Posts tagged ‘Milton Freedman’

Maybe It's Just Too Complicated

The US Congress is considering a federal licensing requirement for all paid tax preparers.  Apparently, even most paid preparers can't get the returns correct:

The senators heard from investigators at the Government Accountability
Office, who found mistakes in virtually every tax return filled out by
commercial chain preparers. The investigators said they looked at a
tiny number of tax returns, and that their conclusions could not be
generalized to the rest of the tax preparation industry.

You know why?  Because I would bet you that the same amount of scrutiny could find errors in every single return submitted.  There is just no way to get it all right.  How about, you know, actually spending some time in Congress making the return easy enough that individuals don't feel the need to seek out paid preparers.  Of course, the real reason for this initiative is that higher-dollar CPA firms and large accounting firms would like Congress to sit on its low-price competition  (note that only chain-type firms were investigated).  As Milton Freedman pointed out long ago about licensing:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Of course, the last paragraph of the article demonstrates there is already a solution in place for poor tax preparer service:

Had the IRS found these problems on real returns, many preparers would
have been subject to penalties for negligence and willful or reckless
disregard of tax rules

So why is licensing needed at all?