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This Historian Took A Room Full Of Billionaires To Task And Now He's Going Viral

It takes a pretty special environment for the subject of taxes to not immediately put an audience to sleep. I mean, unless you're talking about your own tax return and how large or disappointing it will be, for most people it's better than a lullaby with a NyQuil chaser.

So you know something wild is happening in the world when people are being energized when the topic of taxes comes up. And that's where we find ourselves right now, even more so after an epic, truth-to-power rant from a historian to his billionaire hosts.

Every year, the movers and shakers in the world of wealth and academia gather together in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum.

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It's a gathering that has been happening since 1971, with a stated mission of "improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas."

But by 2019, Davos seems to have become a bit odd, at least for first time invitee Rutger Bregman.

A Dutch historian, Bregman had been invited to speak largely due to his book, "Utopia for Realists," which made a case for shorter work weeks and a basic income.

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But it's entirely possible that Bregman's first visit to Davos will be his last as well after he delivered the conference's most talked-about speech, one that definitely didn't make him any friends among his ridiculously wealthy hosts.

Bregman didn't set out to make any enemies at Davos.

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However, over his first few days there, the experience left him a bit disillusioned.

In one of his speeches, to a room full of tech company executives, he mentioned taxes and "one American looked at me as if I was from another planet," he told The Guardian. A plan started to form in his head.

By the time his last panel appearance, on the subject of inequality, rolled around, Bregman had his speech prepared.

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"I more or less ignored the question asked by the moderator and gave my speech instead. It was mainly to ease my own conscience: Someone has to say what needs to be said," he recalled.

What he did say sure grabbed people's attention.

Bregman roared out of the gates with a blistering critique that skewered the talks' absurdity.

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"This is my first time at Davos and I find it quite a bewildering experience, to be honest" he said. "I mean, 1500 private jets have flown in here to hear Sir David Attenborough speak about how we're wrecking the planet. I hear people talking the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency, but almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance and of the rich just not paying their fair share."

Did a bunch of billionaires want to hear that they should be paying more taxes? Of course not. Did it need to be said? Of course it did.

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"It feels like I'm at a firefighters conference and nobody's allowed to speak about water," he said to scattered applause.

Bregman pointed to a statement earlier in the conference from Michael Dell, the billionaire computer maker, asking where a top marginal tax rate of 70% had ever worked.

"I'm a historian," said Bregman, "the United States is where it has actually worked, in the 1950s."

"During Republican President Eisenhower...the top marginal tax rate was 91% for people like Michael Dell. The top estate tax for people like Michael Dell was more than 70%. I mean, this is not rocket science. We can talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes, invite Bono once more, but come one, we've got to be talking about taxes. That's it, taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bulls*** in my opinion."

Videos of Bregman's speech are being passed around Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, racking up views by the millions.

Although it might seem unlikely that he'll be invited back after that speech, he's open to the idea.

"I would definitely go. I would just give the same speech. It is going to be a dilemma for them," he told The Guardian. "If they don't invite me, it will prove my point. If they do, I'll say the same thing all over again."

h/t The Guardian