get this letter to the mailbox without losing it under the growing skyline of other tax documents crowding me out of my office, and I needed to keep it dry through the rainstorm. Typically, at that point in my snail mail process, I think of something I forgot to include in the envelope, so I reopen it, destroy the envelope in the process, and start over.

My point – and I’m almost sure I have one – is that the time I wasted on this ridiculous tax-related legal nonsense is time I could have spent doing something productive for myself and for the economy. And this was just one of many hours I will spend preparing my taxes for my accountant who will then prepare them for the government. An assistant or bookkeeper couldn’t help with most of it. Now consider all of the people and resources applied to this inefficient process and you might agree that the biggest cost to our economy from our tax system is not deficits, or tax cheats, but misdirected energy. Days like this suck the life out of me. I’m almost positive I could have done something useful if I had the time.

When I’m President, I’ll order a task force to figure out how to automate the process of tax preparation. It seems to me that every transaction you do should be automatically sent to your personal accounting system so your taxes are effectively done at the same moment your tax year ends. Then you can just review what you have and email it out.

I would also phase out the Post Office so no one is every again tempted to ask me to sign something and mail it. I mean seriously, can’t we figure out how to accept a digital signature? And when was the last time you were in court defending your actual penned signature anyway? I’ve lived my entire life without seeing that happen outside the context of bank checks, which should also be phased out.

On a related note, I also think trusts and corporations and LLCs need to be simplified or eliminated while somehow keeping the protections they provide. Likewise, insurance and banking need to be simplified. The free market favors complication over simplicity, because confusopolies are profitable. So the market isn’t likely to simplify anything on its own. While I oppose overlarge government in principle, I think battling complexity on behalf of consumers is a legitimate role. That’s doubly true when the government itself has created the complexity.

The smart way to approach all of this is to get some state or county to volunteer for a pilot program. If it works, the program can be expanded.

Vote for me for president and I’ll make your life simpler.