Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Historian's Advice to Davos Elite Worried About Pitchforks: 'Stop Talking About Philanthropy' and Start Paying Higher Taxes

"I mean we can talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes... But we've got to be talking about taxes. That's it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion."

Jon Queally

Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregman told those gathered at last week's Davos summit his advice was this: "Just stop talking about philanthropy, and start talking about taxes." (Image: Time/WEF)

While the private jets have mostly left the airport outside of Davos, Switzerland following the conclusion of this year's World Economic Forum, a little noticed exchange that took place during the annual gathering has picked up steam in recent days showing what it looks like when some of the world's richest people are confronted by someone willing to call literal "bullshit" on the we-can-save-the-world-with-charity mantra that dominates among the global elite.

"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 is bullshit in my opinion."
—historian Rutger Bregman
If the world's richest and most powerful are worried about a so-called popular "backlash" in response to the global economic system they defend—and largely control—Rutger Berman, a Dutch historian and author of the book Utopia for Realists, during a panel last week titled "The Cost of Inequality," said the pathway is not complicated. "The answer," he said, "is very simple: Just stop talking about philanthropy, and start talking about taxes."

"I mean we can talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes," Bregman added. "We can invite [U2 frontman] Bono once more. But, come on, we've got to be talking about taxes. That's it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion."

Watch the following clip put out by Now This:

Also on the Davos panel with Bregman was Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. Just last week, as the WEF summit was just opening, Oxfam released a report on global inequality showing that just 26 billionaires now own as much wealth as the world's 3.8 poorest billion people.

"We have a tax system that leaks so much, that allows $170 billion of money every year to be taken to tax havens and to be denied the developing countries that need that money most," said Byanyima during the panel. "So we have to look at the business model, and we have to look at the role of governments to tax and plow back money into people's lives."

As the video clip began to go viral in the wake of the Davos' gathering, the media team for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who has continued to put global inequality and the idea of a "rigged" economy at the heart of his political message—snagged the central claims of Bregman's remarks and on Tuesday put out this version:

"We have a rigged tax code that has essentially legalized tax-dodging for large corporations and the world's wealthiest individuals," said Sanders. "It is time to end these egregious loopholes and make the wealthy pay their fair share."

Watch the full "Cost of Inequality" panel discussion:


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Intentional Vandalism' Leaves Thousands Without Power in North Carolina

One right-wing extremist implied that multiple electrical substations were targeted to disrupt a drag show in Moore County. Local law enforcement authorities and the FBI are investigating.

Kenny Stancil ·


GOP Silence on Trump's Call to Axe Constitution Reveals 'Full Embrace of Fascism': House Dem

"Last week the leader of the Republican Party had dinner with a Nazi leader and a man who called Adolf Hitler 'great,'" said Rep. Bill Pascrell. "Yesterday Trump called for throwing out the Constitution and making himself dictator."

Kenny Stancil ·


Protesting Fuel Poverty, People Tell UK Government to 'Keep Everyone Warm This Winter'

As energy bills—and fossil fuel profits—continue to soar, demonstrators around Britain demanded immediate action from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of Parliament.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo