America put a man on the moon and created the internet. We should be able to make taxes simpler.
Filing taxes in the U.S. is too complicated. It consumes a cumulative 6.1 billion miserable man-hours each year (that’s nearly 700 million years), and costs more than $140 billion in lost time.
The process is so unwieldy that is has produced the $10.1 billion, 320,000-employee-strong tax preparation industry—a behemoth now fighting to stay that way. Led by H&R Block and TurboTax maker Intuit, with 50% market share between them, the industry has spent more than $30 million on lobbying in the past five years. Some of that money is targeting proposals for a simpler filing system in which the IRS would pre-fill out tax forms by default—a program that’s popular in Europe, but could whack the stateside preparation industry.
Proponents, like Stanford professor Joseph Bankman, see the proposal as a way to save people dollars and time by sparing them from filling out information the government already has on its computers. “There are almost no no-brainers in tax policy,” Bankman says. “Every thing is hard and complicated. This is as close to a no-brainer that I’ve ever seen.”
Meanwhile, tax preparers say that letting the IRS fill out forms could jilt some taxpayers. Anti taxation stalwart Grover Norquist two years ago called the idea “a money-grab by the government,” likening asking the IRS to pre-fill out forms to “asking an alcoholic how much they can have without crossing the line.”
It’s worth pointing out that on average has become easier in most states, and there are some free options online. But whether you want them or not, thanks to stiff opposition any sweeping solutions to tax season’s agony are a long way off. In the meantime, good luck with those returns.
An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the April 1, 2015 issue of Fortune.