Saturday, May 9, 2015

The U.S. Patchwork of Ineffective Laws and Systems

Having just completed my US income taxes and dealing with Social Security and Obamacare, I would like to make an observation on dealing with US government regulations and laws.  The world's greatest superpower in history does not run its government properly.

If your life follows a normal arc: born in USA, schooled in USA, maybe joined the military, married your high school sweetheart, worked, had children, retired around 65,  you are fine.  You will never be trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare trying to figure out form 1116 (AMT), get health insurance, social security, or medicare.  If you do not fall into this standard life story, things get complicated fast.

This year, the tax system introduced 5 possible new forms if you have a bank account or investment outside the USA.  Good luck figuring out which ones are required, as the IRS is so underfunded that the telephone wait is minimum 30 minutes, and then you get someone who is as confused as you.  So in trying to catch the billionaire tax dodger, all they have done is ensnare anyone with a foreign past in red tape.  The world's most complicated income tax is getting more complex.

The Obamacare website, even at this late date, regularly gives me strange errors and kicks me out of the system.  I have never completed an application due to the errors and need to "verify my identity".  When you call them up, they suggest more futile actions on the website instead of solving the problem.  I gave up and am using an insurance broker to get health insurance.

Social Security and Medicare are so complicated that there are multiple books you can buy to help you figure out which options to choose, when to choose them, what to do if you go back to work, etc etc.  The online system and phone service can only handle the most routine inquiries and you must go to a Social Security office to handle anything unusual.  Our local office (15 miles away) opens at 9am and by then, the lineup is long enough that it takes 1 hour in line standing up to get a number and then about 2 to 4 hours to be served at the counter, and then if they cannot help you, there may be a further 1 to 4 hour wait for a specialist.  There is a 2 month wait for an appointment.  This is awful for the senior citizens who need help.

Why does the world's superpower have such poor government services?  It is hard for me to know but I suspect:

  • There is animosity towards government in general, so funding is not allocated to provide proper information systems and tools to handle 330M+ citizens
  • The pay scales for civil servants are quite low compared to Canada, so it is hard to attract talented people.  The civil servants in the USA try very hard, and I do commend them, but they are underpaid compared to their commercial counterparts.
  • The focus right now is on homeland security (defense, police, etc.) so social services get low priority.
  • There is a lack of practicality in the lawmakers.  Laws are created that are complicated, unenforceable, and hard to understand.  There seems to be no interest in going back and fixing old laws and regulations to make things efficient and effective.

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