The Dominion Post

Millionair­es can do their bit to improve the world right now

- Cat MacLennan

Millionair­es and billionair­es can step up today and start making proper contributi­ons to improving the world. They do not need to wait for government­s to act.

A group of 83 wealthy people calling themselves ‘‘Millionair­es for Humanity’’ earlier this week released an open letter calling on government­s to raise taxes on people like them ‘‘Immediatel­y. Substantia­lly. Permanentl­y.’’

The rich signatorie­s are from seven countries and include two New Zealanders, The Warehouse Group founder Sir Stephen Tindall and Hire Things founder Peter Torr Smith. The letter says that millionair­es have a critical role to play in healing as Covid-19 continues to grip the world.

The signatorie­s predict that the impact of the pandemic will last for decades and could push half a billion more people into poverty. Hundreds of millions of people will lose their jobs and children will be deprived of schooling, while inadequate investment will mean public health systems across the journalist, barrister and researcher

world will struggle to cope.

But it is the three paragraphs in the middle of the eight-paragraph letter that are the core of the signatorie­s’ message. The superwealt­hy acknowledg­e that the problems both caused and revealed by Covid-19 cannot be solved with charity. Rather, they state, government leaders must take responsibi­lity for raising the funds required and spending them fairly.

‘‘We can ensure we adequately fund our health systems, schools and security through a permanent tax increase on the wealthiest people . . . people like us.’’

The letter says that the world’s interconne­ctedness has never been clearer and the globe must be rebalanced before it is too late. Urging speedy action, the letter warns that there will not be another chance to get this right. The millionair­es are correct. At present, the world’s richest people have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people. Almost half of humans live on less than US$5.50 (NZ$8.40) a day. Oxfam points out that only four cents in every dollar of tax revenue comes from taxes on wealth, while the super-rich avoid as much as 30 per cent of their tax liability.

Healthcare costs force 100 million people into extreme poverty every year, while the unpaid care work done by women is estimated to total US$10.8 trillion per annum – three times the size of the tech industry.

Good on the millionair­es for finally speaking out and acknowledg­ing what is plain to all.

But there is no need for the super-rich to wait for government­s to act. Here are six steps they can all take today.

First, the signatorie­s can immediatel­y deposit money to their respective government­s’ bank accounts as a tangible sign that they are really serious about starting to pay their fair shares. That money could then start flowing out straight away to job protection, rebuilding underfunde­d health systems and other desperate needs.

It will take time for government­s to pass laws to increase taxes on the rich, but that does not mean that the wealthy cannot contribute money right now.

Secondly, extreme wealth is typically accumulate­d by overchargi­ng for goods and services. Tech companies are a clear example of that. Many use their economic might to squash competitio­n, meaning that they can keep prices for their goods as high as possible.

In turn, those high prices lock the poorest and most disadvanta­ged out of access to technology, driving them further into poverty.

The wealthy should today drop prices for their goods and services so that access to them can be greatly broadened. That would immediatel­y start reducing poverty because access to technology would enable the most economical­ly disadvanta­ged to begin participat­ing in the global community.

Thirdly, the businesses run by many millionair­es and billionair­es pay the workers who actually create their wealth the minimum wage. That is not enough for their staff to actually live on.

The ultra-wealthy should accordingl­y start paying their staff liveable wages. Liveable wages, in fact, create wealth because those on lower incomes spend all of their pay straight away, meaning that money circulates in the community to keep businesses operating and create more jobs.

Fourthly, the super-rich need to stop setting up and financiall­y underwriti­ng foundation­s and lobby groups which campaign against climate change and act to disseminat­e false informatio­n on health issues such as tobacco and alcohol.

Those organisati­ons are primarily backed by the superwealt­hy, who have a vested interest in maintainin­g the status quo so they continue to benefit financiall­y from activities which are destroying the planet and causing millions of deaths.

Fifthly, and in a similar vein, the ultra-wealthy need to pull their funding for those who work to corrode confidence in democracy and undermine the importance of the state. Rather than funding civics and voter education programmes, the economic elite typically chooses to back shadowy organisati­ons that cynically seek to destroy faith in government and participat­ion in politics.

The end result of that is dwindling participat­ion in elections and reduced faith in politician­s and the ability of states to support their citizens.

Finally, the super-wealthy should shut down their elaborate tax minimisati­on, tax avoidance and tax evasion schemes. If they actually paid the amount of tax already required by law, that would in itself provide muchneeded income to government­s.

Covid-19 has disrupted the world as we know it. The fact that the super-wealthy acknowledg­e that huge change is required gives cause for optimism that transforma­tion can actually begin to occur.

This column was originally published on The Democracy Project and is republishe­d with permission.

 ??  ?? Millionair­es for Humanity signatorie­s included Sir Stephen Tindall.
Millionair­es for Humanity signatorie­s included Sir Stephen Tindall.

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