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Vintage 1960s Era Film Shows IRS Defending Its Use of Computers 146

Posted by samzenpus
from the how-I-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-cd-rom dept.
coondoggie (973519) writes "It's impossible to imagine the Internal Revenue Service or most other number-crunching agencies or companies working without computers. But when the IRS went to computers — the Automatic Data Processing system --there was an uproar. The agency went so far as to produce a short film on the topic called Right On The Button, to convince the public computers were a good thing."
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Vintage 1960s Era Film Shows IRS Defending Its Use of Computers

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  • Re:Uproar? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @10:08PM (#46776043)
    They were afraid the computers would steal their souls through their tax returns.
  • by chriswaco (37809) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @10:41PM (#46776163)

    People were afraid of being treated like numbers rather than human beings. It was a very different era.

  • Re:Uproar? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @10:56PM (#46776245)

    The uproar was that with computers long term storage the IRS could do things like make you pay taxes on something your parents did 60 years ago, or use the power of tagging to harass specific organizations based on political leanings. What absurd notions those people of ancient times had!

    Chuckle.

  • Re:Uproar? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChrisKnight (16039) <merlin&ghostwheel,com> on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @10:56PM (#46776247) Homepage

    The 70's are full of TV shows that had evil computer episodes. The plot would revolve around a billing error, and when the protagonist would bring it up with the store they would be told that computers don't make mistakes. Then they would trigger an error in their favor, and comedy would ensue. Partridge family, Eight is Enough, and I think the Brady Bunch. Those are the easy ones that come to mind.

  • Re:Uproar? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @11:31PM (#46776411) Homepage Journal

    ...[fear computers would] use the power of tagging to harass specific organizations based on political leanings. What absurd notions those people of ancient times had!

    To confuse computers with Democrats, how silly ;-)

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @11:58PM (#46776515)
    If you're about to say they were correct, hold on a minute. Without the aide of computers, the tax laws wouldn't be this complicated. No human could ever interpret and correctly follow tax law as it sits right now. So all these computers caused it to grow completely insane and waste small business owner's time.
  • Re:Uproar? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @12:04AM (#46776539)

    Probably the same thing that spurs paranoia about automated taxes today. The government knows enough about us that they could easily auto-file/fill our forms every year but people are afraid of admitting how much is known about us.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/mon... [slate.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2014 @01:19AM (#46776725)

    This was the era of excitement about supersonic flight, men flying into space on rockets, and so on. The fear was NOT about circuit boards and software (or vacuum tubes and relays and patch panels), but rather about POWER and CONTROL. People were worried about giving more power to the one part of the US government that, by DESIGN, considers itself above the Constitution and insists the people have no rights.

    People were concerned that this would further de-humanize things and further encourage the government to think of the citizens as numbered parts in a machine rather than free people in charge of their government. If you are a free person, the government answers to you, but if the government assigns you a part number, you are just a gear in the machine.... the government that stamped a number on you is clearly your master. When Social Security was created, one of the things critics warned about wasd that the "account number" assigned to each person would, over time, become a citizen ID number that would be used to track people and control and regulate them. The critics were called loony, and the people pushing Social Security made it illegal for the numbers to be used for anything but Social Security (a typical fake big-government advocates like to use to pass bad policy). Years later, government removed the prohibition, justifying the action by pointing out the savings in money and bureaucracy if all of government could use the same unique number for citizen ID. Now, after decades, no American citizen can vote, bank, get a job, etc without having a "Social Security Number" (citizen ID number? part number?) and a person's entire life can be turned upside-down if somebody else starts using that number. The critics who predicted bad side effects of such a system and its assigned citizen numbers, as loud as they were, actually under-predicted what would happen.

    This was also a further exposure of the basic lies that were used to create the IRS and the tax system in the first place. When the income tax was first instituted (as a temporary tax to fund a war) the politicians in Washington DC insisted that the tax would only apply to the rich and it would only take 1% of their income. By computerizing the IRS, the government was essentially admitting the lies and preparing to analyze, monitor, and tax the formerly-free people of the United States like never before. Back when the income tax began, people who warned that it would gradually evolve into a tax on everybody and it would inevitably rise to something really outrageous like 5% were denounced and ridiculed. As is so often the case, the politicians pushing thier big new policy were the real liars and the people who sounded like chicken little with their warnings about inevitable growth were in fact not only right but they actually underestimated how bad it would be. The income tax eventually went over 90% for the rich (who bought lobbyists and politicians and got lots of "loopholes" and never actually PAID those rates) and plenty of middle-class pay over 15% (THEY cannot afford to buy politicians to get their own "loopholes").

    There's a pattern here for those who care to notice it. The people who keep warning about growing government control over individuals are more-often right than the meat puppets of the growing BigBusiness-BigGovernment enterprise who generally lie to get their way. In 1961, WWII (with Hitler's Germany and Imperial Japan) was fresh in the public memory and Nikita Khrushchev was threatening the west with his Soviet military, so Americans were much more worried about the down-side of big government's potential to number people, treat them as things, and then use them.

  • Re:Uproar? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CodeBuster (516420) on Thursday April 17, 2014 @03:32AM (#46777119)

    The IRS doesn't want to pre-populate your tax forms, aside from lobbying by self interested tax preparation firms like Intuit or H&R Block, because (1) it might be construed as an "official" invoice of what was owed and therefore "complete and correct" and (2) it might serve to tip off potential tax cheats as to what the IRS does and does not know about their income. The IRS enjoys certain advantages from forcing citizens to fill out the forms themselves, under penalty of law for failure to report, and remaining cagey about what they do and don't know to discourage cheating. It's similar in concept to the panopticon [wikipedia.org]. You know that they could be watching anyone and anything at anytime even if they cannot as a practical matter watch everyone and everything all of the time. Because taxpayers are kept in the dark with regard to what the IRS knows about their income, they behave as if the IRS knows everything and that everyone and everything is being watched all of the time. This panopticon effect magnifies the effectiveness of limited IRS auditing and investigative resources because many people behave themselves, even though they aren't being given special attention, merely because they fear what will happen if the IRS does catch them in a deliberate lie.

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