Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Millionaire Protests for Higher Wealth Tax In Davos

As it happens6: 28Why is this millionaire protesting in Davos, calling for higher taxes on the rich Phil White wants…

By Editorial , in Hot Issues , at January 20, 2023

As it happens6: 28Why is this millionaire protesting in Davos, calling for higher taxes on the rich

Phil White wants the government to take his money, please.

The self-proclaimed British millionaire demonstrates outside the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with a sign that reads: “Tax the rich”.

The forum is an annual gathering that draws hundreds of world leaders, CEOs, non-governmental organizations and other international elites to a Swiss resort town to discuss issues of global importance.

White, a former business consultant and engineer from the UK, could be there as a guest if he wished. But instead, he chose to stay away as a protester.

He is one of the founding members of the Patriotic Millionaires group, an organization of the ultra-rich calling for higher taxes on themselves. Here’s part of White’s conversation with As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

Phil, you stood in the snow in Davos — -18°C today, if I understood correctly — [with] a hand-painted sign that reads: “Tax the rich”. Why did you decide to do this?

In Davos we have the rich, the World Economic Forum, everything happens there. And what better place to get that message across…to create change in society?

When I look at what’s happened in many countries around the world during the pandemic, you know, we’ve seen the rich get richer and, frankly, the poor get poorer. And we have to do something about it.

Me and some colleagues I work with are really asking the wealthy to pay more of the tax burden, and easing the burden on those who are really struggling.

There has been a lot of discussion throughout the pandemic about what needs to change and how we can come together to bring about that change. Why do you think this hasn’t happened so far?

Earlier today I was reflecting on how during the pandemic we are all talking about building back better. And we rebuilt business as usual, which seemed like a real shame. As to why it happened, I don’t know.

[Anti-poverty organization] Oxfam released a report at the start of the World Economic Forum, simply pointing out that during the pandemic the rich have captured something like two-thirds of the new wealth that has been created. So it is not as if we are moving towards a fairer or more egalitarian society. We are actually going the other way.
It was almost exactly three years to the day that we had a conversation on this program about this very topic with former BlackRock executive Morris Pearl, who was also on the management of Patriotic Millionaires. What has changed since?

Concretely, regarding the taxation of the rich, I do not think that much has changed. However, things have changed in terms of the environment in which we work.

Governments are somehow starting to run out of options to tax workers more…and so with a growing need for public services to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic…many companies are finding that public spending still needs to be dramatically higher. But they can’t get workers’ incomes, income taxes, etc.

People gather at the Davos Congress Center before the start of the World Economic Forum. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)
What kind of response are you getting at Davos from other millionaires – and potential billionaires? Are you getting dirty looks or support? Or both, perhaps?

Both, I think. Yeah, both.

Certainly other millionaires and people I talk to support the message. Not everyone, of course. You know, let’s be frank about it. There are millionaires, billionaires, who are very financially oriented and who would rather not pay more taxes.

But there are others who are active in philanthropy. And that’s obviously partly where we want to go. But there are plenty of millionaires and billionaires who…recognize that we should contribute more to society.

Is Philanthropy Not Enough?

No no no no. Absolutely not, no.

Why Not?

Because first, you never raise the amount of money through philanthropy that you could raise through taxes. One of the reasons is simply that not everyone participates.

But also – and I think this is more important – philanthropy is effectively addressing some of the symptoms of the problems we have. So if I donate money, for example…to a homeless charity or an education trust…it will improve people’s lives for a month or two, a year or two, or no matter.

But it won’t change the system or the fundamentals that caused the problems in the first place. Only governments can do that, not the rich. And so we need the government to have the funds and the mandate to actually change things for the better. And the way to get [those] funds is, frankly, from the wealthy.

I’m sure people have asked you this question, maybe some of the millionaires you’ve talked to. What’s in it for you?

What Interests me is The Kind of Society in Which we Live?

I don’t want to live in a society where I have this wonderful, luxurious life locked away in a mansion watching movies with other millionaires. I want a society where I can go out on the streets [and] everyone goes about their business… and actually has a good start in life and a chance to succeed.

[I want] children…. do not feel disadvantaged in one way or another. I want a public infrastructure that works, where businesses do well.
We had a conversation yesterday about food service workers in parts of the United States and wages. They are paid very low – in some cases, only $2 [US] and change an hour, plus tips. When you hear stories like this, what is your fear if the change you are calling for does not happen?

In terms of social and economic justice, I think we will see a bigger divide.

Generally, we have seen the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And what we’re seeing is that the middle of the income scale… is widening.

The UK, where I come from, is … a very developed economy. And a third of our children live in poverty. Now, how can that be true?

Do you think, Phil, you’ll be out in the cold again in Davos, protesting with a placard next year, and years beyond?

I’m afraid to be. I would like to say that I will be in Davos next year to celebrate. I’m afraid more pressure is needed.

The group of Patriotic Millionaires is growing both in the UK and overseas, and we will continue to push. I don’t think it’s a quick win, to be honest, but I think we’ll get there.

And I think we will get there for two reasons. First, as I said, governments need money. And second, because we are entering this increasingly fragmented society where the haves and the have-nots live very separate lives. And I don’t think that’s a good way to go, and I don’t think that’s sustainable for society.

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