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THE TIME TAX

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Our tax system operates on the same “you figure it out” model, one that costs citizens 9 billion hours a year. Many other wealthy economies let their citizens know if they owe anything in taxes or send them prefilled forms to review once a year. The IRS could do that, but tax-prep companies’ lobbying and Congress’s disregard have maintained the miserable status quo... Even if we do not have a measure of the time tax itself, we have ample evidence of its effects. We know that millions of Americans do not receive the credits or benefits they qualify for. Taken as a whole, the time tax is regressive. Programs for the wealthy tend to be easy, automatic, and guaranteed. You do not need to prostrate yourself before a caseworker to get the benefits of a 529 college-savings plan. You do not need to urinate in a cup to get a tax write-off for your home, boat, or plane. You do not need to find a former partner to get a child-support determination as a prerequisite for profiting from a 401(k). The difference is so significant that, as shown by the Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler, many high-income people, unlike poor folks, never even realize they are benefiting from government programs.

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