Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tax reports

The tax office has just released 2009 tax return information. You can go online and look up anyone you like and find out how much money they made last year. It's been described as Norway's favorite voyeurism event of the year. But trust me, it's not nearly as exciting as you'd think. Salaries are pretty flat across the land.

The newspapers have jumped on it immediately, analyzing the data for trends. The big news is that men make more than 3 times the amount of money as women -- not for the same jobs mind you, Norway is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world (#2 behind Iceland, I believe). Rather this statistic comes from the fact that most of the very wealthiest people in Norway are men, and the difference between the very wealthy and the rest of us is huge. Regardless, equality groups are bemoaning this fact, but I'm not really sure what can be done.

The good news is that Norway is very transparent like this, which makes it easy to find out what's happening with the money. Norway has a strong traditional of putting the money where their values are, and letting culture follow suit. A good example is requiring men to take paternity leave. Norway felt that it was best for families if men were involved with raising children (crazy idea, I know), and so 20 years ago the state began to pay for paternity leave. Men still wouldn't take the leave because it was seen as unmanly ("velvet daddies" they were called), and so the government made a one-month paternity leave manditory. Culture did indeed follow suit, and now men are more involved in families than nearly anywhere on the planet and families are stronger for it. (Interesting connection: in the U.S. some people are bemoaning health care reform. In a generation, people will be thinking "How can you NOT have health insurance!?" Culture follows policy.)

It will be interesting to see what else the data miners find in the tax returns. You can be certain public outcry will follow!

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