Open Norwegian tax records, good or bad?

Every fall Norway’s tax authorities (Skatteetaten) releases official records showing the annual income and overall wealth of every taxpayer in Norway.

Actual tax returns aren’t released, but the bottom is published at Skatteetaten.no and the information is also given to the media under a law aimed at promoting transparency. The tax law emphasizes that “first and foremost, it’s the press that can contribute to a critical debate” on wealth and the elaborate tax scheme that, along with the country’s oil wealth, keeps Norway’s extensive — and expensive — welfare system afloat, the Associated Press reports.

Media outlets use the tax records to produce their own searchable online databases. You can simply type a name, hit search and get information on what your neighbor made last year, what was paid in taxes and total wealth.

However, many Norwegians claim that the information in the list is not accurate.

The list this year, for example, shows that actress and director Liv Ullmann earned $17,300 in Norway, and has a wealth of $2.5 million. Income earned or kept abroad, or otherwise in some sort of tax shelter, is not included, the AP says. Former cross-country skiing great Bjørn Dæhlie, who has eight Olympic gold medals, is worth $5.4 million. Pioneering women’s long-distance runner Grete Waitz, a nine-time New York City Marathon champion, earned $13,500 in Norway, and has a wealth of $90,000.

Defenders of the system say it enhances transparency, deemed essential for an open democracy.

The mass distribution of tax information over the Internet has raised concerns. It has led to new security measures to prevent identity theft and raised new debates on ethics. Critics say the list is actually a threat to society and releasing it leads to teasing, embarrassment for lower wage-earners.

“What each Norwegian earns and what you have in wealth is a private matter between the taxpayer and the government,” said Jon Stordrange (photo), director of the Norwegian Taxpayer’s Association (Skattebetalerforeningen).

Source: Usatoday.com Associated Press

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