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Sunday
Oct252009

Outrageous transparency: publicizing tax data in Norway

What could be worse for a society that upholds equality than to publicize in a searchable database the salary of every citizen? The Norwegian tax authorities have published to the media the full list of 2008 tax statements. Norwegians can now query a database to see how their salaries compare to those of their neighbors and kids can search to see whose parents are the richest (and poorest).

The New York Times writes: "Defenders of the system say it enhances transparency, deemed essential for an open democracy." Yet "transparency" is a curious term to describe the practice of making public information on citizens with no political ambitions or overt role in the political process. I call that a gross violation of privacy. I suspect that full knowledge of salaries will lead to more unequal treatment; it's human nature to treat people better or worse once you know if they make much more or much less than you.

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