National Jealousy Day, Finland's "annual orgy of financial voyeurism"
November 7, 2018 12:47 PM   Subscribe

On November 1 of each year, dubbed National Jealousy Day*, Finland Bares Its Citizens’ Taxes. Esa Saarinen, a professor of philosophy at Aalto University in Helsinki, described it as “a fairly positive form of gossip.” (NYT) The annual orgy of financial voyeurism might raise eyebrows in other parts of the world, but it remains an important national event in Finland (Finnish news broadcaster Yle Uutiset). Finnish journalists trawl through the data to discover the highest-paid Finns, to uncover what celebrities are paid ... and to shame those who haven’t been paying their fair share of taxes (HuffPo).

* Though used by various English news outlets, the name may have been made by English-speaking media:
“National jealousy day” is a name given by foreign media to the day taxation of the previous year becomes public. In Finland, contrary to many other countries, official documents are public, if not specially declared secret. Anyone can get the information of anyone’s taxation with a little effort: by just going to the tax office and using it’s computer, or simply by going there and asking the information at the desk. I believe most Finns would question the mental health of a person pulling this kind of a stunt.
(Comment from a Finnish Quora commenter).

Huffington Post also notes that Finland isn't alone in this type of transparency, but more in how they share the information:
Openness about how much tax people pay is not just a Finnish phenomenon. Sweden and Norway also publish citizens’ tax returns. In Sweden, you only have to pick up the phone to ask about someone else’s financial details, although the person you are snooping on will be informed.

“National jealousy day” is a name given by foreign media to the day taxation of the previous year becomes public. In Finland, contrary to many other countries, official documents are public, if not specially declared secret. Anyone can get the information of anyone’s taxation with a little effort: by just going to the tax office and using it’s computer, or simply by going there and asking the information at the desk. I believe most Finns would question the mental health of a person pulling this kind of a stunt.
posted by filthy light thief (20 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
And this serves as a sideways question: the NYT article states that
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.
But I could find neither poem nor song that features the line "jos olet onnekas, piilota se" (from Google's auto-translation).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:49 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


Kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön - those who have good fortune, let them hide it (my rough non-native translation) - is from poet Eino Leino’s Laulu onnesta.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 1:02 PM on November 7 [20 favorites]


Thank you!

And what's your take on the sharing (or making available) of this data? Does it even have a name in Finland, or is it just November the 1st?
posted by filthy light thief at 1:09 PM on November 7


Would you believe this is the first I'm hearing of it (National Jealousy Day) - not even my bookkeeper ever mentioned it?
posted by infini at 1:32 PM on November 7 [3 favorites]


And what's your take on the sharing (or making available) of this data? Does it even have a name in Finland, or is it just November the 1st?
Hmm, I don’t think it has a special name. I just saw that the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat had launched Verokone (tax machine) and so I put various famous and semi-famous people in to see what It produced. I think it only has the top ~5% of earners’ data. I’m not exactly sure how I’d go about looking up any other person’s data; or if it’s even possible...

(This is a good time to point out that Finland’s basic income trial is coming to an end, and based on anecdata it seems to have had a big impact on some recipients - ”the greatest value is psychological”. Unfortunately as far as I know only the Greens and Left Alliance support continuing or broadening the trial, the Social Democrats and the rest aren’t keen...)

I also lived in Norway, and one year my colleagues and I looked each other up for fun. It was easy to do, and seemed perfectly normal.
posted by Talkie Toaster at 1:32 PM on November 7 [3 favorites]


You may be amused to learn, should you not already know, what is the literal meaning of the Finnish word for jealousy. It is mustasukkaisuus, which is composed of two words and an ending that makes it a noun. These two words are musta, meaning black, and sukka, meaning a sock. And yes, this word is what you should find as the first entry for jealous in an English-Finnish dictionary.

It literally means "black-sockedness." They could have dubbed this day the Black Sock Day. Way to drop the ball, foreign media. /s
posted by primal at 1:51 PM on November 7 [7 favorites]


I wish we had a similar system here in Canada for similar reasons as in the article. Initially I was for it solely for revealing the extent to which the better off avoid paying their taxes but greater wage transparency to make it easier for people to negotiate equivalent pay for equivalent work would have a tremendous effect by itself.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:53 PM on November 7 [7 favorites]


Primal, is "mustasukkaisuus" different from "kateus", and are they used interchangeably?
posted by GeckoDundee at 2:51 PM on November 7


I wish we had a similar system here in Canada for similar reasons as in the article. Initially I was for it solely for revealing the extent to which the better off avoid paying their taxes but greater wage transparency to make it easier for people to negotiate equivalent pay for equivalent work would have a tremendous effect by itself.

Parts of Canada do have this in a limited fashion. Public servants earning over 100K in Ontario have their pay published under the Public sector salary disclosure law. I don't know if any other provinces have these rules.
posted by srboisvert at 3:18 PM on November 7 [5 favorites]


GeckoDundee, I’d say it’s like jealousy vs. envy. Kateus being envy. (Source: am Finnish).
posted by slimepuppy at 3:21 PM on November 7 [6 favorites]


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.

Or, y'know, employers could make an effort to pay workers better, making us less likely to be unhappy.
posted by asperity at 3:26 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


Public servants earning over 100K in Ontario have their pay published under the Public sector salary disclosure law. I don't know if any other provinces have these rules.
In my US state, the pay of all state employees is public record, and I don't mean that you have to go to some office and file a form. I mean that there's an online searchable database, and the local newspaper publishes an annual supplement in which they list every state employee in the area alphabetically and give their pay for the past year. This is a thing that everyone anticipates and reads. I don't make anything close to 100K, and everyone I know is aware of exactly how much money I make. It's weird. I think it's probably good in some ways, but it's weird.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:50 PM on November 7 [2 favorites]


Yeah I knew about the sunshine list but they only show income received from the government, which is better than nothing but not the complete picture. Still useful for salary negotiations but perhaps not as useful for seeing if people are obviously underpaying their taxes. Actually come to think of it, in my mind Finland is releasing full tax returns so you can see the various sources of income, deductions, etc, but that might not actually be the case. For all I know Finland might just show total income (from all sources) and tax paid. I'd be OK with the CRA releasing everyone's tax returns.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:55 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


I’m not exactly sure how I’d go about looking up any other person’s data; or if it’s even possible...

All data is available, but not on the Internet. To get data for J. Random Person that's not on the list of the top earners that's released and made easily searchable by the media you need to go to a tax office branch in person and use a terminal. You'll need to know the person's year of birth and their region of residence.

You can't get printouts, but nobody's stopping you if you want to manually take notes.
posted by Soi-hah at 4:20 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


I think it's probably good in some ways, but it's weird.

I'm told the same thing exists for the private sector, without the 'and the public gets to know about it' via The Work Number:
The Work Number allows requestors to receive immediate confirmation of an individual's employment and salary for verification purposes.
posted by pwnguin at 5:06 PM on November 7


The state of Montana publishes State of Montana employee salaries online where you can look up any state employee by name.* It's not your full tax return, but it lets anyone see what you make per hour. I'm OK with that.

What bothered me was a few years ago a group sued and was able to get and publish empolyee's "total compensation" per year. Which included reimbursement for travel. Because I travel 30+ nights per year in and out of Montana, my "salary" was posted at about $20,000 per year more than what I actually get paid.

I don't think most people in Montana are aware of that link.


* Sorry, I've never figured out how to hyperlink on Metafilter:
posted by ITravelMontana at 9:07 PM on November 7 [2 favorites]


Thanks, slimepuppy. I was curious as to whether the two concepts are run together in other languages in the same way as they are in English. Of course, if the term is a creation of the English speaking press, I'm not going to learn anything from this.
posted by GeckoDundee at 11:29 PM on November 7


Government financial transparency is a good thing, and builds trust with its citizens. Unfortunately, Here's What Trump's Financial Disclosure Doesn't Tell You, Forbes, May 16, 2018:
1. How much money Trump’s businesses are really making.
2. Who is paying the president.
3. A full picture of Trump’s debt.
4. The actual value of any of Trump’s major holdings.
5. What Trump and his companies pay (or don’t pay) in taxes.
posted by cenoxo at 11:40 PM on November 7


I think the English term comes from Finnish "kansallinen kateuspäivä" which has a nice alliteration to it, although the term itself is kind of political. As far as I know, mustasukkaisuus is jealousy only in the relationship sense of the word. You can't wear black socks over property or money in Finnish. That wouldn't make any sense!

The tax record is public, but no-one except journalists really care. Just like a lot of things, money is traditionally private in Finland. Coworkers do not usually know each other's salary. It is considered rude to ask your friend's salary and slightly less rude to tell yours. Because they might be earning less, and that would make them feel bad. For the same reason, you don't want to use the tax record to find out how much money your neighbours are making. Because that could make you feel bad. Even though the record is public, it's better not to know.

This year's top five taxpayers list has 3 Supercell guys, a dental care equipment company CEO and a cryptocurrency millionaire.
posted by ikalliom at 2:07 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]


For non-profit officers and most executives in the US, almost all of their salaries (from the non-profit) are available through the annual 990 forms that 501c3s have to make publicly available.
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


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