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This probably would have been better blogged last Monday, but better late than never – walking past a beautiful house on my block with a "Sale Pending" sign reminds me that we’d all be better off if our tax returns were public.

Think about the housing market. When a buyer and seller go to transact the sale of a house, both are armed with a lot of information – the last sale price of the house, as well as the last sale price of every similar house in that neighborhood and metro area, along with detailed information about the size of that house and its lot and its age and how many bathrooms it has. A common meme has it that the diminishing average time between listing and sale is a sign of bubbliness in the housing market, but it could just be the internet and ability of buyers and sellers to focus in on a narrow range of "correct" sale prices with far greater ease.

On the other hand, labor markets are a hornet’s nest of bamboozlement, opacity, resentment, and potential exploitation. Not knowing what anyone else is paid to do what work and especially given high unemployment, the median workers has relatively little leverage with which to bargain.

"But Squarely," you’ll say, "people have a right to privacy!" And so they do. But I would assert that one’s salary is sufficiently distinct from information indisputably covered by a right to privacy that, at the very least, it’s not axiomatic that one’s wages are inherently private. Firstly, if you work for the public sector, they’re not private. This includes public universities – if you want to know how much Tyler Cowen makes, just go find out. Secondly, if you play professional sports, they’re not private. Thirdly, if you are the CEO, CFO, or one of the other three most highly-paid officers of a public company, they’re not private. Fourtly, similar disclosures are required for public charities. Fifthly, while not required, these kinds of disclosures are expected of candidates for public officers, unless you’re, oh, what was that guy’s name? You know, that guy. Anyway.

Clearly, there are certain other unobjectionable concerns that override the right to salary privacy in many cases. And this is clearly distinct from other kinds of "private" activity – a database of who public employees have slept with, or what publications the CEOs of non-profit organizations choose to read in their homes, would clearly engender outrage, while publicizing their salary does not. I think making all salaries public (via the mechnanism of tax returns, perhaps truncated, edited editions for public consumption) would have salutory effects on labor markets and the labor share of national income. If you disagree, I think you need to disagree on those grounds.


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