Everyone, not just presidents, should release tax returns

To the editor:

Greed is a fairly straightforward incentive to strengthen an economy: make as much money as you can. At the root of most human suffering today, however, is unchecked greed and nebulous socioeconomic relationships. Is there not a way to channel the power of greed without artificially stifling it? What if everybody had access to everyone else’s tax returns: separate, joint, corporate etc.?

There is the immediate concern about privacy, not only related to the dangers of fraud ,but also to the feeling of disclosing private information. Perhaps even more daunting than the real dangers of identity theft is the visceral discomfort of feeling exposed. Every person in every culture has a varying degree of comfort (or discomfort) talking about income, but comfort levels can change depending on necessity and desire. Google and Facebook already collect, and use, much more personal information from users than what is typically disclosed on politicians’ published tax returns. A first loan application can be an uncomfortable task but the process should only get easier over time.

There is still plenty of authenticating information that should be kept private to prevent identity theft, but it would be an important public service to establish a specific cyber security system that monitors and investigates cases of fraud. There should be no need for an individual to hire a private company to protect and monitor one’s identity.

Only individuals and corporations that have the most to hide, in addition to the ones that have shamelessly taken advantage of tax laws, should have an incentive to conceal their financial information. There would initially be plenty of fearmongering: “You should be afraid of exposing your finances!” but everyone who plays by the rules would have nothing to risk and everything to gain. Not only presidents should be required to release tax returns, but every politician, judge, and attorney. We might then see who really has the public’s interest in mind.

The basic intention behind publicly transparent tax information would be to shed light on the very strategies that perpetuate traditions of inequality. Most importantly, this policy could inform more educated consumer and voter choice. Transparency allows for peaceful interactions while secrecy incites violent reactions.

—Ross E. Halvorsen

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