Spring is a favorite season of many Americans; as winter finally begins to fade away, green replaces brown, and favorite foods come back into grocery stores and farmer’s markets. Americans welcome spring with celebrations like Easter, Holi, the Spring Equinox, Songkran, Passover, and Nowruz. But, what really unites us all in springtime is much less celebratory, and it costs us a lot more time and money: tax season.
The United States is one of the world’s most powerful, resource-rich nations. Yet, it remains one of the few countries of its standing that requires its labor force to aggregate, calculate, and report their taxes each year —with major legal and financial ramifications if one does not precisely relay numbers that the IRS already has. For example, in many European countries, the government sends each taxpayer their itemized filing for them to sign off on, and if they care to dispute, they may do so free of charge. This is quite different from the average taxpayer’s experience in the United States.
While easy to complain about this nation’s inefficient and unnecessary citizen-reliant tax filing system, it seems pointless to even consider when we know nothing will change that. At least we have companies like Intuit who created entire business models on helping the people who are overworked, exhausted, and underpaid file their taxes—for a small fee, of course, or a larger one if you’re willing and able to pay for better, more detailed assistance. If there’s one fundamentally American trend, it is that those who need the most help rarely have the disposable income necessary to attain it. But, generally, Intuit is thought to provide helpful services to save people time during tax season at an affordable rate.
However, this is far from the whole truth. Intuit’s TurboTax, one of the most widely-used online tax filing services, has recently faced public scrutiny for spending decades lobbying the government to continue forcing people to calculate and report finances themselves to create a demand for their services. ProPublica’s 2019 article says it best: “the success of TurboTax rests on a shaky foundation, one that could collapse overnight if the U.S. government did what most wealthy countries did long ago and made tax filing simple and free for most citizens.”
Though people have watched such schemes unfold over several years, recent ads that TurboTax aired during the 2023 Super Bowl resurfaced the software in public spheres. These ads were mostly met with incredulity from the public that a company would market itself as one for the people when it has spent decades actively working against its best interests in order to maximize profit off of an entirely unnecessary premise.
This predatory system profits from every working person in the U.S., including children. The earliest legal working age in the nation is fourteen, though the unrestricted working age is sixteen. The process of filing taxes varies in difficulty depending on income, type of work, citizenship status, and often your own ability to keep documents organized. This process is also made more difficult for children who work but may not have the support or mentorship of parents and adults in their lives who have spent decades filing taxes. Lucky for all the children doing taxes for the first time, TurboTax has graciously provided a page on their website called “Tax Filing Requirements for Children,” intended to educate youth on how to avoid the legal and financial ramifications of filing incorrectly—specifically for a minor who is being asked, once again, to correctly report numbers the IRS already has.
Lobbying power is a major obstacle to progress on Capitol Hill and contributes to why the profitability of corporations is so intertwined with policy decisions. When discussing corporations that make billions of dollars, it is important to think critically about why they exist in the first place, how they became so valuable to the public (or to the government that is run by politicians who need that money to maintain their positions), and why they are considered so essential to the functioning of our “democratic” society. Here’s a hint: billion-dollar corporations being essential to a democracy is a fundamentally illogical statement.
The actual process of switching to government-operated tax filing would not be that difficult and would likely be met with relief from the public. However, if the demand for tax services were to disappear, then companies like TurboTax would cease to exist. Given that the co-founder, Scott Cook, is currently worth $3.3 billion, that simply is not an option. Billionaire lobbyists operate by spending money to keep making money, and when that is the only language that holds weight to a late-stage capitalist government like that of the U.S., it is nearly impossible to infiltrate in any other meaningful way.
It is easier to see where TurboTax became essential out of an unnecessary burden on taxpayers, but this flawed model can be applied to many other industries that we may not think about—for example, the oil and petroleum industry. Why is so much of the United States landscape covered in parking lots, highways, freeways, and gas stations? For example, recent reports show that 5.5% of the national landscape is taken up solely by parking lots and parking structures. Why are electric vehicles so expensive at more than $10,000 above the average gas-powered vehicle? Why is public transportation so unsafe, unreliable, and virtually nonexistent on a national scale compared to other countries a fraction of the size?
One of the simple answers is because in 1932, automotive companies and companies that made virtually every production line part for cars—cars that run on gasoline, which is refined oil—joined forces to create the American Highway Users Alliance, now one of the most powerful lobbyist groups. If the demand for fossil fuel products like gasoline were to decrease, the industry that the very infrastructure of this country was created around would make less money. And that is the greatest evil in the eyes of the people who profit from that infrastructure.
TurboTax is the latest and greatest in a national history of lobbying groups and the corporations they represent dictating the whims of our political system and, therefore, the fate of the people who make up—and pay for—this country. So, it is unlikely to change anytime soon. But, the fact that Americans were made aware and are asking questions about the validity of corporations that incorporate themselves into their daily lives and the policies that dictate their lives to the point that they have very little choice but to utilize them is as important as ever.
Featured Image Source: H&H Accounting Services