Interesting Question

The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another....We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created the institutions that form a real community and society of men.

- Gustav Landauer, Schwache Stattsmanner, Schwacheres Volk!, June, 1910

Selected Correspondence:

30 July 2006

Transparency in the cold light of Finland

We all have emotional instincts which react against our perceptions of the world. The interaction of these reactions losely defines society. If we perceive differently we react differently. An important class of perceptions are those things we can measure. By measuring different things we can change perception. By changing perception we can change reactions. By changing reactions we can change society.

Society has grown beyond our ability to perceive it accurately. Our brains are not adapted to the environment in which we find outselves. We can't predict important aspects of our societal environment. It's not designed to run on our brains. We're maladapted. In our evolutionary history we spent a lot of time tracking the behavior and reputations of small number of people we saw frequently. If we want some of the social benefits that a small society brings then we need computational crutches so when A fucks over B any C considering dealing with A will know. A society that can "think" in this way is able to route goodness to people who do good and away from those people who generate hurt. The decision as to what is good is too complicated to be formulated in regulation and elections are a very coarse expression of what people think is good. Any paper formulation will put power in the hands of a political and technocratic elite. Robust routing decisions must be made my individuals and individuals need tools to manage complexity enough so they can make them effectively in a modern society. You might argue that this just removes power one step -- now it's in the hands of people who measure things. Right. But it is one step removed and if history is a guide that one step can make all the difference.

Apropos Finland:

Transparency in the cold light of Finland

Therese Catanzariti Crikey's Scandinavian correspondent

In Finland, all individual tax returns are public information which makes for some interesting number crunching from the local media, as our Scandinavian correspondent, Therese Catanzariti, writes:

Have you ever wondered what your colleagues are earning? Have you ever wondered what your peer group are earning? Your next door neigbour? Your cousin? A guy you went to school with?

Finland takes "nosy-ness" to new dizzying heights. Finland is the most transparent public sector in the world but for those who think everyone should follow their lead, think about this. Think about this very very carefully.

All individual tax returns are public. Public. Yes. Public. No ATO secrecy and caring about your privacy for the Finnish Vero.

What does this mean? Every year the main newspapers trawl through the Finnish tax office. They then prepare a list of the top 1000 income earners and the top 1000 capital income earners. Then they publish it.
The list shows name, job, town and year of birth. It shows income (including stock options) and wealth. And then, the piece de resistance, how much tax paid as a proportion of salary.

There is even a list of last year's rankings - who is shooting up the charts? Who has fallen on (relatively) hard times?

Who is on the list? Lots of Nokia, partly because "income" includes stock options. Apparently last year when the stock was doing well, Nokia employees did a pretty clean sweep of the top places. Then there's Jaako Salovaara, the only person under 30 in the top 20.
And the guys from Instrumentarium who just got bought out by GE and got options.

And this being high-tech Finland, you can use the search machine on the website to tailor the list and rank the results.

Who are your local millionaires? Insert a town in Finland in the box "Kunta".

Who are the young guns making a fortune? Scroll down the box "Ika"

Where are the women? Choose "naisen" from the box "Sukupuoli"

Or just cut to the chase - insert a name in the box "Nimi" and find out how your boss is doing.

In addition to the list, Finnish journalists highlight a few other interesting and anamalous tax returns. One box in the Finnish printed newspaper had a box of salaries of all the union bosses. Why does the head of the teacher's union earn over 200,000 euros a year? How can he empathise with his comrades struggling with low pay?

And this being transparent Finland, the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat did not hide that some of the wealthiest people on the capital list are involved with the Sanomat newspaper group.

But this is just what the mainstream newspapers do. There are also boutique publications that publish guides of everyone who earns over around 40,000 euros. They put a few stories in so they can argue it's news. But other than that, it's just one long list of everyone you know. And when there are only 5 million people in the country, and very very few foreigners, you know a lot of people. If you want your own copy, here's the link (alas, Finnish only) -

But hang on. We're in Finland, super-connected super wireless Finland. If you think newspapers and websites are yesterday, try SMS. You can send an SMS to the following number 16400 (yes, it works outside Finland +358 16400) with the text "vero first name last name". And lo, it will send you back the taxable income of that person in the last financial year.

So is this a good idea?

Well it works in Finland because of the Finns. Finland is not a country of keeping up with the Jones's. In fact, Finland is more a country of shame about obvious wealth - they want to appear as if they are behind the Jones's. One of the statistics the Finns are most proud of is the relatively small difference between the top 10% and the bottom 10% of the society.

Finnish taxes are high, and its tempting to avoid them. But people are shamed into paying tax. Do you really think it's a coincidence that Jorma Ollilla, Nokia CEO, knowing he will be published at the top of the list every year, pays the full whack of 60% tax? If you don't pay tax, not only will the tax office be after you. Everyone knows you haven't paid your fair share. Everyone knows. Your colleagues at work, your family, your neighbours, your kid's schoolteacher, the guy who serves you coffee in your favourite coffee shop. Try living with that.