Swedish students slapped with a Computer Tax

Sweden is fantastic in many ways. This is not one of them:

Back in the 90’s the Swedish government wanted to encourage Swedes to get connected and to learn how to use computers. We would get a tax deduction for buying a computer and broadband installations were subsidised. A few years later schools (particularly of the for-profit persuation) started to give laptops to their students. Since then we’ve seen many Swedish information technology success stories such as Spotify, Skype, and King. Most Swedes do their tax returns, shopping, banking etc online today. Something good probably came out of that particular government intervention.

Where did those progressive lawmakers with compassion and vision go, I now wonder. Did they get a collective cerebral hemorrhage? Did they all retire? Did ordinary people, now equipped with a computer and a smartphone, get too clever for their taste?

Instead of continuing to support, or at least leaving alone, those who acquire a computer with a broadband connection, a tablet, or a smartphone, they have slapped everybody owning such a device with a flat rate Computer Tax of SEK 2000 per year! Read that again! I had to delay publishing this post one day otherwise nobody outside of Sweden would have believed me.

Flat rate means that the Computer Tax is to be paid by rich and poor alike, students, retired people, the jobless and everybody else. If a student thus buys a laptop for SEK 4000 (which already includes 25% VAT) for his or her studies, she needs to shell out another 50% of the purchasing price just to be allowed to use it the first year. After two years the cost of the laptop has accumulated to twice the purchasing price.

The Computer Tax is also known as a “TV fee”. The twisted rationale is that everybody with a computer or a phone connected to the internet can technically watch Swedish public television (online) and is therefore required to pay for it. This entirely regardless of whether the person ever watches a single program on Swedish public television.

There is an organization called Radiotjänst with an annual budget of around SEK 150 million. They have a large number of staff that are tasked to knock on the doors of people, often students, who haven’t paid their Computer Tax to check whether they own a smartphone, tablet, computer or a similar device. Thanks to the wisdom of the lawmakers of yore, most students now do have a device that could be used to watch TV. If their parents have forgot to tell them about the mandatory nature of the Computer Tax, no rational student can probably imagine that he or she will one day be searched and made to pay a Computer Tax or face indictment.

Everything above (except that the official name of the tax isn’t “Computer Tax”) is true and describes the current situation in Sweden anno 2014. Since I have labeled this post as a “Speculation” I now allow myself to speculate about several logical future extensions to the enforcement of the Computer Tax to further illustrate its perverse logic:

  • The search for devices could be extended to streets, shopping malls, trains, and so on. And why not schools? There are bound to be many students who have been given a computer by their parents or by the school but who have missed to pay the Computer Tax.
  • There could be a finders fee for anybody who hears their neighbor playing computer games and suspect that the neighbor hasn’t paid the Computer Tax. Such informant systems have been successfully used in other countries further east.
  • All computer outfits could be required to report any suspected computer ownership to Radiotjänst. Such suspicion could be based on purchases of items such as hard drives, graphics boards, or games. Actually pretty much any purchase from a simple USB cable to a high-end gaming computer from such stores could be reported if the customer can not prove that the item will be given as a gift (in which case the receiver of the gift should be reported). Purchases of old school TVs have been subject to this kind of reporting a long time so this extension would be particularly logical (within the logic of the current lawmakers).

Going on with this list would be a fun exercise but I think I’ve made my point. If you are a Swede, protest and vote for the party that wishes to end this madness! If you are a foreign journalist, write a story that embarrasses the Swedish government!

Now I need to check whether I have paid my Computer Tax. Otherwise there will eventually be a knock on my door, particularly after having published this blog post…

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