A Dutch historian has received widespread acclaim after confronting billionaires at Davos over their perceived failure to pay enough in taxes.
Rutger Bregman, author of bestseller Utopia for Realists, admonished members of the audience during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland for their role in perpetuating growing inequality..
“I hear people talking the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency, but then, almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share,” the 30-year-old said.
“It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water.”
Mr Bregman told the assorted business leaders in attendance it was time to “stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes, taxes, taxes”.
“This is not rocket science, we can talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes,” he said. “We can invite Bono once more, but come on, we’ve got to be talking about taxes.”
He added: “All the rest is bulls*** in my opinion.”
The historian's excoriation angered at least one audience member, Ken Goldman, Yahoo’s former chief financial officer, who stood up and complained about the focus on taxes.
“I have to say, honestly, this is a very one-sided panel,” Mr Goldman said, adding: “We’ve actually reduced poverty around the world – no one’s talking about that at all.”
He defended the status quo by saying global poverty was being reduced and US employment was at near-record lows. He asked the panel to instead talk about what "we really do to help solve inequality over time beyond taxes?”
But Winnie Byanyima, director of Oxfam and another panel-member, hit back at Mr Goldman.
“Let me tell you something: We’re talking about jobs, but the quality of those jobs,” she said, highlighting the issue of poultry workers in US, “the richest country in the world”, forced to wear nappies to work because they were banned from toilet breaks.
“The quality of the jobs matter. It matters. These are not jobs of dignity,” she said.
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