Saturday, 24 October 2009

Publishing tax returns, Norwegian style

An Saoi: Thanks to this article on the BBC’s website, I have wasted hours of my own and my employer’s time looking at the tax returns of the rich and famous of Norway. I was able to do this because the Norwegians publish the income returns of all. For example, a Mr. Tore Lie tops the list in 2008 with an income of 101,870,780 NOK or about €12M and he paid 34,164,782 NOK or say €4M in tax. Anyone with a bit of basic Norwegian can read all about him here.

For those with an interest in football, Steffen Iversen - formerly of Tottenham Hotspur and now with Rosenborg Trondheim - earned a mere 5.2M NOK about €600,000 and paid nearly half of it in tax.

Fascinating as the details are, does publishing the information do any good? Or is really just a way of satisfying idle curiosity? Personally I am in favour, but consider the whining farmers made about the publication of their social welfare payments from Dept of Agriculture! Perhaps Ms. Burton should propose it as an amendment in the forthcoming Finance Bill? Any views?

1 comment:

Nat O`Connor said...

There is a lot of useful data that could be mined from Revenue, without going as far as naming individuals.

Revenue and the CSO have recently signed a memo of understanding covering enhanced data cooperation, so hopefully we will see more analysis come out of that. However, they note that "all data received from Revenue are treated as strictly confidential and are used for statistical purposes only". This is (apparently) also EU statistical law, so the Norwegian example is unlikely to extend to its Scandanavian neighbours.

However, Revenue/CSO could do a lot with anonymous data to shed more light on a range of issues.

For example, they could clarify the figures on public versus private pay; or more importantly, on the different pay and proportion of tax paid by different occupations and by different levels/grades within occupations.

Revenue data could give much more detailed data on the uses made of tax expenditure (i.e. 'tax incentives' 'tax relief' etc).

A sophisticated analysis of multi-annual revenue data could show the rise and fall of incomes over a person's working life; for example, the steady rise of someone working their way up the ranks in the same employment, versus a low-to-high curve for some self-employed persons (possibly dipping to low again, after their best earning years have past); versus a steady decrease for some occupations that are less successful or have a different niche in our economy than twenty years ago (taxi-drivers? small famers?). This kind of multi-annual analysis would permit us to have a much more sophisticated discussion about tax levels, who pays more or less than their share, how successful tax expenditure is, etc.

When a Limerick woman won big on the Euromillions, dozens of Social Welfare staff were disciplined for illegally accessing her file. I have no doubt that naming individuals would generate curiousity-based headlines (at least for a few years) at the expense of a more nuanced discussion of what we want our tax system to do.