Taxes

'It is not communism, it is just common sense': Historian who confronted Davos elite lays out his case for higher taxes

Key Points
  • "To be honest, I think that this whole debate that you have — especially in America — about capitalism versus socialism, I think it is rather ridiculous," Rutger Bregman told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Tuesday.
  • His comments come at time when President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have repeatedly warned of the dire consequences for the world's largest economy if Democrats with left-leaning ideologies get their way in next year's presidential election.
  • Speaking to an audience in Davos earlier this year, Bregman said a global failure to effectively tackle tax avoidance was the primary cause of inequality.
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Historian who confronted Davos elite lays out his case for higher taxes

Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian who caught the world's attention after criticizing the super-rich at the Davos summit earlier this year, told CNBC Tuesday that higher tax rates in the U.S. are "necessary to tame this beast we call capitalism."

His comments come at time when President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have repeatedly warned of the dire consequences for the world's largest economy if Democrats with left-leaning ideologies get their way in next year's presidential election.

Proposals embraced by many Democrats hopeful about their chances of success in 2020 include the Green New Deal (an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), Medicare for all and debt-free college education.

Opinion polls show that voters are generally in favor of these liberal social programs.

"To be honest, I think that this whole debate that you have — especially in America — about capitalism versus socialism, I think it is rather ridiculous," Bregman told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Tuesday.

"We are talking about policies that the vast majority of the population actually favors, you know, higher taxes on the wealthy, most people are really in favor of that."

"So, as I always like to say, it is not communism it is just common sense. It is about taming this beast that we call capitalism," Bregman said.

'Radical ideas'

Bregman has long been making the case for higher taxes on the wealthy, alongside a raft of other measures that he admits could be considered as "quite radical ideas."

They include shorter working weeks, a world without borders and the introduction of a universal basic income.

"If you want to think about what sensible tax rates are like, in the 50's for example — this era when America was still 'great' — we had much higher tax rates," Bregman told CNBC Tuesday, referencing Trump's 2016 campaign slogan: 'Make America Great Again.'

"So, a top marginal tax rate for the richest people of 80 or 90 percent in the U.S., much higher estate taxes, inheritance taxes. I think that is all very much necessary to tame capitalism," he added.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses a rally in New York in January 2019.
Ira L. Black - Corbis | Getty Images

Bregman was invited to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this year after his book, "Utopia for Realists," gained notoriety among industry leaders and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Speaking to an audience at the Swiss resort in late January, where the world's political and financial elites gather each winter, Bregman said a global failure to effectively tackle tax avoidance was the primary cause of inequality.

"It feels like I'm at a firefighters conference and no one's allowed to speak about water," Bregman said during a panel session in Davos.

"This not rocket science… we have got to be talking about taxes. Taxes, taxes, taxes."