Future of Work

Finland publishes everyone's taxes on 'National Jealousy Day'

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Only 12 women were among those with the top 100 highest incomes. Image: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Ever been curious about a colleague’s earnings? Every year on November 1st, people in Finland get the chance to find out when the government publishes the taxable income of all its citizens.

Dubbed ‘National Jealousy Day’ by the New York Times, it’s become something of an event. Journalists queue outside the tax office waiting to trawl through thousands of pages of Finland taxes data that’s published at 8am.

This year’s top earners were mostly from digital companies - employees of the mobile game company Supercell made up half of the top 10.

Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen was Finland’s highest paid person in 2017, with €65.2 million ($74.4 million) in combined salaries and capital gains, while another Supercell executive was in second place.

The founder and CEO of fast money transaction startup Bittisiirto, Alexander Hanhikoski, was the third highest paid, according to Finnish broadcaster YLE.

Only 12 women were among those with the top 100 highest incomes. The highest-earning businesswoman, Ulla Riitta Sjöström, came in at 28th, with earnings of €9 million.

How-tax-in-Finland-compares-to-other-countries
Finland taxes compared to other countries Image: OECD Data

Tax revenues were up 3.5% in 2017, with the central government taking €46.8 billion. Taxpayers earned taxable income worth €140 billion.

Workers in Finland pay one of the highest rates of tax in the world - in 2016, tax on personal income was 13% of GDP, compared to 1.8% in Chile, according to data released by the OECD.

But most Finns (79%) are happy to pay their taxes, according to a survey carried out by the country’s Tax Administration last year, with 96% agreeing it’s important to collect tax to maintain the welfare state.

Finnish-tax-residents-are-happy-to-pay
Image: Vero

So why make everyone’s tax bills - and earnings - public? It’s all to do with the government’s transparency laws. The idea is to help Finland avoid a growing gap between rich and poor, by forcing employers to balance pay.

“We’re looking at the gap between normal people and those rich, rich people - is it getting too wide?” Tuomo Pietilainen, an investigative reporter at daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat told the New York Times.

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

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But greater transparency doesn’t necessarily make people happier. Salaries were made searchable online at the University of California in 2008 - and a subsequent study found those lower-paid earners were less happy in their job after they knew what colleagues were earning.

One of the study’s authors, Alexandre Mas, said: “More information may not be something which improves overall wellbeing.”

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