Thursday, October 22, 2009

Norwegian egalitarianism 

Imagine the howls of protest across the political spectrum if the IRS used its website to post the income and wealth of every U.S. taxpayer. (Come to think of it, I am not sure that the IRS could reasonably guess the individual balance sheets of, say, the wealthiest 10% of Americans with any accuracy, since there is actually very little in the way of balance sheet reporting that is made by taxpayers). In Norway, that just happened, as AP reports:
It's the moment nosy Norwegian neighbors have been waiting for — the release of official records showing the annual income and overall wealth of nearly every taxpayer in the Scandinavian country.

In a move that would be unthinkable elsewhere, tax authorities in Norway have issued the "skatteliste," or "tax list," for 2008 to the media under a law designed to uphold the country's tradition of transparency.
One of the features of the reporting is that it does not include income generated outside of Norway, or offshore accounts. I will venture a guess that the top tier of wealthy and high-earning Norwegians conduct a fair amount of their economic activity in places beyond the scope of the data collectors in Oslo.

I've enjoyed visiting Norway, and have made friends with Norwegians living in the U.S. -- skiing and having adult beverages and much fun -- but there certainly are a few features of the political culture which contrast sharply with America.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Oct 22, 11:55:00 PM:

BOGUS!! It is outrageous that FOX wants the tax returns of Sharpton, Rangel, Dodd, Biden's son, Feinstein's husband, Pelosi's familia,
and guys like Dashele posted on the internet. They are sterio-typing all democrates and suggesting that they are all as crooked as Dollar Bill Jefferson, Kwame Kilpatrick or Conyers wife. OUTRAGEOUS and, to the extent it besmirches the accusers, RACIST!!  

By Blogger John McCormack, at Fri Oct 23, 08:59:00 AM:

Escort 81,

The US, or at least parts of it, may be more similar to Norway than you realize.

According to Helmut Schoeck in his book Envy (1966), the state of Wisconsin permitted any state resident to inspect the tax return of any other Wisconsin resident from 1923 to 1953.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that Wisconsin was the first US state to enact a state income tax (1908) even before the Feds did so,

What is it about that German-Scandinavian heritage?  

By Blogger The Leading Wedge, at Sat Oct 24, 06:16:00 AM:

The topic came up last night at a dinner party here in Norway. The lists have been publicly available for a long time, but it used to require a drive to the tax office to see it.

Putting the lists on the Internet obviously make them way more available, hence usage has skyrocketed. See the biggest online paper here - http://www.vg.no/. The search box for the "Tax List (Søk i Skattelister)" is actually on top and above "Search the paper".

A new feature is that children - all Internet savvy, of course - are now using the lists to learn the incomes of the various parents of their frieds. This information is used for classification and, sadly, for embarrassing those whose parents aren't big earners. Rich kids probably suffer as well even though they didn't ask to be born rich.  

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