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Vintage 1960s Era Film Shows IRS Defending Its Use of Computers

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the how-I-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-cd-rom dept.

Government 146

coondoggie (973519) writes "It's impossible to imagine the Internal Revenue Service or most other number-crunching agencies or companies working without computers. But when the IRS went to computers — the Automatic Data Processing system --there was an uproar. The agency went so far as to produce a short film on the topic called Right On The Button, to convince the public computers were a good thing."

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Uproar? (2)

BitterOak (537666) | about 5 months ago | (#46776025)

What was the uproar about actually? Were people afraid the computers would make mistakes and overcharge them or what?

Re:Uproar? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46776043)

They were afraid the computers would steal their souls through their tax returns.

Re:Uproar? (4, Funny)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 5 months ago | (#46776071)

This party sadly came true.

Re:Uproar? (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 5 months ago | (#46777873)

That makes me wonder...if I'm already putting my heart and my soul into my work, is that tax-deductible?

Re:Uproar? (1, Offtopic)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 5 months ago | (#46776217)

They were afraid the computers would steal their souls through their tax returns.

Sadly we gave them away for free, in the name of (false) security, not long after September 11, 2001.

Re:Uproar? (0)

cold fjord (826450) | about 5 months ago | (#46777759)

I assume it must be the drugs talking because that certainly isn't true.

Re:Uproar? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46778745)

Of course you would say that. As a treasonous traitor, you side with the terrorists.

Re:Uproar? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46779171)

Of course you would say that. As a deranged person you are suffering from an obsession.

Re:Uproar? (-1, Troll)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#46776307)

They were afraid the computers would steal their souls through their tax returns.

Conservatives believe taxes alone do that. The computer would be redundant :-)

Re:Uproar? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46776227)

Maybe something to do with my beef against Mitt Romney (speaking as a MA resident).
As Governor, he made the trains run on time (e.g. I'm obliged to file my MA taxes online on pain of a $100 penalty),
but in totally the wrong direction - he increased spending on, well, crap; and corrupt crap at that.
(Don't get me started on Romneycare which has doubled my premia since inception: thanks cronies.)

So, what people were bitching about in the 60's was probably that effort should have been spent to cut taxes, rather increasing the efficiency of collection.

Save your breath now: just stock up on ammo and wait for the implosion.

Re:Uproar? (5, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 5 months ago | (#46776245)

The uproar was that with computers long term storage the IRS could do things like make you pay taxes on something your parents did 60 years ago, or use the power of tagging to harass specific organizations based on political leanings. What absurd notions those people of ancient times had!

Chuckle.

Re:Uproar? (2, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#46776411)

...[fear computers would] use the power of tagging to harass specific organizations based on political leanings. What absurd notions those people of ancient times had!

To confuse computers with Democrats, how silly ;-)

Re:Uproar? (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | about 4 months ago | (#46780049)

No, to confuse a teaparty persecution complex with reality.

Re:Uproar? (-1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 5 months ago | (#46777093)

yes.. how absurd.

http://news.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

Re:Uproar? (2)

BanHammor (2587175) | about 5 months ago | (#46777283)

whooosh?

Re:Uproar? (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 5 months ago | (#46778349)

use the power of tagging to harass specific organizations based on political leanings.

That's Twitter's job! Just ask Mozilla.

Re:Uproar? (4, Insightful)

ChrisKnight (16039) | about 5 months ago | (#46776247)

The 70's are full of TV shows that had evil computer episodes. The plot would revolve around a billing error, and when the protagonist would bring it up with the store they would be told that computers don't make mistakes. Then they would trigger an error in their favor, and comedy would ensue. Partridge family, Eight is Enough, and I think the Brady Bunch. Those are the easy ones that come to mind.

Re:Uproar? (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 5 months ago | (#46776409)

Alex 7000 from the Bionic Woman. Hilarious. And what about Cylons?

Re:Uproar? (1)

FishOuttaWater (1163787) | about 5 months ago | (#46776721)

HAL 9000

Re:Uproar? (1)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | about 5 months ago | (#46777937)

The M-5 also comes to mind.

Re:Uproar? (4, Interesting)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 5 months ago | (#46776877)

These attitudes persist today. A man used an ATM outside a bank, and the machine made noise but no money came out. His receipt indicated money had been withdrawn from his account, so he used his mobile phone to call the bank and report the problem. He was told there was nothing they could do, could not send anyone to look, etc. He then hung up and called back, reporting that the ATM had spit out too much money. A bank executive and repairman were on the scene in less than five minutes.

Re:Uproar? (4, Funny)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 5 months ago | (#46777109)

A bank executive... was on the scene in five minutes.

Sounds legit. I know if I were a bank executive, Id be hanging out near my ATMs just in case "the people" needed me, like some sort of financial batman.

Re:Uproar? (1)

ViaNRG (892147) | about 5 months ago | (#46777703)

The ATM was outside of the bank, where the "executive" worked.. Maybe he meant manager.

Re:Uproar? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 5 months ago | (#46778135)

"Executive" is thrown around very loosely at banks. Everyone I've ever dealt with at my bank has either had the title "Teller" or "Vice President". A big bank must have thousands (tens of thousands?) of "Vice Presidents".

Re:Uproar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46778655)

I can neither conform nor deny this, but *cough*yes they do*cough*

Re:Uproar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46779489)

A bank executive... was on the scene in five minutes.

Sounds legit. I know if I were a bank executive, Id be hanging out near my ATMs just in case "the people" needed me, like some sort of financial batman.

Considering that bank ATMs are commonly co-located with a human-staffed branch office, it's not at all surprising that a representative of the bank could be outside in 5 minutes.

Now a repairman in 5 minutes? That's crazy talk!

Re:Uproar? (3, Informative)

oobayly (1056050) | about 5 months ago | (#46777201)

Reminds me of another joke:
A man wakes up to the noise of a burglar in his garden shed, so he calls the police who tell him there's nobody available to respond. He hangs up, waits a minute and then calls the police and tells them "don't worry about the burglar, I've shot him". Very soon, the multiple police cars turn up and are able to catch the burglar in the act. A policeman accusingly says to the man "you said you shot him", he replies "you said nobody was available".

Re:Uproar? (1)

parlancex (1322105) | about 5 months ago | (#46779537)

He was then immediately arrested for perjury.

Re:Uproar? (1)

Peter Simpson (112887) | about 5 months ago | (#46777849)

These attitudes persist today. A man used an ATM outside a bank, and the machine made noise but no money came out. His receipt indicated money had been withdrawn from his account, so he used his mobile phone to call the bank and report the problem. He was told there was nothing they could do, could not send anyone to look, etc. He then hung up and called back, reporting that the ATM had spit out too much money. A bank executive and repairman were on the scene in less than five minutes.

I actually had this happen to me at a Home Depot. The self-checkout machine had been loaded with a cassette of $10 bills where the cassette of $1 bills should have been. I got $30 change from my $20, instead of $3. Being a (usually) honest kind of guy, I walked over to the clerk monitoring the self checkout lane and smiled, handed her the money and the receipt and said "No.", and pointed to the machine I had used She and the floor manager had that machine open in less than a minute. I got to see enough to note that the cassettes were all the same size and color, with masking tape labels for the denominations ($1,$5 and $10). I guess someone had loaded that machine in the reverse order. I think they were wondering how many people had used it that morning, and neglected to report the discrepancies. The experience brightened my whole morning (especially as the self checkout machines always squawk if you don't place each object you buy on the weight scale, because they just *know* you're gonna try to sneak something through).

Re:Uproar? (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about 5 months ago | (#46779051)

How many people do you think use cash at the self checkout? I didn't know you even could. The places I've seen you'd have to do the cash transaction with the person monitoring the machines.

Re:Uproar? (4, Insightful)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 5 months ago | (#46776539)

Probably the same thing that spurs paranoia about automated taxes today. The government knows enough about us that they could easily auto-file/fill our forms every year but people are afraid of admitting how much is known about us.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/mon... [slate.com]

Re:Uproar? (4, Insightful)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 5 months ago | (#46777119)

The IRS doesn't want to pre-populate your tax forms, aside from lobbying by self interested tax preparation firms like Intuit or H&R Block, because (1) it might be construed as an "official" invoice of what was owed and therefore "complete and correct" and (2) it might serve to tip off potential tax cheats as to what the IRS does and does not know about their income. The IRS enjoys certain advantages from forcing citizens to fill out the forms themselves, under penalty of law for failure to report, and remaining cagey about what they do and don't know to discourage cheating. It's similar in concept to the panopticon [wikipedia.org] . You know that they could be watching anyone and anything at anytime even if they cannot as a practical matter watch everyone and everything all of the time. Because taxpayers are kept in the dark with regard to what the IRS knows about their income, they behave as if the IRS knows everything and that everyone and everything is being watched all of the time. This panopticon effect magnifies the effectiveness of limited IRS auditing and investigative resources because many people behave themselves, even though they aren't being given special attention, merely because they fear what will happen if the IRS does catch them in a deliberate lie.

Re:Uproar? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 months ago | (#46777591)

The old appeal to authority works every time. If your doctor is fifteen minutes late for your appointment, suck it up, buttercup. But if you're fifteen minutes late, they just might charge you for the visit and tell you to go home because the doc is seeing another patient right now. Or just banging an assistant. And if you overpay, the IRS might well keep it, but if you underpay your ass is theirs.

Or, you know, if they decide at any time that you might have underpaid once.

Anecdote: you're wrong about the IRS... (3, Interesting)

mmell (832646) | about 5 months ago | (#46779333)

They caught me in 1983 for failing to file taxes in 1979. Long story short - I told the IRS auditor that I hadn't filed because my income was less than five thousand dollars and I believed with such a small income that year I didn't have to. Dopey me!

Turns out I was due a two hundred dollar refund that year. The IRS had a check in my hand within a month for over three hundred dollars - even though the error was entirely mine, my money earned interest while in the government's coffers. Upon detecting my error, the IRS promptly corrected the situation in accordance with their rules.

A tiny, anecdotal example: but I have to say that the IRS is, on the whole, honest. What they do may (IMHO) be offensive, but the agency itself is merely an aspect of the current US Government. It is not inherently good or evil by itself. Closing caveat - this is a personal anecdote, your mileage may vary, past performance should not be taken as an indicator for future performance, etc.

Re:Anecdote: you're wrong about the IRS... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46779569)

I once got a letter from the IRS and feared the worst. It turned out that because I had income from stock dividends, I should have used a worksheet to figure out the "tax owed" because dividends are taxed at a LOWER rate. They included a refund check for the difference and from then on I started using the worksheet every year.

It's sad that I make far more on stock dividends every year than I do on savings account interest.

Re:Uproar? (1)

TheSunborn (68004) | about 5 months ago | (#46778273)

Really? Is it true that the tax from is not pre-filled in USA?

So are values such an interest paid to the bank, and income from stocks not pre-filled?

Re:Uproar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46778763)

Right. We get forms from employers, banks, etc. reporting that information, but it's the filer's responsibility to put all that on the actual tax return.

Re:Uproar? (1)

tsqr (808554) | about 5 months ago | (#46778803)

So are values such an interest paid to the bank, and income from stocks not pre-filled?

Nope. You get the blank forms from the government, W-2 (employer statements containing income and withholding numbers), and statements from banks and investment firms. Employers and banks and such are required by law to deliver the tax statements by the end of January each year, but it's not uncommon for financial institutions to be significantly late (this is a popular reason for the filing of extensions). Lots of opportunities for transpositions and transcription errors as you manually copy numbers from one form to another. Must be really fun for people who suffer from dyslexia.

I've been filing my taxes electronically for years, and quite frankly, I can't remember whether the IRS and California Franchise Tax Board are even sending me the instruction booklets and blank forms any more (which would be fine, as they would just go directly into the trash).

Re:Uproar? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46777049)

What was the uproar about actually? Were people afraid the computers would make mistakes and overcharge them or what?

Jobs.

Once upon a time, "computer" was a job title. It meant a guy who sat in a room with rows of desks, who did arithmetic on paper. Hundreds per room, doing calculations, in the same way that offices had secretarial pools full of typists, and so on.

The fear wasn't just that computers would put the accounting/clerical folks out of a job, it was that they'd put everyone out of a job. Nobody knew that AI was going to be an insanely hard problem, so once you got rid of the clerks and the typists, the next to go would be the accountants and secretaries, and so on and so forth, and eventually we'd all be slaves to robots.

So, basically, they feared the future described in "Manna [marshallbrain.com] ", except that the tech was at least 50-80 years away from reality.

Back in the 50s, a guy whose only paid job duty was rote arithmetic was still a fully-fledged human being who could still be easily trained to sell insurance or enter some other profession that turned out not to be automatable with 60s tech. Today, not so much. If the steel is smelted and the cars assembled offshore, you can't turn 50000 steelworkers and car makers into coders in the space of a year. Burger flipping is also about to go bye-bye.

Re:Uproar? (1)

The123king (2395060) | about 5 months ago | (#46777117)

I noticed a while ago that McDonalds replaced all their till staff with robots, but I was pretty sure they still used humans to cook it. It'll be a shame when they're replaced by robots, burgers never taste quite right without some phlegm and saliva in them...

Re:Uproar? (2)

BiIl_the_Engineer (3618863) | about 5 months ago | (#46777905)

you can't turn 50000 steelworkers and car makers into coders in the space of a year.

Most likely, you can't turn most of them into *good* coders at all; that takes intelligence and aptitude that most people don't have.

Re:Uproar? (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 5 months ago | (#46779105)

that takes intelligence and aptitude that most people don't have.

Including people whose job it is to write code based on the shitty software I have to deal with every day.

Re:Uproar? (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 5 months ago | (#46777395)

Were people afraid the computers would make mistakes and overcharge them or what?

They were afraid that the computer will send them a bill asking them to either pay $0.00 or to go directly to jail.

Context? (2)

MikeBabcock (65886) | about 5 months ago | (#46776055)

What else would the public be familiar with computers doing in the late 50's that would help them have context for this decision?

It seems to me that the computer was still an unknown entity to most people at the time.

Re:Context? (3, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | about 5 months ago | (#46776403)

Yah totally. We was still in amazement of the printing press! Now computers!

Re:Context? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46776717)

The Soviet Union wanted to centrally manage the whole society with computers. Due to numerous measurement errors caused by puny humans that didn't work perfectly. If the plan was a part of the public knowledge at the time, one reason for fear and loathing at the gates of West Virginia and Constitution Avenue might be there.

Re:Context? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46779999)

The Nazis used IBM computers for census data, which was used to serve the holocaust. This is still something that I find a little bothersome.

Excuse me? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46776059)

We all know we only have computers because of NASA and space. Although computers can be used to add and subtract vast reams of numbers, back then governments and corporations were too stupid to see this. Only though space exploration do we have the computers we have today. Charles Babbage? Konrad Zuse? All lies. There were no computers before about 1961.

Re:Excuse me? (2, Informative)

drkim (1559875) | about 5 months ago | (#46777015)

We all know we only have computers because of NASA and space. Although computers can be used to add and subtract vast reams of numbers, back then governments and corporations were too stupid to see this. Only though space exploration do we have the computers we have today. Charles Babbage? Konrad Zuse? All lies. There were no computers before about 1961.

Alan Turing 1941?
John von Neumann?
ENIAC 1948?
Anything?
No?

Re:Excuse me? (2)

The123king (2395060) | about 5 months ago | (#46777131)

Pretty sure the only reason we have computers is because they're so good at working out ballistic trajectories. Oh, and of course the Lorenz cypher.

Re:Excuse me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46778457)

Let me guess, Quantum Conundrum is getting bored of the whole 3D printer shtick and is now trying to troll computer threads?

Go troll /b/.

Original Source (5, Informative)

nmb3000 (741169) | about 5 months ago | (#46776083)

For those not interested in helping useless middle-man ad farms, here's the original source on the National Archives website (including the YouTube video):

How Computers Changed the Tax Game [archives.gov]

And The Jury Is Still Out. (2)

zenlessyank (748553) | about 5 months ago | (#46776093)

Damn Revenuers!!!

People hate to see government spending money (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 5 months ago | (#46776153)

People hate to see the government spending money on new technology which is why so many places have software and hardware that would have been retired in a commercial environment a decade earlier.

"Feel Like a Number" (4, Insightful)

chriswaco (37809) | about 5 months ago | (#46776163)

People were afraid of being treated like numbers rather than human beings. It was a very different era.

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (0, Offtopic)

rubycodez (864176) | about 5 months ago | (#46776225)

now we're treated like terrorists and crimminals, so much better

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about 5 months ago | (#46776243)

Thank goodness that never came to be, #37809.

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46778849)

Thank goodness that never came to be, #37809.

#736903 We do not take kindly to identity fraud.

- The Authorities.

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46779977)

Grammar Nazi.

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (1)

Nyder (754090) | about 5 months ago | (#46776279)

People were afraid of being treated like numbers rather than human beings. It was a very different era.

Ya, now we are treated like metadata.

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (2)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 5 months ago | (#46776413)

"I am not a number, [wikipedia.org] I am a free man!" Not any more, you're not!

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (3, Funny)

swb (14022) | about 5 months ago | (#46776425)

"I am not a man, I am a free number!"

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (1)

Atzanteol (99067) | about 5 months ago | (#46776521)

Well put #46776163.

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (1)

lord_mike (567148) | about 5 months ago | (#46776625)

Yeah, if I recall there was a similar uproar about the post office using zip codes around that time, too...

Re:"Feel Like a Number" (1)

mmell (832646) | about 5 months ago | (#46779373)

I am not a number, I am a free man!

(laughter)

Computers are a passing fad (4, Funny)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about 5 months ago | (#46776295)

They will go away in a few years.

Re:Computers are a passing fad (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#46776397)

That might be the case if all these security annoyances keep growing: it will be cheaper to do shit by hand than to clean up automation-assisted messes.

Re:Computers are a passing fad (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46778775)

That might be the case if all these security annoyances keep growing: it will be cheaper to do shit by hand than to clean up automation-assisted messes.

1960's quote about computers:

"Never before in human history has it been so easy to screw up so badly so quickly".

Or:

"To err is human. To really foul things up requires a computer."

Re:Computers are a passing fad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46776489)

When the cheap energy to build those ICs run out, you might be closer to the truth than you want.

At the risk of being flammed into oblivion (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 5 months ago | (#46776311)

I'll say I've found the IRS way easier to deal with then some of the other Creditors I've had. If my wages had kept pace with inflation and I got socialized medicine for my taxes instead of broken down buildings built by corrupt contractors in Iraq I wouldn't even have anything to complain about...

Re:At the risk of being flammed into oblivion (1)

gordo3000 (785698) | about 5 months ago | (#46777593)

unfortunately, I doubt you pay enough to validate socialized medicine. Go take a look at jus the income tax rates in countries with socialized medicine. In the UK, taxes (plus the equivalent of SS and medicare) start at 28% for the first 50k USD of income (or there a bouts) and then jumps to 48% from there on out. I've lived there, add in 22% VAT and that is how you pay for it.

Re:At the risk of being flammed into oblivion (1)

leonardluen (211265) | about 5 months ago | (#46778447)

since when has taxes ever had any relation to how much the government spends? (at least for the US)

never in my memory, they have been talking about the budget deficit since at least the 80's

Re:At the risk of being flammed into oblivion (1)

GerryGilmore (663905) | about 5 months ago | (#46779469)

I do. The thing that you're ignoring is this: the combination of my insurance premiums through work; my employer's premiums to the same insurers; medicare; medicaid; VA and a few others dwarfs - on a per-capita basis - what anyone else in the world pays for coverage. And that coverage, in case you haven't noticed, is ridiculously complex with tremendous gaps and inefficiencies that make the whole experience much, much worse than any dealings with the IRS - and I've had a few. In each case I found the IRS to be very helpful and pleasant to deal with. As opposed to, say, AT&T...

Re:At the risk of being flammed into oblivion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46780043)

Socializing medical care would basicly require the government becoming everyone's insurance company. You'd pay them taxes the same way you pay insurance premiums now.

The main benefits of that would be that without the profit motive the whole system should become more efficient, and as a government service it would be availabe to everyone not juts those who are employed full time.

The main down side of socialized medicine is that it's a terrible system for certain types of care. Particularly the really expensive last ditch efforts against advanced cancer that basicly everyone gets if they live long enough. An ecconomicly well designed system would juts say "pay for that shit yourself", but there's no way that'll fly politically.

Re:At the risk of being flammed into oblivion (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 5 months ago | (#46777779)

You could try moving to Vermont.

Vermont's Single-Payer Dream [bloombergview.com]

Good ol' days (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about 5 months ago | (#46776349)

Ah the good ole days before the IRS collected and data mined all our credit card transactions.

Heartbleed Hotel (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#46776377)

I'd like to see a vid made using the same legacy style and feel to explain the Heartbleed bug.

"No, Heartbleed-related viruses will not attack your physical heart nor your body. However, your devices may not fare so well if you don't take the following precautions..."

Re:Heartbleed Hotel (0)

bagman1673 (1120469) | about 5 months ago | (#46776689)

I'd like to see one to explain Windows 8.1.

I guess they were wrong (3, Insightful)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 5 months ago | (#46776515)

If you're about to say they were correct, hold on a minute. Without the aide of computers, the tax laws wouldn't be this complicated. No human could ever interpret and correctly follow tax law as it sits right now. So all these computers caused it to grow completely insane and waste small business owner's time.

Re:I guess they were wrong (2)

El Puerco Loco (31491) | about 5 months ago | (#46777319)

That's a load of crap. Give one example of computers interpreting tax law. Fact is the tax code is pretty simple for the vast majority of individuals and small businesses. It does become complicated for big business, largely as a result of all the arcane loopholes and exemptions those businesses themselves had written into the tax code. Most tax "reformers" want to simplify the tax code by simply doing away with taxes on big businesses and as a result there would be no need for all the associated complications.

Re:I guess they were wrong (3, Interesting)

Artifakt (700173) | about 5 months ago | (#46777719)

I do taxes professionally for part of my income, and it's a mix of personal or estate returns and corps, up to a couple of companies with 500+ full time employees.
The tax code is pretty simple for many people, but I certainly would not say the vast majority of either individuals or small businesses. I can make quick, easy money by examining a few typical returns done on a free website or $ 39 software. About 6 out of 10 will have done something wrong or missed something entirely. That's higher than the industry average reported (which is about 33%), but I'm presorting by cases where the person has either a schedule D, E, or F, or got a K1. I could probably find significant mistakes on 45% or so of the self filed Schedule A's or EITC forms out there, but those are usually dealt with by people who have only been with the firm I work for for a few years before I ever see them.
            Three mistakes I see that can have extreme consequences are:
1. people filing schedule E for rental property and thinking amortizing the property is optional (yes, it is technically optional as the tax code is phrased, but if you don't do it, the law wiill treat it as if you did, and 'recover' some of the money you never got in the first place. when you sell the property - it's 'optional' in the same sense as a parachute is optional in skydiving). I also see the vast majority of people who have other things than rent to report on an E (authorial royalties, natural gas wells, and such), have absolutely no idea what to do.
2. people filing a schedule D for sale of stock. The minor mistake about 50% of the self filers make is to spend up to 30 hours or so filling in tons of individual lines for each transaction - almost nobody who isn't a pro knows how to report groups of transactions the way the IRS wants, and the personal software will gladly let you type in every single entry from a typical 15 page brokerage statement manually if you want. By they way, I have heard from IRS agents that going to all this extra trouble increases your chance of an audit - they figure that anybody giving them all those details just might be trying to hide something among them. The major mistake is not knowing the difference between long term and short term and/or covered and non-covered transactions, and all those things that are not sales of stocks but involve capital gains and so get reported with stocks. And I have never, ever, not once in my career, seen a case where someone got a K-1 that led to an entry on schedule D, and they got it right filing with Turbo-tax or similar.
3. Schedule C for self employed income. I see people getting a 1099-Misc with some other box than 7 filled in and thinking they have to do a C, all the time. I also see young people who get paid with a 1099 that does require Schedule C for the first time and think it's basically just like a W2 and report it that way. In both cases, this puts the person in a mess immediately, because if self employment taxes get done wrongly that means the IRS and the Social Security administration both have issues with the filer, and any corrections have to propagate to both agencies before it is really fixed. I've seen way too many cases where someone spends months or even years paying off their self employment taxes, gets straight with the IRS, and then 5 years later the person gets injured, needs to collect disability and, finds out they never got credit with the Social Security Administration for working some years, and so are considered not elligibile. But the biggest mistake I see on Sched C is people claiming meals when they don't travel outside their local area or entertain clients - that happens way more often with young people new to the construction industry, than most people think, and the IRS treats every case like the taxpayer is a con artist and couldn't possibly be really that stupid. (And there's no polite way to put it, but a lot of these people are). The IRS also tends to treat this error as though the taxpayer thinks the IRS agents are boneheaded enough to believe the deliberately false claim they didn't know, and the agent auditing usually seems to feel personally insulted.

People that have a single house or two they rent out, self employed contractors and people who have a sole proprieorship that makes, say, 50 K or less net, people who get a typically sized 1099-composite statement from Wells Fargo or Merrill or T Rowe or many others - that's probably close to 40% of all filers right there. K-1s are becoming pretty common now that they're used for Family Trusts. Everybody who rents out a tiny plot of land for a Cell tower gets an E for something they don't really supervise personally, and most of them didn't study up on rental tax law even as much as the people renting a spare house.. So again, "vast majority' is an overstatement at best.
  .

Re:I guess they were wrong (2)

leonardluen (211265) | about 5 months ago | (#46778527)

so...to paraphrase, what you are saying is that tax law is excessively more complex than it needs to be and should be simplified greatly.

i mean no offense to you, but taxes should be simple enough so that people like you aren't needed for the majority of people to complete their taxes. and for that matter tax software shouldn't be needed either.

Re:I guess they were wrong (1)

mmell (832646) | about 5 months ago | (#46779439)

Sure, simplify it - just send a really ugly dude with a cart around to collect the taxes from the serfs, preferably one a year or more. Any who can't pay (or who try to hide their crops and livestock) should be taken to the dungeon, their homes burned and their families turned out in the street. While we're at it, maybe we can get a crusade going in the holy land?

Oh, wait . . .

This was NOT about people fearing computers (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46776725)

This was the era of excitement about supersonic flight, men flying into space on rockets, and so on. The fear was NOT about circuit boards and software (or vacuum tubes and relays and patch panels), but rather about POWER and CONTROL. People were worried about giving more power to the one part of the US government that, by DESIGN, considers itself above the Constitution and insists the people have no rights.

People were concerned that this would further de-humanize things and further encourage the government to think of the citizens as numbered parts in a machine rather than free people in charge of their government. If you are a free person, the government answers to you, but if the government assigns you a part number, you are just a gear in the machine.... the government that stamped a number on you is clearly your master. When Social Security was created, one of the things critics warned about wasd that the "account number" assigned to each person would, over time, become a citizen ID number that would be used to track people and control and regulate them. The critics were called loony, and the people pushing Social Security made it illegal for the numbers to be used for anything but Social Security (a typical fake big-government advocates like to use to pass bad policy). Years later, government removed the prohibition, justifying the action by pointing out the savings in money and bureaucracy if all of government could use the same unique number for citizen ID. Now, after decades, no American citizen can vote, bank, get a job, etc without having a "Social Security Number" (citizen ID number? part number?) and a person's entire life can be turned upside-down if somebody else starts using that number. The critics who predicted bad side effects of such a system and its assigned citizen numbers, as loud as they were, actually under-predicted what would happen.

This was also a further exposure of the basic lies that were used to create the IRS and the tax system in the first place. When the income tax was first instituted (as a temporary tax to fund a war) the politicians in Washington DC insisted that the tax would only apply to the rich and it would only take 1% of their income. By computerizing the IRS, the government was essentially admitting the lies and preparing to analyze, monitor, and tax the formerly-free people of the United States like never before. Back when the income tax began, people who warned that it would gradually evolve into a tax on everybody and it would inevitably rise to something really outrageous like 5% were denounced and ridiculed. As is so often the case, the politicians pushing thier big new policy were the real liars and the people who sounded like chicken little with their warnings about inevitable growth were in fact not only right but they actually underestimated how bad it would be. The income tax eventually went over 90% for the rich (who bought lobbyists and politicians and got lots of "loopholes" and never actually PAID those rates) and plenty of middle-class pay over 15% (THEY cannot afford to buy politicians to get their own "loopholes").

There's a pattern here for those who care to notice it. The people who keep warning about growing government control over individuals are more-often right than the meat puppets of the growing BigBusiness-BigGovernment enterprise who generally lie to get their way. In 1961, WWII (with Hitler's Germany and Imperial Japan) was fresh in the public memory and Nikita Khrushchev was threatening the west with his Soviet military, so Americans were much more worried about the down-side of big government's potential to number people, treat them as things, and then use them.

Re:This was NOT about people fearing computers (0)

profplump (309017) | about 5 months ago | (#46776761)

The people who keep warning about growing government control over individuals aren't very well versed in history.

Society was better before ubiquitous computing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46776755)

I don't know whether there's any causation there or it's mere correlation, but computers really haven't done anything useful for society. Some people enjoy them and they make a few people very rich (if you're wealthy and in computing, you're in a tiny minority), but the overall effect has been retrograde.

Were The People Wrong? (2)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 5 months ago | (#46776813)

When one looks at the use of Offshoring, and Entitlements for Hedge Fund Mangers, Oil Companies, and Tax Havens. One is compelled to ask, "when is enough, enough?"

"With the magic of electronic computation..." (1)

Snufu (1049644) | about 5 months ago | (#46776921)

"This room filled with mainframes can process as many as ten tax returns for every kilowatt hour. The future is today!"

Computers have not made the IRS more efficient. (2)

aberglas (991072) | about 5 months ago | (#46777057)

The amazing thing is that the IRS today is no more efficient then it was in the 1950s before any computerization.

Certainly in 2007 the Australian tax office's internal budget was AU$11.4 billion, or 1.23% of GDP. In 1955 it performed essentially the same task without automation for A£66.7 million which was 1.33% of the 1955 GDP. The difference is not statistically significant. (Normalizing by GDP (essentially the sum of everyone's earnings) accounts for the growing population and inflation.) US figures will show a similar effect.

The only effect of computerization has been to enable the rules and regulations that govern us to become an order of magnitude more complex.

See below for the sad details. http://berglas.org/Articles/ImportantThatSoftwareFails/ImportantThatSoftwareFails.html [berglas.org]

Re:Computers have not made the IRS more efficient. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46777663)

If you had read the article and watched the video, you would have known that lowering the IRS budget wasn't one of the stated goals.
Those were:
* Fraud detection.
* Allowing more complex (but presumably fairer) rules.
The project was a huge success by both measures. (Although in my opinion, if you wanted to make the tax code fairer, there is a very simple rule that would improve the situation by a much larger margin than all the current ones combined: raise the tax rate for the rich.)

Re:Computers have not made the IRS more efficient. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46777789)

Fraud detection, really? I know about a dozen people right now who lie about having Kids to get massive amounts of Tax returns. So it's not very good, I wish it were.

Re:Computers have not made the IRS more efficient. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46778815)

I guess it depends on how you define "fair". I'm one of the famous 47% who don't pay (federal income) taxes.
I get a big payment every year for much more than was withheld.
I enjoy getting that money, and I'm not about to refuse it, but I don't think it's "fair".
Why is it right for rich people to fund the federal government, and for people like me to receive their services for free?

Re:Computers have not made the IRS more efficient. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46779531)

Because the broadest shoulders should carry the heaviest burdens.
Looking at it from another angle... I've had a rather bumpy career, ranging from unemployed to freelance to rather well paid, and I've seen that at every level people do about the same amount of work, except upper management which tends to simply delegate *everything* including the actual managing. (Yes, even unemployed people tend to work hard, looking for jobs and preparing for interviews, doing volunteer work, supporting family and friends, and so on. From what I've seen, most people want to keep busy.) So I think everyone deserves about the same standard of living. Since in practice wages are different, the government has to take most of the difference so we're all poor and use the money in such a way that poor people can lead a happy, healthy and fulfilled life.

to view yon video... (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46777079)

To view the video is a security nightmare. The website wants scripts and trash from about 8 other sites. I allowed 4 of them for the cokkie-roulette dance routine - and the number of friends they invited jumped to 100. Link it or lump it. I don't need to see this that badly that 100+ website can have a go at tracking me. BTW there's a credible story around that /. portscans you when you post. Nice.

Vintage pornos are the best. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46777351)

"Hi!" "Hi there. Says here you're behind on your taxes. I might be able to help - just let the tax man get behind you."

You can see where it goes from here.

You'd think they could fight some fraud too... (1)

fwc (168330) | about 5 months ago | (#46777735)

Having been the victim of tax identity theft two years in a row, you'd think those computers could be programmed in a way to detect say, multiple refunds going to the same bank account, or the same IP address submitting thousands of returns and shut these thieves down....or *gasp* even perhaps verify the data which is on a return before sending a refund check... You know, to stop the $5 BILLION in tax refund fraud every year....

Unfortunately (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46778003)

They appear to still be using those same computers from the 1960s.

The announcer's delivery! (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | about 5 months ago | (#46778359)

"Viewers today are more likely captivated by the refrigerator-size computers and 1960s hairdos." No, the very first thing that struck me was the once-familiar announcer's "authoritative" style of delivery. Among other things, the voice often drops by about a musical fifth on the last word of the sentence.

This is not only standard for announcers (Edward R. Murrow being one example), but you even hear it in movie dialog.

I keep wanting to know some name for the change. It was not instantaneous, but it seems to me that it occurred over not much more than a decade or so. Walter Cronkite had a transitional voice style--somewhere in between what you hear in this movie and a more natural, conversational delivery such as you hear today. (Or, at least, I hear it as natural and conversational--maybe fifty years from now it will sound mannered and affected, too).

Unit record requipment (1)

ZorinLynx (31751) | about 4 months ago | (#46780055)

I think I could watch a two hour film of just unit record equipment in action and be happy. Damn stuff was mesmerizing, how it handled, read and punched thousands of cards at ridiculous speeds.

We really did pull off some mechanical genius with this stuff back then. It may be obsolete but it's still cool, and it makes me wonder why we can't seem to design printers that don't start jamming after a few hundred pages anymore.

those reel to reels are interesting (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | about 4 months ago | (#46780101)

as they go high rpm, scream to a stop, slowly move, then wham ram up to high rpm in opposite direction. Like rest of the equipment in those rooms, all made of heavy duty steel and cable.
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