Is the return of the red robin the true harbinger of spring?

How about azaleas at Augusta with a Tiger lurking in the rough?

Or how about millions of taxpayers struggling with the effects of 70,000 pages of federal tax code (before the impact of Obamacare), up just a tad from the 400 pages that existed in 1913?

Presidents may come and presidents may go, but the Internal Revenue Service is forever. This week’s edition of the Economist www.economist.com provides a simply numbing set of stats about the growth of complexity associated with filing tax returns by April 15.

Quick: Which American industry is six times larger than the other? Tax preparation or automotive design and manufacture?

According to the British business “newspaper,” Americans spend 7.5 billion hours annually grappling with the tax code. Here’s another way of looking at the same stat, America employs the equivalent of 3.8 million people or the same as every man, woman and child in the State of Oregon to fill out tax returns . . . That’s right a whole state, everyone in Portland, Eugene, even Corvallis…all devoted to doing nothing else during the course of a work year than preparing taxes.

The result of this complexity and exploding tax codes is that 60 percent of American taxpayers hire tax accountants or attorneys and 22 percent use tax-preparation software. Regardless of whether the economy is expanding or contracting, the government still wants its money. So does this growing dependency on tax accountants, attorneys and software result in recession-proof brands?

Here’s one for consideration, H&R Block (NYSE: HRB) http://www.hrblock.com/company/index.html, which has been around since the year that I was born (shortly after the earth cooled) and prepares one out of every seven American tax returns. The company describes itself in this manner: “The world’s largest tax preparation business, employing 100,000 tax professionals and having served more than 500 million clients. Brothers Henry W. Bloch and Richard A. Bloch founded the company in 1955 and grew the business to become a brand and franchising icon.”

And here’s another tax-complexity related brand, Intuit Inc. (NASDAQ: INTU) which provides its “Turbo Tax” software http://turbotax.intuit.com/?cid=intuit_tt_TY09bottomrail and other application software offerings for consumers and businesses.

Bringing it all together, Americans as a result of 70,000 pages (and growing) of federal tax code are employing the equivalent of the State of Oregon spending 7.6 billion hours annually and hiring a legion of accountants, lawyers and software, which together constitute a business that is six-times the size of the American automobile industry, in order to pay the US Treasury and the coffers of state and local governments.

And the federal government?  Even the head of the IRS, Douglas Shulman, has an accountant to prepare his taxes. And Washington DC now owns General Motors and Chrysler. Go figure.

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