This historian was hired by the super-rich to give a speech. Instead, he gave them a blistering rant that is going viral for the best reasons.
Back in January, the world’s economic elite gathered together for the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The four-day event featured discussions on climate change, the fourth industrial revolution, and the current state of the global economy.
But the biggest news may have been a two-minute rant against tax avoidance by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman. During a private panel in front of some of the world’s wealthiest people, he chastised them for not addressing the elephant in the room.
“I mean 1500 private jets have flown in here to hear Sir David Attenborough speak about how we’re wrecking the planet,” Bregman said. “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,” he said to a shocked room. “And of the rich just not paying their fair share. It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one is allowed to speak about water.”
As a historian, Bregman was in a unique position to speak truth to power.
“Two days ago there was a billionaire in here ... Michael Dell, and he asked the question, 'Name me one country where a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent has actually worked?'” Bregman said.
“And, you know, I’m the historian, the United States, that’s where it has actually worked. In the 1950s ... the top marginal tax rate in the U.S. was 91 percent for people like Michael Dell. The top estate tax for people like Michael Dell was more than 70 percent.”
“We can talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes, we can invite Bono once more, but, come on, we got to be talking about taxes," Bregman continued. "That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes — all the rest is bullshit, in my opinion.”
After his speech, Bregman realized he hit a nerve. “The response from the audience was really aggressive,” Bregman says. “That was the first time that I noticed that maybe I should start talking about that issue, because that’s what they didn’t like.”
Bregman is a historian and author who's published four books on history, philosophy and economics, including "Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World."
Here's an eye-opening TED Talk Bregman gave on the common misconceptions surrounding poverty.