Tax Analysts Blog

"Beep, Beep" -- Korean Singer YoonA Wins Model Taxpayer Award

Posted on Mar 9, 2015

YoonA is a K-pop star. She is 24 years old. She sings. She dances. She acts. She is a fashion icon for teen girls. She has appeared in a number of widely followed Korean serial dramas including Love Rain and The Prime Minister and I. She is one of eight members of the wildly popular band Girls Generation which has recorded such hits as Beep-Beep and Do the Catwalk. And now . . . she is the recipient of a presidential award from the South Korean government for being a dutiful and honest taxpayer who has made a significant financial contribution to her country. As part of the award she will be an honorary ambassador of Korea's National Tax Service, helping to promote her fellow citizens' duty to pay taxes.

YoonA is not the only Korean celebrity enlisted to help the government collect revenue. On March 3 she was joined by actor Song Seung-Heoun at the 49th Taxpayers’ Day ceremony at the COEX Auditorium in Seoul. Yes, Korea has a day to encourage its citizens to pay their taxes honestly and on time. This year, as in prior years, a number of celebrities and companies received awards and honors. Last year U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck received a good taxpayer award.

South Korea (population 50.2 million) has a top individual tax rate of 38 percent plus a local income tax with a top rate of 3.8 percent. The corporate rate is 24.2 percent.

Although we are all required by law to pay taxes (and obey the speed limit), it helps compliance to maintain and improve taxpayer morale. Short of funds to conduct enforcement actions, maybe IRS Commissioner John Koskinen can suggest a National Taxpayers' Day as a low-cost way to improve compliance in the United States.

An alternative approach to motivating compliance is fear. And the easiest and cheapest way to get the message out is to take advantage of the public's and the press's obsession with celebrities. In the United States every year, a handful of the rich and famous are in the news after being caught not paying taxes, some of whom even serve jail time. The short list includes: Nicolas Cage, Wesley Snipes, Darryl Strawberry, Marc Anthony, and Willie Nelson. OMG!

Read Comments (1)

robert goulderMar 10, 2015

A good-taxpayer award? Really?

Not sure I like the idea of rewarding people for doing something that they're
already obligated to do by law. It's not as though paying tax in Korea (or
elsewhere) is optional and that YoonA chose to do the honorable thing.
Presumably, if she didn't declare all her income and pay all taxes that were
due, she would be prosecuted. No?

Making discretionary payments in support of a good cause is one thing; but the
sovereign is not a charity. Taxes are not voluntary transfers of wealth.
Doesn't the policy described above risk confusing the two concepts?

Also noteworthy here is the cultural contrast. In South Korea they have a
national feel-good day encouraging people to pay their taxes in a timely
manner. In the United States we have 'tax freedom' day, the ostensible purpose
of which is to critique the size and scope of the public sector and bemoan that
our after-tax disposable income isn't greater than it otherwise would be.

Separately, having squander three minutes of my life to watching that music
video I'm not sure which is more frightening: South Korean pop stars or North
Korean dictators?

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