Greece Wants To Use Amateur Snoopers Wired For Sound And Video To Catch Business Tax Dodgers

from the not-so-virtual dept

Greece has been much in the news recently over concerns that it would not be able to obtain an extension of international loans made to it previously, with serious knock-on effects for both itself and other EU countries. As part of a deal that was reached, the Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis -- formerly Economist-in-Residence at Valve Corporation -- was required to explain how Greece will reform its economy and find more money to pay back its debts. One way to do that is to try to recover some of the tens of billions of euros that Greek citizens owe their government in unpaid taxes (pdf). That's a pretty obvious thing to do, perhaps, but the way Varoufakis hopes to cut tax dodging by businesses isn't so conventional, as the Guardian explains:

[Varoufakis ] proposed recruiting large numbers of "non-professional inspectors" on short-term casual contracts of no longer than two months who would be paid by the hour. They would be "wired for sound and video", trained to pose as "customers" and "will be hard to detect by offending tax dodgers."
The idea here seems to be to obtain evidence that businesses are failing to give customers proper receipts, which would then allow shops and companies to avoid paying tax on those sales.
The data the amateur snoopers gathered would be used by the authorities "immediately to issue penalties and sanctions."

Varoufakis said the launch of the amateur snoopers would act as a deterrent, "engendering a new tax compliance culture" in Greece.
Well, it might do that, which will be good for the Greek economy, but it will probably also engender a deep distrust by businesses of all new customers and tourists, especially if they look at all shifty. It might even lead to heated, possibly violent, confrontations between business people and those suspected of being "amateur snoopers." That, in its turn, is probably not going to help social cohesion or international solidarity at a time when Greek society is under huge strains because of its economic problems. Still, you have to feel a certain sympathy for Varoufakis, who needs to come up with new ways to pull back some of the vast sums owed to the Greek government by tax dodgers. He must be longing for the good old days when the only economic problems he had to worry about were digital ones in virtual worlds.

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Filed Under: greece, neighbors, shops, snitches, snoops, tax evasion, yanis varoufakis


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  • icon
    limbodog (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:13pm

    Huh

    My understanding of Greece's economic woes was that pretty much everyone was dodging the taxes everywhere. Not just businesses dodging sales tax, but homeowners dodging property tax, and everything else in-between.

    In my head, it's like The Untouchables, where it just takes someone deciding to walk next door from the police department to "find" the scofflaws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Paul Renault (profile), 16 Mar 2015 @ 2:41pm

      Re: Huh

      With utmost respect, can I suggest that you revise your understanding of how Greece got into the mess it's in now?

      As with Ireland, Iceland, Spain, and other countries, including the sub-prime loans in the USA, the devil is in the details. And there are a lot of devil-hiding details...

      You could start here, and continue elsewhere:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/opinion/paul-krugman-weimar-on-the-aegean.html

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 7:09am

        Re: Re: Huh

        I don't see how anything in that article, which discusses the implications of current policies regarding how to deal with the Greek crisis, contradicts limbodog's explanation of how they got into that mess in the first place.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:59am

      Re: Huh

      Yeah, that's pretty much what happened. It's different over there; not like in the US where the economic catastrophes were brought about almost entirely by large financial institutions; in Greece it's John Q. Publikopolis screwing himself over.

      I don't know how much things have changed in the last couple years, but a while back I read an article with some stats on Greece, and their budget deficit was approximately identical to the amount of taxes not being paid. In other words, if the people would just shape up, they would not be in this mess.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PRMan, 16 Mar 2015 @ 1:43pm

    Instead...

    Why not just hand out 5% of all taxes recovered to anyone that gives information that helps recover them?

    Then there is no "pay by the hour" and you are much more likely to get low-paid assistants high up in large corporations to rat out their bosses to the tune of millions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 2:20pm

      Re: Instead...

      > you are much more likely to get low-paid assistants high up in large corporations to rat out their bosses to the tune of millions.

      Mom and Pop businesses dodge taxes by not turning in receipts.

      Multimillion dollar corporations dodge taxes by "paying subsidiaries", "renting their own logos", "making capital investments", and so on.

      The more money involved, the better paid are the people hiding it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2015 @ 2:42pm

    "you have to feel a certain sympathy for Varoufakis"

    Nope, can't find any sympathy anywhere. He's the one who ran for election on the usual political platform of delivering results for the electorate without figuring out how he'd do square the obvious circle he was standing in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:51am

    Obvious question

    Will the Greek government cover the cost of the stitches for the snitches?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, 17 Mar 2015 @ 7:53am

    You are talking about this guy?!

    We are talking about the same guy that was profiled by John Oliver, right?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_U4U7M4WOPU

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pragmatic, 17 Mar 2015 @ 8:15am

    It's a Socialist solution; authoritarian to the core, which is why it's doomed to fail. People will rat out people they don't like over people who owe a lot of money, for a start. That's how these things work. Varoufakis is Marxist, remember.

    What he needs to do is explain what a social contract is, why "starving the beast" is the reason for the mess they're in now, and to instill in the population a desire to look out for each other. This is a demand-side issue. He needs to persuade people to WANT to pay. If he makes a good enough case, he can.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 11:32am

      Re:

      People will rat out people they don't like over people who owe a lot of money, for a start. That's how these things work.

      Did you miss the part about them wearing hidden recording devices? Even if Varoufakis is a Marxist, this isn't the 20th century USSR or East Germany. Having them "wired for sound and video" works keep them honest; you can't just make an accusation against someone you don't like.

      And yes, while what you're describing would undoubtedly be a good solution in the long run, it is a long-term solution. Changing society's values always is, and right now, tax dodging is a deeply-ingrained Greek cultural value. The problem is, they've been at it for so long that it's killing their country right now. This isn't a problem that's decades in the future; the chickens have already come home to roost.

      To put a new twist an old saying, while the man is starving to death is no time to teach him to fish.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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