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."
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.
Varoufakis said the launch of the amateur snoopers would act as a deterrent, "engendering a new tax compliance culture" in Greece.