It had to happen somewhere, and it did. It was in Finland, the country that the French President said recently, in a reference to British food, "After Finland, it is the country with the worst food." But although Mr. Chirac puts Finland in last place on the cuisine plate, it may be leading the way when it comes to telling people what they are worth.
Every November, usually around the first Wednesday of the month, the Finns have a virtual field day because then they can find out exactly what their co-worker makes, what the neighbor earned, or even how much of a business partner's money is being hidden away in a separate bank account.
You see, every November, the tax records of the previous year become a matter of public record. You got that right. Public. So, can you imagine what happens? Veroporssi, which is a private firm that offers income details on everyone in the country via a special mobile text message, claims that it has just enjoyed the busiest day of the year. And newspapers and magazines are chockfull of all sorts of lists, especially about those Finns who made the most money last year.
In fact, the newspaper Iltalehti ran a 24-page supplement with all sorts of details on which celebrity earned how much money. Danile Frykholm who writes for Reuters in Helsinki says that two specific sports stars, Racing's Kimi Raikkonen and a footballer Sam Hyypia, were designated as zero-income millionaires because they escaped high Finnish taxes by living abroad.
Reijo Ruokanen is the managing editor of the paper in Helsinki, and he says that Finns have always been vitally interested in taxation and who pays what. "It's considered quite vulgar to talk about income and impolite to ask anyone what they earn." But, in this way, with the release of tax records to eh public, everyone has the opportunity of seeing who's on first.
Ruokanen explained that the country is noted for everybody kind of keeping his or her head down and not sticking it out. "Actually, that's kind of a tradition so the tax and income list is a chance to brag a bit, he says.
Of course, it's quite clear that most people don't like to be on any such list. They would consider it bragging, but how many people wouldn't mind everyone knowing that they were wealthy?
Of course, then comes the $64 million question. Who's the richest person in Finland? Actually, it's a chap named Aatos Erkko, the principal owner of media giant SanomaWSOY. Apparently, he has a personal fortune of $231 million. And who earns the most as an employee? That would be Olli Riikala, an executive of G.E. who made only $6.3 million.
So, I ask you, how do you think such a thing would fly in the U.S.? Would you like to know what the person in the next cubicle makes? Or would that be too aggravating?
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