If you hadn’t heard, the billionaires meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland took place this past week. There a numerous panels, with all kinds of global “leaders,” and lots of very wealthy people who would like to try and tell the world they are worrying about the problems of climate change and public health and income inequality around the world. Most of the panels at the World Economic Forum end up being platforms for people like Bill Gates to tout the private philanthropy work they do. This is fine and well—philanthropy and all—but interestingly enough, every year these billionaires get together, and every year the world isn’t any better than the previous year.
During a panel called “The Cost of Inequality,” historian Rutger Bregman was allowed to speak, in what I believe will be called the last time he is invited to be on a panel at the World Economic Forum.
Bregman: This is my first time at Davos and I find it quite a bewildering experience, to be honest. I mean 1,500 private jets flown in here to hear Sir David Attenborough speak about, you know how about wrecking the planet. And I mean I heard people talk in the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency, but then I mean almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share. I mean it feels like I’m at a fire fighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water, right?
There was there was only one panel—actually we’ve had two, Pierre the second, was only one panel—one panel hidden away in the media center that was actually about tax avoidance. I was one of the 15 participants, so something needs to change here. I mean 10 years ago the World Economic Forum asked the question what must industry do to prevent a broad social backlash? The answer is very simple: just stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes. Taxes. Just two days ago there was a billionaire in here—what’s his name, Michael Dell—and he asks a question like name me one country where a top marginal tax rate of 70% has actually worked.
You know I’m a historian. The United States. That’s where it has actually worked. In the 1950s, during Republican President Eisenhower, the war veteran, the top marginal tax rate in the US was 91 percent for people like Michael Dell. The top estate tax for people like Michael Dell was more than 70%. I mean this is not rocket science. I mean we can talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes; we can invite Bono once more, come on! We gotta be talking about taxes taxes taxes. That’s it! Taxes taxes taxes, all the rest is bullshit in my opinion.
You can hear the audience get uncomfortable by Mr. Bregman’s use of the term “bullshit,” but, you know, f*#k them. Besides being my new favorite person, Bregman and his fellow panelist Winnie Byanyima literally spent their time in Switzerland speaking truth to power. Watch here: