Panama and pay

Panama and pay

Notice how very important money is becoming? It always was, of course, but in the last few months it has shot to the top of almost everyone’s agenda. Fine after fine for the bankers, scandal after scandal for the politicians, outrage after outrage as top people get paid sums many of their workers don’t even comprehend. But they do know that the sums are big.

By nature, I prefer to keep my private life private. So it is with great reluctance that I come to the conclusion that the Norwegian system, where everyone knows everyone else’s tax returns, is probably best. Not that I haven’t had this view in some ways in the past. A condition of working with me was that our wages, salaries and terms of employment were published on the notice boards in the business for all to see – mine included, of course. After an initial shock people became quite happy with it. It stopped a lot of gossip and back biting. If someone felt they were being underpaid they said so and explained why their delivery was as good as others they saw being paid more.

Rather odd that on the one hand many don’t want others to know what they earn or own but on the other they flaunt their expensive properties, yachts and Ferraris. “Now you see it, now you don’t.” There are only two reasons for not wanting anyone else to know what you earn, as far as I can see. [1] You are ashamed that it is too little and reflects a low value others appear to put on you. [2] You are ashamed that it is too much and reflects an outrageous value others appear to put on you. Potential kidnapping is not an excuse for secrecy. Kidnappers already know what you are worth.

So I suggest we all agree to declare it if we have it and demonstrate our poverty if we don’t. Apart from anything else it will tend to make pay fairer, at least by a little. What will be the other consequences of such a move?

It will make money-laundering more difficult. In today’s world money-laundering is the biggest single cause of financial wrongdoing. Exposing the facts will be like every criminal having to register his crimes. There will be no hiding place. Not even Panama.

It will advertise success and failure. Since we put such store by these things that is not a bad idea. A side effect will be to see how those who contribute most to our society get paid least and some who frankly contribute not very much clean up a whole pile of dosh. All gambling winnings will, of course, be included as income and taxed at the highest rate.

Now everyone knows everyone else’s business we should come clean and make it official. Forcing some to do so without the others is neither fair nor conducive to enthusiastic cooperation. Watch how Western MPs are, one by one, slowly releasing their personal financial data. It is a bit sad to see it being wrung out of them. Time to make a clean break, reveal all and get used to the unfairness of the world – or, better still, start to put it right.

It is coming, anyway. Better to step up and be open.