Monday, July 18, 2016

Knowing what your neighbor pays in taxes: good for your soul & no more Scrooge McTrumps

Sweden has an interesting set of transparency rules around taxes and income: every citizen can check what a neighbor, the boss, or a friend earned and what he or she paid in taxes. The only exception: the king's finances.

If you think this is an intrusion into your private life, there is a good chance that you are making more money than the median income - or that you think you do.

At least that's the result of the blogster's informal, non representative, poll of Germans on the subject. This is supported by the fact that German news mentions on the subject tend to use very strong dismissive language when the mentions appear in publications that cater to above average earners. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the 'centrist' or center right keystone publication out of Germany's big banking city, calls looking up a fellow citizens income voyeurism.

Other publications, like this example in Zeitonline from 2008, are more balanced.

Americans tend to talk more about money than Germans - too much so at times - and the German reluctance might contribute to the sad state of affairs of many lower income earners in the country.

Given that people do go hungry in Germany in 2016 and that the country's social security retirement system has been "reformed" into a pretty sad state, Germans would really benefit from a system like Sweden.

Instead, the main news outlets provide a steady diet of articles by you, wealthy, neo-liberal upstarts who accuse the older generation of living high on the hog to the detriment of young people. Every now and then, someone with hard numbers contradicts the myth, but not a single one of the major parties, including the Green party, get their act together to tackle the egregious differences between workers who contribute to social security all their life and government employees who don't pay a penny but get a base retirement pension twice as high as the average worker.

The best argument, though, for transparency are the likes of Donal Trump: if their tax returns were public as a matter of course, people might be spared hours of bragging.


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