‘Tis the season for scary movies — and, I suppose, scary concepts. We hear a lot about transparency here in the United States, and it certainly appeals to many voters in as much as we want to know what the government is doing. But Norway has taken the concept to an eerie new level, and it’s under that guise that they now reveal incomes of almost every taxpayer. Yeah, that’s right. You know that neighbor who always comes over and talks to you while you’re trying to do yard work? Well, he has a new topic: Your income.
Many media outlets use the tax records to produce their own searchable online databases. In the database of national broadcaster NRK, you can type a subject’s name, hit search and within moments get information on what that person made last year, what was paid in taxes and total wealth. It also compares those figures with Norway’s national averages for men and women, and that person’s city of residence.
Defenders of the system say it enhances transparency, deemed essential for an open democracy.
"Isn’t this how a social democracy ought to work, with openness, transparency and social equality as ideals?" columnist Jan Omdahl wrote in the tabloid Dagbladet. He acknowledged, however, that many treat the list like "tax porno" — furtively checking the income of neighbors or co-workers.
Critics say the list is actually a threat to society.
"What each Norwegian earns and what you have in wealth is a private matter between the taxpayer and the government," said Jon Stordrange, director of the Norwegian Taxpayer’s Association.
Besides providing criminals with a useful tool to find prime targets, he said the list generates playground taunts of my-dad-is-richer-than-your-dad.
"The children of people with low wages are being teased about it in the schools," Stordrange said Thursday. "People with low salaries are being met with comments at the grocery store, ‘How can you live on these low wages?’"