Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Counting things - IRS

Some people, and by people I mean lawyers, accountants, and politicians mostly, make things too dang complicated.  The numbers they provide us are processed, spun, and interpreted because...why? Whatever happened to the simple art of counting things?  What we have here is an over-Excel’ing of the raw data. We have the GDPPPI, CPI, and GIGO. Even most polls aren’t really counting things; they’re counting answers to questions pre-spun to get the numbers someone needs.
My pitiful brain is tired from trying to unravel the motives behind all the complex formulas and numbers that come out of them. What I’d like to see is just some straightforward counting of things, like physical objects…lines of code, people, dollars…stuff like that. I’d leave the people to interpret, process, fractionalize, and rationalize the numbers all on their own.
So let’s count, IRS-style:
Number of dollars collected in taxes (2003). $1,952,929,045,000
Age of the universe in days: 7,300,000,000,000
Number of tax returns filed (2003 est): 230,600,000
Number of IRS employees82, 495 (full-time), 12,143 (part-time)
Number of IRS publications: 1600
Number of words in the US tax code: 2,800,000
Number of words in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: 208,000
Number of instances of the word ‘waste’ in the US tax code: 22
Number of tax accountants and auditors currently working in the US, (2002): 1,100,000
Number of people needing help from the IRS to complete their tax forms, (2003): 8,500,000 (in person), 88,500,000 (phone)
Number of people served by McDonalds (2003):  47,000,000 per day
There you go—pure, unbiased counting.  That wasn’t so hard was it?  Finally, I have to point out a statistic quoted in the IRS strategic plan (page 20):
“It costs taxpayers only 48 cents for each $100 collected by the IRS.”
Wonderful.  I’d gladly let the IRS spend double that amount, 96 cents, to collect half as much.  Is that an option?