Friday, February 8, 2013

Sweeping complexity under a software blanket

Software usually simplify life for the user. Most often. Using Mathematica or MATLAB for computational purposes lets most users be unaware of the subtleties of backward or central difference schemes or the Newton-Raphson method. Most often, this is not good for the user but in some cases tolerable.

One case where a software is a clear boon is the filing of income tax. That time of the year is coming soon and we (my family) are in a financial situation where the federal income tax is quite easy to file. However, with incomes from two states, payment of state income taxes is a colossal nightmare. I have not yet found a software that can deal with this problem easily (easily to me). Come to think of it, there must be countries with bloated tax codes where no software solution is available. Think of that special hell! Anyway, I digress.

The tax preparation software has the perfidious effect of apparently simplifying a nightmare of IRS rules. That is exactly what Nina Olson, the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate, said at a discussion on the Federal Income Tax sponsored by the Urban Institute on Feb. 6, 2013. Nina Olson says that her Quixotic mission is to make tax payers understand how the tax code affects them! Counting stars in the sky might be easier. From what I gather, the National Taxpayer Advocate Office reports to the Congress every year what they identify to be the important challenges faced by taxpayers. The latest report can be found here.

Given her self-admitted Quixotic goals, she must be a far more interesting person than what I can gather from public forum events or interviews that are more skewed towards her work at the IRS. What motivated her to take on this challenge? What about her work in Richmond?A few brief articles/interviews about/with her are given below:

Profile of Nina Olson
An interview at

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