The hubris and hypocrisy of the super-rich who believe they are helping the world makes for superb hate-reading Davos is no place for fighting. It is where chief executives fly to in private jets to discuss the dire consequences of climate change, where hot-money speculators deliver homilies on responsible investing, and the world’s media receive every falling cliche with unctuous warmth. Yet last month it was here in Switzerland, amid the sharp shooters and roadblocks, that a very revealing skirmish broke out. At a panel devoted to “making digital globalization inclusive” (for Davos is mainly a hollow-eyed human re-enactment of the drabbest Economist editorials), computer tycoon Michael Dell was asked what he thought about a 70% tax on earnings of more than $10m a year. The very idea provoked speakers and audience to peals of laughter. What a joke, to take money away from these deserving multimillionaires! Dell, the 39th richest person in the world, replied that he and his wife already give to charity: “I feel much more comfortable with our ability … to allocate those funds than I do giving them to the government.” Who needs the imprecise squall of democracy when a man worth $33bn can decide what the masses need? He went on: “I don’t think it will help the growth of the US economy. Name a country where that’s worked – ever.” Fervent agreement followed until economist Erik Brynjolfsson butted in, citing one country that had had such high tax rates: “The United States … from about the 1930s to the 1960s … and those were pretty good years for growth.” Brynjolfsson is not known for his socialism and his intervention was far milder than that made two days later by historian Rutger Bregman (“Taxes, taxes, taxes … all the rest is bullshit”), but still, the aromatic consensus had been broken.
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