That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is an excerpt:
I’m afraid, though, that universal tax transparency would boost U.S. economic inequality, take away second chances and devastate privacy.
Or think about the dating market. Tax transparency would give high-earning men and women a bigger advantage and hurt their lower-earning competitors. Do we really wish to do that in an age of growing income inequality and diminished upward mobility?
Is it better if your parents and all your friends can see how well your new job is going or how much in royalties your last book earned? As it stands, we exist in a slightly more comfortable social equilibrium where your close associates assume the best or at least give you the benefit of the doubt. Transparency of earnings would increase stress and make failure and disappointment all too publicly evident. Or entrepreneurs with long-term projects which are going to make it — but not right away — might face too many social or family pressures to quit.
Snooping through the tax system would definitely happen. Evidence from Norway indicates that in 2007, 40 percent of Norwegian adults checked somebody’s tax information online, higher than the penetration of Facebook in Norway. Anonymity of the snooper was removed in 2014, and visits fell dramatically (88 percent by one measure), but still you can imagine paying others to snoop for you or the information eventually getting out over time.
The result of tax-record publication was that “this game of income comparisons negatively affected the well-being of poorer Norwegians while at the same time boosting the self-esteem of the rich,” according to Ricardo Perez-Truglia, a UCLA economics professor writing last week in VoxEU. There’s even a smartphone app that creates income leaderboards from the data on your Facebook friends.
Just as personal freedom and economic freedom are not so easily separable, the same is true for personal privacy and financial privacy. Are there actually people out there worried about Facebook privacy violations who wish to make all tax returns public and on-line?