Davos: Historian berates billionaires at Davos over tax avoidance

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    A discussion panel at the Davos World Economic Forum has become a sensation after a Dutch historian took billionaires to task for not paying taxes.

    In a video shared tens of thousands of times, Rutger Bregman, author of the book Utopia for Realists, bemoans the failure of attendees at the recent gathering in Switzerland to address the key issue in the battle for greater equality: the failure of rich people to pay their fair share of taxes.

    Noting that 1,500 people had travelled to Davos by private jet to hear David Attenborough talk about climate change, he said he was bewildered that no one was talking about raising taxes on the rich.

    “I hear people talking the language of participation, justice, equality and transparency but almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share,” Bregman tells the Time magazine panel on inequality.

    “It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water.”

    Industry had to “stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes”, he said, and cited the high tax regime of 1950s America as an example to disprove arguments by businesspeople at Davos such as Michael Dell that economies with high personal taxation could not succeed. “That’s it,” he says. “Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.”

    A member of the audience, former Yahoo chief financial officer Ken Goldman, challenged his comments and said it was a “one-sided panel”. He argued the fiscal settings across the global economy had been successful and had created record employment.