In this era of offshore accounts and banking secrecy, you can’t turn sideways without hearing someone call for more transparency. I get it – I believe that transparency is generally a good thing, especially in government. But how much is too much?

The Norwegians have made news for their “skatteliste,” or “tax list” which includes personal income and tax burden for all of its taxpayers as well as where the taxpayers ranks on a list of national averages. The list has been public since 1863 (!) and was taken online in 2008 (it was actually available online since 2002 but was restricted in a controversial move).

Despite the potential for unhappy comparisons, a majority of Norwegians actually favor the system. Their desire for transparency is shared by those in neighboring Sweden, though with a bit less detail.

In the US, the government is prohibited from sharing tax information by law. But perhaps a little access to information would be a good thing. We already tend to know our presidential candidate’s tax info – they release those as a courtesy. But would we make better choices about what to report on our returns if we knew that they would be subject to publicly scrutiny? Would bank and corporate CEOs be as quick to swallow bonuses if everyone knew just how much they were taking? Would we feel more comfortable with our choices for mayor and other elected offices if we knew their financial and tax positions?

With that in mind, here’s Today’s Fix the Tax Code Friday question:

Would publicly sharing income and tax burdens in the US be a good thing? Why or why not?

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.


  1. It probably would be a “good” thing, for, among others, the reasons you cited. BUT it ain’t never gonna happen. In the US the “tradition” is that your income is nobody’s business but your own. Of course, for various reasons a lot of people’s salaries are public knowledge. In my state (AR) the salaries of everyone on the state’s payroll are public information. Since i teach at a State university, that includes mine. So anyone who knows my name can look up what the State of Arkansas pays me — but they won’t find out how much I might make consulting, etc. from other sources. I don’t particularly care, but a Norwegian style openness would never fly in the US.

  2. It would be tempting to at least require disclosure of tax information by candidates for any office who would have the authority to levy or vote on a tax (ie, you’re a member of Congress, state legislature, city council, or school board).

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