The Internet can be a great place. Unless you're a chronic tax evader in Vermont.
At the end of this year, the Green Mountain State will begin publishing lists of its most delinquent taxpayers to shame them into coughing up money owed—specifically, the 100 people and 100 businesses with the highest amounts of unpaid tax debt, the Associated Press reports.
The state's tax department will notify people who qualify for that list in the next few weeks and give them one final warning: Pay your outstanding tax debts, or face public shame on the World Wide Web.
Vermont joins at least 28 other states in its campaign to embarrass taxpayers into, well, paying their taxes. Here are states that have published (some more extensively than others, like California, which maintains a top 500 list) lists of so-called delinquent taxpayers on their taxation- and revenue-department websites:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
The efficacy of the practice appears to depend on individual fears of public humiliation, which is objectively not an enjoyable experience. Taxpayer-shaming programs mean that anyone with an Internet connection can see chronic tax evaders' names, addresses, and debts. That includes potential employers, who are likely to be turned off by applicants' chronic tax evasion. When Louisiana, one of the first states to introduce such a program, started naming names in 2001, money from several debtors suddenly started rolling in, some of it in lump sums as large as $300,000.
There's no reason to think the policy isn't working 13 years later. The world has changed since then, but the natural human aversion to embarrassment remains resolute.
That concept has inspired some punishments for low-level crimes. Last year, a 58-year-old Cleveland man was ordered by a court to, along with spending 180 days in jail, stand on the street wearing a sign around his neck that described remorse for his crime. "I apologize to officer Simone & all police officers for being an idiot calling 911 threatening to kill you," the sign read. "I'm sorry and it will never happen again."