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Archive for Friday, October 23, 2009

Norway releases tax list showing everyone’s income

October 23, 2009

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— 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.

It’s Norwegians’ way of keeping up with the Johansens — from fishermen on the western fjords and Sami reindeer herders in the north to members of the committee that awarded President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize.

To non-Scandinavians, it would seem to be a gross violation of privacy.

The tax list stirs up a media frenzy, with splashy headlines revealing oil-rich Norway’s wealthiest man, woman and celebrity couple.

The data shows that former cross-country skiing great Bjoern Daehlie, who has eight Olympic gold medals, also has plenty of cash — 29.3 million kroner ($5.4 million).

Actress and director Liv Ullmann, for instance, 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.

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.

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.

Members of the royal family are not on the list because they don’t pay taxes.

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