November 1 is “National Jealousy Day – in Finland!
It is the day in Finland when everyone and anyone can find out what you earned!
In most places, including the good old USA, money and what you take in each year is an intensely personal thing. It is especially so in a country where what you rake in and what you’re are worth is wrapped up around your self-image.
Few people are open with friends or even their own families about their paychecks.
In Finland however, what you earned is revealed for all to see each November 1.
While this orgy of financial voyeurism might raise eyebrows abroad, it is an important national event in Helsinki. Finnish journalists pour through the data of the highest paid Finns and celebrities to see what each earned – and whether or not they paid their fair share of taxes.
The country’s most famous porn star for example, Anssi Viskari, earned 23,826 Euros from her porn clips. Among the top earners this year, and indeed for several years now, are the founders of Supercell, a Finnish game developer; Ilka Paananen and Mikko Kodisoja earned the equivalent of about $74 million and $65 million, respectively.
For some of those who paid the most in taxes, there is a palpable sense of pride. In 2014, Paananen said, “We’ve received so much help from (Finnish) society, it’s our turn to pay it back.”
Of course, there are ways for some of the richest to minimize their taxes and the Finnish data dows not capture everything, For example, its not broken down into individual income items and doesn’t include most non-taxable income, but it is a good snapshot of income in the country of 5.5 million people.
Being able to find out people’s pay can serve a broader purpose. For advocates of transparency, Finland’s openness is a good thing, allowing open and clear debate about earnings and helping screen out discrimination as well as denting the reputations of those seen not to be paying their fair share.
Finland has one of the lowest income inequality levels among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. However, Finland still has a gender pay gap issue, with the average woman earning 16.5 percent less than the average man (the equivalent figure is 18.5 percent in the U.S).
Openness about how much tax people pay is not just a Finnish phenomenon. Sweden and Norway also publish citizens’ tax returns. In Sweden, you only have to pick up the phone to ask about someone else’s financial details, although the person you are snooping on will be informed.
The policy could be seen as part of a broader push toward trust and transparency in these Nordic societies. Trust (both in other people and in the system) is one of the reasons these countries are consistently ranked best in the world to live.
However, the benefits of this transparency are not clear-cut and there is a lack of data around its impact on equality. “Whether the publishing of tax lists has a positive or negative impact on the society is a controversial question,” says Kristiina Äimä, who specializes in tax law at the University of Helsinki. “Some people think that transparency promotes democracy in the society and some think that it violates the protection of privacy.”
Some critics point to the “jealousy” element of the disclosures and argue that knowing what others earn is more likely to tie happiness to income. A University of California study from 2011 found that, overall, there was a negative outcome from employees knowing co-workers’ salaries. Those earning less than the median pay reported lower job satisfaction and were more likely to want to find another role, while those earning above the median reported no effects. But there is other research that points to positive effects. A 2016 Cornell study, for example, found knowing what co-workers make can increase performance.
“It seems next to impossible to imagine this kind of transparency in the U.S., where a long debate still rages over whether President Donald Trump should make his tax returns public. He has consistently refused to release his returns despite a long precedent for presidents to do so.
Many public sector salaries are public. And there is movement in the corporate sector, with some U.S. companies adopting pay transparency policies. These companies remain very much in the minority. A 2010 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 25 percent of private companies in the U.S. prohibited staff from talking about salaries.”
There does seen however to be an increasing movement for more transparency at least at the corporate level. Thousands of Google staff across international offices staged a mass walkout last Thursday. Among their demands: an end to pay inequality. “accompanied by transparent data on the gender, race and ethnicity compensation gap, across both level and years of industry experience, accessible to all.”
So folks, what do you think?
Want everyone to know what you are raking in if you could know what anyone else is making? Want to know what they paid that whiz kid the company just hired or how much less you are being paid for doing the same work? Want to know what the Koch brothers made and what they paid in taxes? Or George Soros if you’re so inclined?
Or President Trump?