Historian Calls Out World’s Billionaires For Tax Evasion At World Economic Forum [Video]

Rutger Bergman

By Mandy Froelich / Truth Theory

One year ago, the development charity Oxfam called for action to tackle the growing gap between the rich and poor. The new report revealed that 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population.

The Guardian reports that the charity said it was “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a small handful of people to hold the majority of the world’s wealth, while billions of poverty-stricken individuals suffer from easily-treatable and preventable threats.

Historian Rutger Bregman agrees, which is why he highlighted the same issue at last week’s World Economic Forum. At this event, however, he deliberately took aim at the rich for avoiding taxes. 

As Indy100 reports, the forum took place in Davos, Switzerland. The event is where dozens of the world’s richest and most influential people gather to discuss how they believe the world can be improved. Among the attendees was Primatologist Jane Goodall, the UN’s Alica Barcena Ibarra, and Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.

On Friday, Bregman spoke at ‘The Cost of Inequality’ panel. Before the address, few people knew about the historian. But now, a clip of his speech has been viewed over 9 million times. Watch it below:


“This is my first time at Davos, and I find it quite a bewildering experience to be honest,” said Bregman. “I mean 15,000 private jets have flown in here to hear Sir David Attenborough speak about, you know, how we’re wrecking the planet.”

He continued:

“And, I mean, I hear people talking the language or 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 firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water, right? 

There was only one panel hidden away in the media centre that was actually about tax avoidance. I was one of the 15 participants. 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 actually very simple: just stop talking about philanthropy, and start talking about taxes, taxes, taxes.

We need – just two days ago there was a billionaire in here, what’s his name? Michael Dell. And he asked a question like, name me one country where a top marginal tax rate of 70 per cent has actually worked?

And, you know, I’m a historian – the United States, that’s where it has actually worked, in the 1950s during Republican President Eisenhower, you know, the war veteran.

The top marginal tax rate in the US was 91 per cent for people like Michael Dell. You know the top estate tax for people like Michael Dell was more than 70 per cent. 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.

But, come on, we’ve got to be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest bulls**t in my opinion.”

Byanyima’s speech was also notable. She supported Bregman’s words and responded to Ken Goldman, the former CFO of Yahoo, when he criticized the panel for being one-sided. He also asked the question: “what can we really do to help solve inequality over time beyond taxes?”

Byanyima responded:

“The gentleman who talked about, who said we’ve just talked about taxes and the jobs are there and that unemployment rates are low, let me tell you something: 

We’re talking about jobs, but the quality of those jobs. [Oxfam] also works with poultry workers in the richest country in the world, the United States, poultry workers.

These are the women who are cutting the chickens and packing them and we buy them in the supermarkets. 

Dolores, one woman we work with there, told us that she and her co-workers have to wear diapers to work because they’re not allowed toilet breaks.

This is in the richest country in the world. That’s not a dignified job. Those are the jobs we’ve been told about, that globalization is bringing jobs. The quality of the jobs matter. It matters. 

These are not jobs of dignity. In many countries workers no longer have a voice. In many countries workers no longer have a voice  

They are not allowed to unionise they’ve not allowed to negotiate for salaries. So we’re talking about jobs but jobs that bring dignity. 

We’re talking about health care. The World Bank has told us that 3.4 billion people who earn $5.50 a day are on the verge, are just a medical bill away from sinking into poverty. They don’t have health care.

They are just a crop failure away from sinking back into poverty. They have no crop insurance. So don’t tell me about low levels of unemployment. You’re counting the wrong things.

You’re not counting the dignity of people. You’re counting exploited people.”

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