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National tax shaming for the shameless

By Kay Bell ·
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Posted: 9 am ET

When I was in college, I knew the frat boys and sorority sisters on Greek Row were different. But little did I realize that the general sense of entitlement exhibited by immature kids wearing Greek alphabetical names on their sweaters would turn out to be such an accurate reflection of many of today's residents of that Mediterranean country.

I'm talking, of course, about all the melodramatic wailing of Greeks as their nation tries to come to grips with its economic crisis. Massive protests, some tragically ending in deaths, raged as Greek citizens tried to stop their government from enacting austerity measures needed to get the country's fiscal house in order.

As it turns out, if many well-off Greek professionals had simply paid their taxes, things might not be so bad.

Various reports estimate that the Greek government may be losing as much as $30 billion a year to tax dodgers.

Now Greek officials are finally saying "enough!"

The Finance Ministry last week released to the public a list of 57 Athens doctors whom they allege are guilty of a variety of tax crimes. A dozen of the doctors had reported a combined income of slightly more than $15 million from 2001 to 2008. Not too shabby, eh?

But that amount, say Greek officials, was less than half of what they actually earned.

Audits are under way and so far, 11 doctors have been fined a total of $5.4 million for evading taxes. If the government can get them to fork over the fines, that will help get Greece back on better financial footing,

The shaming will continue, with officials planning to release lists of alleged tax-dodging lawyers, public notaries, civil engineers, artists and celebrities.

And the Greeks promise that no one will get a pass. Corrupt politicians, charged with mishandling public funds, also will be outed.

Will the public humiliation produce the necessary tax payments? It's too early to tell, but it has helped mollify some of the anger about the perception that it is poorer Greek citizens who have been punished disproportionately by government policies.

And just in case embarrassment isn't enough, Greek officials say some of the tax evaders will face criminal charges.

As the United States confronts its own growing deficit and a stubborn tax gap (the amount of taxes the IRS says are due but not paid and that it's been trying to collect for years), should we consider such a public tax shaming tactic?

Several states regularly use online lists to reveal tax delinquents, but there's never been a national effort.

Would you be willing to ease our current federal tax privacy laws in order to see just who owes how much to Uncle Sam?

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May 19, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Most Members of Congress don't even do their own returns, relying instead on tax pros. That's understandable, but I'd like at least one tax year for all on Capitol Hill to fill out their 1040s personally!

May 18, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Sure! Why not expose all of the politicians that are guilty of evading ot not paying taxes on time. If the "regular Joe/Jane" pays their taxes on time, we should all be able to easily see which elected officials are abusing the trust of all of us. It goes a LONG way to show just who exactly is deserving enough to help govern all of us! Make it public, I say!