January 29, 2019

A panel on economic inequality went off script this weekend, as the participants told the gathered billionaires that their philanthropy and pet projects for the poor were not the answer to economic world justice.

This wasn't what Davos had in mind.

The panel was billed by the organizers as "Economic inequality continues to drive a populist backlash against a status quo that favours elite. How can policy changes and technological innovations change this dynamic?"

In other words, not how do we change policy to bring economic equality, but how do we stop the populist backlash against the status quo?

This panel wasn't playing at that.

Historian Rutger Bregman was adamant: the wealthy need to stop avoiding taxes.

"This is my first time at Davos, and I find it quite bewildering, to be honest. I mean, 1500 private jets have flown in here to hear Sir David Attenborough, you know, talk about how we're wrecking the planet. And, I mean, I hear people talking the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency but then, I mean, almost no one raises the issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share. I mean it feels as if I'm at a firefighter's conference and no one is allowed to mention water, right?"

Bregman noted that high marginal tax rates worked in the United States in the 1950s under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower.

When former Yahoo CEO Ken Goldman (a Charles Dickens character name if ever there was one) made the case that unemployment numbers are so great we shouldn't focus just on taxes, Director of Oxfam Winnie Byanyima put it bluntly. The United States is home to chicken processing plants where women workers must wear diapers because they are not allowed to take bathroom breaks. It's not job numbers, it's the type of jobs that people are forced to take and those workers' lack of power in the workplace that matters.

And thanks to the internet, this is the video clip people will remember from Davos 2019.

You can watch the full panel, including Jane Goodall, here.

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