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"You are counting the wrong things. You are not counting the dignity of people.”
At last month's World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima spoke on dozens of different panels and interviews, banging the drum for action against global inequality.
But one panel this year was different -- this TIME magazine panel 'The Cost of Inequality' went viral.
We don’t expect (or even necessarily want) the billionaire elites there to try to change a system that empowers them over the billions of poor people – our political leaders have to do that.
But we do expect them at least to pay their fair share of taxes.
— Oxfam International (@Oxfam) January 30, 2019
First, the historian and author Rutger Bregman got fired up about taxes. “Almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance. And of the rich just not paying their fair share. It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water.”
In response to an argument that high personal taxation has never been successful throughout history, he noted that in 1950s America, it had been.
Later, to a question from the audience that capitalism should be lauded for growth and high employment, Winnie Byanyima gave examples in return of US poultry workers having to wear nappies on the production line because they were not allowed toilet breaks, and of Nairobi taxi drivers having to sleep in shifts, three to a room, in order to maintain cheap fares on poverty wages.
“These are not dignified jobs. It is the quality of jobs that matter. When you talk about low levels of unemployment, you are counting the wrong things. You’re not counting the dignity of people … you’re counting exploited people!”
This video now has more than 18 million views, and has been shared more than 270,000 times with more than 4,500 comments. “I gathered something had changed when I woke up this morning with 18,000 new followers on my Twitter account that I didn’t have the night before,” Winnie said.
“I am happy that people seem to have been charged up by what they heard on this panel. But there's a serious message I’m seeing. People are fed up and are speaking out about such obscene inequality in our global economy. I see it here in Nairobi where I live, I see it in New York, I see it around the world.
People have lost patience with the super-rich elites and their friends in governments who are presiding over such injustice. Around the world a super-rich elite is rigging political and economic policy to serve their own interests and serve their own greed – and they’re taking a sledgehammer to workers’ rights, to taxes, pushing wages down – and they then have the audacity to repackage this as some sort of economic success story!
Davos man is not going to solve these challenges. And people are getting angrier at the empty rhetoric of our political leaders. It is as if simply acknowledging the problem is enough to get everyone off the hook – it is becoming an excuse and even a reason for inaction.
What Rutger and I said in Davos isn’t so unique. It echoes what is being said around the world.
And I tell you, change is coming. It’s coming from a chorus of active people from across society – young people, professionals, entrepreneurs, thinkers, workers, farmers, policymakers, activists– who are demanding a different, more human kind of economy.
Now I’m out of Davos, I’m going back to joining them on the front-lines."
What you can do now
Photo: World Economic Forum / Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary