The information panopticon, Norway edition -

The information panopticon, Norway edition


This can’t be a good idea: Norway puts everyone’s tax returns online, for all to peruse.

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The information panopticon, Norway edition

  1. People will behave ethically if they live inside a transparent cube.

  2. Yes, I'm sure under that scenario no one would ever look inside someone else's cube to see their neighbours naked.

    Ethics would no doubt abound.

  3. How much are the Nobel Committee members making?

  4. I think if everyone knew what everyone else was doing behind closed doors, the standard of what is viewed as acceptible behavior might be loosened.

    Its an interesting social experiment no doubt. People put their lives out to the world on facebook. they publish their schedules, lists of friends, histories of relationships, photos, video etc. Now the information about what assets they own is public.

    I predict that tax cheaters will fall dramatically under this program. People behave in a more responsible manner when they thing there is a chance their neighbors could be watching them.

  5. "People put their lives out to the world on facebook. they publish their schedules, lists of friends, histories of relationships, photos, video etc. Now the information about what assets they own is public. "

    You can't be serious. Those are all by individual choice.

    "I predict that tax cheaters will fall dramatically under this program."

    Why? Don't they audit tax returns in Norway?

    The whole idea is needlessly invasive. I'd go so far as to call it retarded, were that term acceptable.

  6. I predict that tax cheaters will fall dramatically under this program

    I predict that tax revenues will fall dramatically under this program, as large numbers of people making large amounts of money leave Norway.

    It's one thing to charge wealthy people large amounts in taxes for the public good. It's quite another to charge wealthy people large amounts of taxes for the public good and then also publish their personal financial information on a government website.

  7. A lot of us have lived this reality for years – particularly anyone who is at a Business school. At Ivey all the full-time faculty members make 100K+ and as such Ontario's sunshine law requires their salaries be made available to the public.

    Fortunately(?) as a part-timer I make less than 100K/yr in that job, so I'm pretty much the only guy that doesn't have to show his cards.

  8. I disagree, you cannot force people to behave ethically. This will just cause people to exploit the system in different ways. And the damage it does to the personal and private lives of its citizens is immeasurable.

  9. You knew the rules before you started playing the game. No one is making you work for an Ontario university – go work in any other province if you don't want people looking at your tax returns. Ontario's rules are no different than publishing salary information of executives at publicly traded companies.

    This is a crazy idea. It's like someone in HR emailing out the salary list for the entire country.

  10. This is something that was once meant to be temporary (income taxes) and not only has it never gone away, it has been twisted to be used as a reason for all sorts of other invasive measures. Brave new world.

  11. Sounds like a great reason to not file taxes at all.

  12. I'm actually uncomfortable with those Sunshine laws myself, particularly the fact that it's not tied to inflation, so every year more and more people are on that list just because (pretty much) every year $100,000 is less than it used to be (and yet people complain that every year more and more people are on the list!). So, you can actually lose purchasing power (wrt inflation) but as long as your salary goes up you end up making the list eventually. However, at least in that case the people who's salaries are being paid are, ostensibly, "public servants" (and again, I question having every University staff member or Hospital staff member being lobbed in with MPPs and City Counselors in this way, but having been established, it'll never get taken down now…).

    Of course, I work for a University too, so some day I may very well be on one of those lists (hopefully!) so I do have an admitted bias (and again, to harp on the inflation thing, by the time I make that list I'll be living in a little $500,000 condo paying $3500 a month in mortgage/condo fee payments, and the average elementary school teacher will be making $90,000 – so that $100,000 salary won't be so impressive!). Even with my own discomfort with that Sunshine statute though, I do recognize that it is almost ENTIRELY different from publishing everyone's tax returns!

  13. Well, a tax return is a lot more than just the income from a full-time position, so I don't think it is quite the same.

  14. One consequence will be a period of tension in all workplaces. In a typical workplace, employees earn different amounts and the financial terms between employees and employers are kept private. Nobody really knows what other employees earn except through private, trusted conversations.

  15. I don't mind paying income taxes, but I guess that's another debate.

    This does beg the question of how far this sort of nonsense could be taken (it still sounds like some sort of off-season April Fool's bit). Medical records, or at least paid medicare expenses? School transcripts?

  16. Are we sure income taxes were originally introduced as a temporary measure in Norway?

  17. Sounds like a good reason to get the hell out of Norway. Or stage a bloodless coup.

  18. Don't be so certain he "knew the rules before [he] started playing the game", it's entirely possible he's been working at Ivey since long before this law was passed. Certainly many, many people were!

    You're certainly correct that no one's forcing him to work for an Ontario University though. If the best and brightest choose to leave Ontario and go work somewhere where their salary won't be published in the local paper every year they certainly have that option.

    I'm not sure we should encourage them to do so though!

  19. True.

    Keep in mind as well (and this doesn't make up the difference between a tax return and what is published in the Sunshine list, but it should be kept in mind) that the "income" published in the Sunshine list isn't just salary. It's health benefits, pension benefits, any allowances, professional development funds etc.. etc…

    Again, not that that's wrong, or makes the list comparable to the Norway example, but it is useful to keep in mind that almost no one on that list is making what's listed as salary.

  20. I started after the rules came out (1998?). It's a moot point for me anyway since unless I get a gigantic raise, I'm not going to cross the 100K threshold.

    Of course, I guess it does apply to me in the sense that everyone knows that I don't make 100K. But given I'm only a part-timer, I think anyone who knows me would assume I'm well under that anyway.

  21. No, I don't know about Norway, and I don't care to investigate. My understanding is, it was introduced by many countries (I stand to be corrected), the justification that it was a war measure to fight the first world war.

  22. In a typical workplace, employees earn different amounts and the financial terms between employees and employers are kept private

    Not in a unionized workplace. Just look up the employee classification in the union contract and you know what he's being paid, except for overtime of course, but it's not hard to estimate the number of OT hours a guy works.

  23. Norwegians Would (apologies to Lennon)

    I once knew a line, none would dare cross
    To infringe privacy
    Who, would dare to expose, all that they could?
    Norwegians would.

    Long northern nights, by the glow of a computer screen
    Making sure all our neighbours have filed and have fully come clean

    Newspaper arrives, each weekday morn
    From a boy up the street.
    No tips claimed on his return, report him I could
    And Norwegians would.

    My pay was quite high among peers, the boss told me, for sure
    But Bjorn in accounting is useless, yet makes thousands more

    It seemed, like a good plan, keeping it fair
    For all to see
    Now, there's no turning back, though if you asked,
    Norwegians would.

  24. Also sounds like a great reason to stop reporting income. Like kids who don't want their parents to know they are working during the school year. Or employees who don't want their bosses to know that they work a second job, which is restricted in some industries.

  25. Sweden imposed an income tax in 1809, and Norway became part of Sweden in 1814, so I presume they've had an income tax since 1814….

  26. Well, your larger point stands wrt invasiveness nonetheless, I was just curious.

  27. I'm not sure we should encourage them to do so though!

    Exactly. Its why I won't apply for jobs in the public sector. I know a few other people that have passed opportunities for this reason as well. Why should my neighbors be allowed to know my income, but not the reverse?

    And no, I'd never move to Norway either!

  28. I have a photocopy of The Globe newspaper of July 26, 1917, where "Income Tax is introduced by Sir Thomas White." Back in the day, it was THE headline (they seem to have three, right below the masthead and spread out across all columns of the paper, with the most important stories of that edition). The other two headlines were "Irish Convention opens in Dublin and selects Sir Horace Plunkett as its Chairman" and "Russians and Romanians make successful attack in Carpathians."

    Incidentally, 4% on income over $2,000 for unmarried men, over $3,000 for men with families. Patriotic contributions to be exempted (I don't know what that means). Oh yeah, it passed with some discussion; seems nobody was against the concept, but some wanted higher incomes to pay more.

  29. Of course you realize your entire argument goes away once you realize minimum wage isn't tied to inflation, either, right?

  30. Yeah, but LKO that is all still remuneration from your job. It doesn't include the six rental units you have, the dividends from all your stocks, the interest you earn, or the killing you've been making selling popsicle stick figures on Ebay.

    This Norway thing would include all of that, as well as the deductions for donations to religious organizations and political parties, the number of children you are claiming you have, your cosmetic surgery, etc.

  31. Or you work in the payroll department :) Yes, your payroll employees deserve to be treated nicely.

  32. Good one! That last stanza was inspired! The whole thing, really.

  33. Well, yes and no. Minimum wage should also be tied to inflation.

    Just because X isn't as well implemented as it should be doesn't mean Y should have to continue with a similarly flawed formula to keep it the same as X. There's no sense in keeping something broken just so as to ensure that it matches something else that's broken.

  34. Yes, which is what I mean when I wrote "this doesn't make up the difference between a tax return and what is published in the Sunshine list".

  35. Quite agree. Just as long as we are fixing both, and not adding to the insult by fixing the higher earners and ignoring the lower earners. At least the other way around isn't another kick in the face, if you see what I mean.

  36. Ah. I am skimming posts and not reading as well as I should be. My apologies.

  37. Aw shucks. Thanks!

  38. I always wondered what the opposite extreme to libertarianism was. Now I know. Your paycheck is only on loan to you and all loans from the gov't should be publicly disclosed.

  39. What would the equivalent minimum income be in today's dollars?