Transparency can strength democracy and reduce economic inequality. More important though is helping to establish trust of institutions.
Imagine if you could find out how much your boss, colleagues, and friends were making at the click of a mouse. If you lived in Norway you could. Its citizens have been able to go online and check out how much every single person in the country is earning since 2001.
Spying on what others were making was all the rage when the government put everyone’s salary and tax details online in 2001, according to Tom Staavi, a former economics editor at the national daily, VG.
“At one stage you would automatically be told what your Facebook friends had earned, simply by logging on to Facebook. It was getting ridiculous.” Staavi told the BBC. The BBC itself was in a spot of controversy this week after the government asked it to reveal what its top-earners were making. Of all the BBC talent who earn over £150,000 ($195,000), about two-thirds are men.
The purpose of all this transparency is to increase people’s trust in the tax and social-security system. Norwegians pay really high income tax—an average of 40% versus 30% elsewhere in the EU. Perhaps the country’s narrow gender pay gap—it’s third on the World Economic Forum’s ranking of 144 countries for wage equality—meant the government wasn’t too concerned about people knowing each others salaries.
It also allows for a sort of citizen tax-policing. “We like people to do searches which could help us in investigating tax evasion and the amount of tips that we get has not gone down,” Hans Christian Holte, the head of Norway’s tax authority said.
The anonymous snooping on other people’s finances got a bit out of hand, and in 2014 the government made it mandatory for people to use their national ID number to make salary searches. The number of searches suddenly dropped from 16.5 million in the year when people didn’t have to reveal their identities to about two million searches a year today.