A group of more than 100 millionaires and billionaires on Wednesday presented fellow members of the global economic elite with a stark choice: "It's taxes or pitchforks."
In an open letter published amid the corporate-dominated virtual Davos summit, 102 rich individuals—including such prominent figures as Disney heiress Abigail Disney and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer—warned that "history paints a pretty bleak picture of what the endgame of extremely unequal societies looks like."
"For all our well-being—rich and poor alike—it's time to confront inequality and choose to tax the rich," the letter reads. "Show the people of the world that you deserve their trust."
The letter was released hours after an analysis conducted by the Fight Inequality Alliance, the Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam, and Patriotic Millionaires showed that a modest annual wealth tax targeting the world's millionaires and billionaires would raise $2.52 trillion dollars a year, enough to lift billions of people out of poverty and vaccinate the world against Covid-19.
But signatories to the new letter note that such a solution is unlikely to win broad support among attendees of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the yearly gathering of global elites that's typically held in Davos, Switzerland. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's WEF is taking place virtually.
"If you're participating in the World Economic Forum's 'online Davos' this January, you're going to be joining an exclusive group of people looking for an answer to the question behind this year's theme, 'How do we work together and restore trust?'" the letter reads. "You're not going to find the answer in a private forum, surrounded by other millionaires and billionaires and the world's most powerful people. If you're paying attention, you'll find that you're part of the problem."
The letter—signed by rich individuals from Denmark, Germany, Austria, and other nations—continues:
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Trust—in politics, in society, in one another—is not built in tiny side rooms only accessible by the very richest and most powerful. It's not built by billionaire space travelers who make a fortune out of a pandemic but pay almost nothing in taxes and provide poor wages for their workers. Trust is built through accountability, through well-oiled, fair, and open democracies that provide good services and support all their citizens.
And the bedrock of a strong democracy is a fair tax system. A fair tax system.
As millionaires, we know that the current tax system is not fair. Most of us can say that, while the world has gone through an immense amount of suffering in the last two years, we have actually seen our wealth rise during the pandemic—yet few if any of us can honestly say that we pay our fair share in taxes.
This injustice baked into the foundation of the international tax system has created a colossal lack of trust between the people of the world and the elites who are the architects of this system...
To put it simply, restoring trust requires taxing the rich. The world—every country in it—must demand the rich pay their fair share. Tax us, the rich, and tax us now.
Made significantly worse by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, skyrocketing income and wealth inequality has been at the heart of recent mass protest movements in South America, the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and elsewhere—grassroots uprisings that have frequently been met with brutal police repression.
But little of substance has been done in recent years to reverse the decades-long trend of staggering wealth accumulation at the very top and declining standards of living for large swaths of the global population.
According to an Oxfam analysis published earlier this week, the 10 richest men in the world have seen their combined fortunes grow by more than $1.2 billion per day since the coronavirus pandemic hit two years ago while tens of millions worldwide have been pushed into poverty.
Progressive advocates and lawmakers have long argued that raising taxes on the rich—while far from a panacea for deep-seated societal ills—would help rein in soaring inequities and raise revenue for governments to spend on alleviating poverty, providing universal healthcare, and meeting other basic needs.
Gemma McGough, a British entrepreneur and a founding member of Patriotic Millionaires U.K., reiterated that case in a statement Wednesday.
"A common value most people share is that if something's not fair then it's not right. But tax systems the world over have unfairness built-in, so why should people trust them?" said McGough, one of the new letter's signatories. "They are asked to shoulder our shared economic burden again and again, while the richest people watch their wealth, and their comfort, continue to rise."
"It's time we right the wrongs of an unequal world," McGough added. "It's time we tax the rich."
This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on January 19, 2022.