en-fr  Happy ‘National Jealousy Day’! Finland Bares Its Citizens’ Taxes Medium
Bonne « Journée nationale de la jalousie » ! La Finlande montre les impôts des citoyens.

Par Ellen Barry, The New York Times, 1er novembre 2018.

HELSINKI, Finlande - Peu de temps après 6 heures, jeudi matin, des personnes ont commencé à faire la queue devant le bureau central de l'administration fiscale finlandaise. Il faisait froid et sombre, mais ils revendiquaient leur place, désireux d’être le premier à puiser dans une mine de données.

Pampelune peut se vanter de la course des taureaux, Rio de Janeiro a un carnaval, mais Helsinki est seule à observer la « Journée nationale de la jalousie », lorsque le revenu imposable de chaque citoyen finlandais est rendu public à 8 heures précises.

Le vidage annuel de données du 1er novembre est le point de départ d’un jeu national qui consiste à savoir qui est en forme et qui est en panne. Quel entrepreneur technologique ébouriffé a vendu son entreprise ? Quelle célébrité Instagram est en fait fauchée ? Quel dirigeant à la retraite tente de se tirer de ses obligations fiscales ?

Esa Saarinen, professeur de philosophie à l'Université Aalto d'Helsinki, a qualifié cette pratique comme « un commérage assez positive ». La Finlande a la particularité, même parmi les pays nordiques, de transformer sa divulgation de données fiscales personnelles - pour se conformer aux lois de transparence du gouvernement - en un rituel public de comparaison. Bien que certains se plaignent de ce que la tradition est une atteinte à la vie privée, la plupart disent que cela a aidé le pays à résister à la tendance à l'inégalité croissante qui s'est installée dans le reste de l'Europe.

« Nous sommes en train de regarder l'écart entre les gens normaux et ces riches, est-ce qu'il devient trop large ? », a déclaré Tuomo Pietilainen, journaliste d'investigation à Helsingin Sanomat, le plus grand quotidien du pays.

« Lorsque nous publions les chiffres, les personnes aux salaires les plus bas commencent à se demander : Pourquoi mes collègues gagnent plus ? », a-t-il déclaré. « Notre travail a pour effet que les gens sont mieux payés. » Les employeurs, a-t-il déclaré, « doivent se comporter mieux que dans des conditions sans transparence ». Une grande partie des reportages de jeudi concernait les revenus de célébrités mineures, et un journaliste a gémi à l'idée de profiler un autre gagnant du concours de beauté, notant que « généralement, ils sont fauchés à mort ». La star du porno la plus connue du pays, Anssi « M. Lothar » Viskari, aurait gagné 23 826 euros (environ 27 000 dollars), dont 7 177 gains en capital.

Roman Schatz, un auteur né en Allemagne de 58 ans, a roulé des yeux un peu, lors de la célébration annuelle de la Finlande de sa propre honnêteté.

« C’est un exercice psychologique », a-t-il déclaré. « Cela crée une illusion de transparence et nous nous sentons tous bien dans notre peau : « Les Américains ne pourraient jamais le faire. Les Allemands ne pourraient jamais le faire. Nous sommes des gars honnêtes, bons gars ». C’est une sorte de purgatoire luthérien. » M. Schatz a mis en garde contre le fait de prendre à sa valeur nominale toutes les données financières publiées, notant que des revenus non imposables, tels que des subventions ou des déductions commerciales, pourraient ne pas apparaître.

« Cela me fait sourire à chaque fois, parce que c'est mon revenu imposable, et les gens disent : « Roman Schatz gagne moins qu'un enseignant, » » a-t-il dit.

Aux États-Unis, les économistes ont montré un grand intérêt pour la divulgation des salaires ces dernières années, en partie comme moyen de réduire les disparités salariales entre les sexes ou les races.

Plusieurs ont conclu que la transparence peut ou non réduire les inégalités, mais tend à rendre les gens moins satisfaits. Une étude menée en 2008 par des membres du corps professoral de l'Université de Californie, où la rémunération est accessible en ligne, a révélé que les travailleurs aux revenus les plus bas, après avoir appris comment leur salaire était accumulé, étaient moins heureux et plus susceptibles d'en rechercher un nouveau.

Une étude norvégienne, qui rendait ses données fiscales facilement accessibles aux recherches anonymes en ligne en 2001, aboutissait à la même conclusion : lorsque les gens pouvaient facilement connaître les revenus de leurs collègues et voisins, le bonheur déclaré par eux-mêmes commençait à se rapprocher davantage avec de faibles revenus déclarant un bonheur moindre. En 2014, la Norvège a interdit les recherches anonymes et le nombre de recherches a considérablement diminué.

« Plus d'informations pourraient ne pas améliorer le bien-être général », a déclaré Alexandre Mas, l'un des auteurs du rapport de l'Université de Californie

La richesse flamboyante a longtemps été découragée en Finlande ; une ligne de poésie capturant cette idée —– « si vous êtes chanceux, cachez-la » — est si chère qu'elle a été mise en musique.

The government has made individual tax data accessible to the public since the 19th century, though until recently citizens had to pore through bulky ledgers for what they wanted.

Nowadays, Helsinki tabloids often assign up to half their editorial staff to cover the release of the data, and competition for computer terminals in the tax administration building is so intense that there was once a scuffle, which everyone agreed was totally un-Finnish.

(The second-biggest news deployment of the year is for Finnish Independence Day, on December 6, when news organizations devote vast resources to reporting which A-listers have been invited to the presidential reception, and what they have decided to wear.)

Many journalists have little love for the task. “I don’t see the point of calling up semi-ordinary people and asking they why they made so much money,” one grumbled — but others, like Mr. Pietilainen, clearly relish it.

“One hundred and thirty thousand lines of Excel to process — how do you feel about that?” he said, with obvious appetite, as his colleagues stared at him.

One of the great sports of National Jealousy Day is to publicly shame tax dodgers.

In 2015, Mr. Pietilainen found that executives from several of Finland’s largest firms had relocated to Portugal so that they could receive their pensions tax free. His reporting caused such a stir that the Finnish Parliament terminated its tax agreement with Portugal, negotiating a new one that closed the loophole.

What may sting more in Finland, said Mr. Saarinen, the philosophy professor, is disapproval.

“These particular executives have destroyed their reputation,” he said. “I would be surprised if they didn’t care. Finland is a small society. There is a sense that as long as you’re a Finn, you’re always a Finn. They will show up at Christmas at Helsinki airport, they will be recognized, and they will feel it in people’s eyes: the disrespect.” Newspapers also anointed capitalist heroes on Thursday.

Especially adored are the young owners of the gaming company Supercell, who declared a total of 181 million euros in taxable income this year, and were five of the 10 top-earning citizens. Supercell’s 40-year-old chief executive, Ilkka Paananen, went out of his way in 2016 to express his happiness at breaking Finland’s record for capital gains taxes, telling Helsingin Sanomat that “it is our turn to give something back.” This, said Onni Tertsunen, a graduate student at a downtown Helsinki cafe, is the kind of rich person Finns like. “He’s really humble,” he said. “That’s the thing in Finland, to be humble. If you show it around, no one likes you.” There are, of course, manifold other uses for income tax data. Tuomas Rimpilainen, a crime reporter, said he sometimes looked up the salaries of his professional competitors before asking his boss for a raise. (It worked).

“I’ve looked up my relatives,” said a colleague, Markku Uhari.

“And my bosses,” Mr. Rimpilainen said.

“No one likes to admit they do it,” said another reporter, Lassi Lapintie. “But everyone has done it.” For all the attention from the news media, strictly speaking, the release of the tax data is not really big news.

“No one really conceals their income,” Mr. Saarinen said.

“No one thinks it is conceivable that anyone would have the nerve to live in Finland and, outrageously, to avoid paying taxes,” he said. “People play by the rules, and they expect that to be the case. It’s the default.” He interrupted the interview, as several Finns did, to express bafflement over President Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

“For Finns, that is unthinkable,” he said. “I don’t know if we have a law saying that a person seeking the office of the president of Finland should explain how they made their money. The society just expects that to happen. If it did not happen, the society would punish that candidate.” Johanna Lemola contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 1, 2018, on Page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: In Finland, Every Citizen’s Taxable Income Is Revealed.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/01/world/europe/finland-national-jealousy-day.html
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Happy ‘National Jealousy Day’!
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Finland Bares Its Citizens’ Taxes.
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By Ellen Barry, The New York Times, November 1, 2018.
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Which tousled tech entrepreneur has sold his company?
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Which Instagram celebrity is, in fact, broke?
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Which retired executive is weaseling out of his tax liabilities?
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“It’s a psychological exercise,” he said.
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The Germans could never do it.
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In 2014, Norway banned anonymous searches, and the number of searches dropped dramatically.
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Happy ‘National Jealousy Day’! Finland Bares Its Citizens’ Taxes.

By Ellen Barry, The New York Times, November 1, 2018.

HELSINKI, Finland — Shortly after 6 a.m. on Thursday, people began lining up outside the central office of the Finnish tax administration. It was chilly and dark, but they claimed their places, eager to be the first to tap into a mother lode of data.

Pamplona can boast of the running of the bulls, Rio de Janeiro has Carnival, but Helsinki is alone in observing “National Jealousy Day,” when every Finnish citizen’s taxable income is made public at 8 a.m. sharp.

The annual Nov. 1 data dump is the starting gun for a countrywide game of who’s up and who’s down. Which tousled tech entrepreneur has sold his company? Which Instagram celebrity is, in fact, broke? Which retired executive is weaseling out of his tax liabilities?

Esa Saarinen, a professor of philosophy at Aalto University in Helsinki, described it as “a fairly positive form of gossip.”

Finland is unusual, even among the Nordic states, in turning its release of personal tax data — to comply with government transparency laws — into a public ritual of comparison. Though some complain that the tradition is an invasion of privacy, most say it has helped the country resist the trend toward growing inequality that has crept across of the rest of Europe.

“We’re looking at the gap between normal people and those rich, rich people — is it getting too wide?” said Tuomo Pietilainen, an investigative reporter at Helsingin Sanomat, the country’s largest daily newspaper.

“When we do publish the figures, the people who have lower salary start to think, ‘Why do my colleagues make more?”’ he said. “Our work has the effect that people are paid more.”

Employers, he said, “have to behave better than in conditions where there is no transparency.”

A large dosage of Thursday’s reporting concerned the income of minor celebrities, and one journalist moaned at the thought of profiling another beauty pageant winner, noting that, “usually, they are broke as hell.” The country’s best-known porn star, Anssi “Mr. Lothar” Viskari, was reported to have earned 23,826 euros (about $27,000), of which 7,177 was capital gains.

Roman Schatz, 58, a German-born author, rolled his eyes, a little, at Finland’s annual celebration of its own honesty.

“It’s a psychological exercise,” he said. “It creates an illusion of transparency so we all feel good about ourselves: ‘The Americans could never do it. The Germans could never do it. We are honest guys, good guys.’ It’s sort of a Lutheran purgatory.”

Mr. Schatz warned against taking all the financial figures released publicly at face value, noting that nontaxable income, like grants or business deductions, may not appear.

“It makes me smile every time, because it’s my taxable income, and people say, ‘Roman Schatz makes less than a schoolteacher,’” he said.

Economists in the United States have shown great interest in salary disclosure in recent years, in part as a way of reducing gender or racial disparities in pay.

Transparency may or may not reduce inequality, but does tend to make people less satisfied, several concluded. A study of faculty members at the University of California, where pay was made accessible online in 2008, found that lower-earning workers, after learning how their pay stacked up, were less happy in their job and more likely to look for a new one.

A study of Norway, which made its tax data easily accessible to anonymous online searches in 2001, reached a similar conclusion: When people could easily learn the incomes of co-workers and neighbors, self-reported happiness began to track more closely with income, with low earners reporting lower happiness. In 2014, Norway banned anonymous searches, and the number of searches dropped dramatically.

“More information may not be something which improves overall well-being,” said Alexandre Mas, one of the authors of the University of California report.

Flamboyant wealth has long been discouraged in Finland; a line of poetry capturing this idea — “if you’re lucky, hide it” — is so beloved that it has been set to music.

The government has made individual tax data accessible to the public since the 19th century, though until recently citizens had to pore through bulky ledgers for what they wanted.

Nowadays, Helsinki tabloids often assign up to half their editorial staff to cover the release of the data, and competition for computer terminals in the tax administration building is so intense that there was once a scuffle, which everyone agreed was totally un-Finnish.

(The second-biggest news deployment of the year is for Finnish Independence Day, on December 6, when news organizations devote vast resources to reporting which A-listers have been invited to the presidential reception, and what they have decided to wear.)

Many journalists have little love for the task. “I don’t see the point of calling up semi-ordinary people and asking they why they made so much money,” one grumbled — but others, like Mr. Pietilainen, clearly relish it.

“One hundred and thirty thousand lines of Excel to process — how do you feel about that?” he said, with obvious appetite, as his colleagues stared at him.

One of the great sports of National Jealousy Day is to publicly shame tax dodgers.

In 2015, Mr. Pietilainen found that executives from several of Finland’s largest firms had relocated to Portugal so that they could receive their pensions tax free. His reporting caused such a stir that the Finnish Parliament terminated its tax agreement with Portugal, negotiating a new one that closed the loophole.

What may sting more in Finland, said Mr. Saarinen, the philosophy professor, is disapproval.

“These particular executives have destroyed their reputation,” he said. “I would be surprised if they didn’t care. Finland is a small society. There is a sense that as long as you’re a Finn, you’re always a Finn. They will show up at Christmas at Helsinki airport, they will be recognized, and they will feel it in people’s eyes: the disrespect.”

Newspapers also anointed capitalist heroes on Thursday.

Especially adored are the young owners of the gaming company Supercell, who declared a total of 181 million euros in taxable income this year, and were five of the 10 top-earning citizens. Supercell’s 40-year-old chief executive, Ilkka Paananen, went out of his way in 2016 to express his happiness at breaking Finland’s record for capital gains taxes, telling Helsingin Sanomat that “it is our turn to give something back.”

This, said Onni Tertsunen, a graduate student at a downtown Helsinki cafe, is the kind of rich person Finns like. “He’s really humble,” he said. “That’s the thing in Finland, to be humble. If you show it around, no one likes you.”

There are, of course, manifold other uses for income tax data. Tuomas Rimpilainen, a crime reporter, said he sometimes looked up the salaries of his professional competitors before asking his boss for a raise. (It worked).

“I’ve looked up my relatives,” said a colleague, Markku Uhari.

“And my bosses,” Mr. Rimpilainen said.

“No one likes to admit they do it,” said another reporter, Lassi Lapintie. “But everyone has done it.”

For all the attention from the news media, strictly speaking, the release of the tax data is not really big news.

“No one really conceals their income,” Mr. Saarinen said.

“No one thinks it is conceivable that anyone would have the nerve to live in Finland and, outrageously, to avoid paying taxes,” he said. “People play by the rules, and they expect that to be the case. It’s the default.”

He interrupted the interview, as several Finns did, to express bafflement over President Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

“For Finns, that is unthinkable,” he said. “I don’t know if we have a law saying that a person seeking the office of the president of Finland should explain how they made their money. The society just expects that to happen. If it did not happen, the society would punish that candidate.”

Johanna Lemola contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 1, 2018, on Page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: In Finland, Every Citizen’s Taxable Income Is Revealed.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/01/world/europe/finland-national-jealousy-day.html