he world’s tax systems are outdated and not fit for the future, said Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman of PwC International, on the closing day of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. Many business leaders want to pay their “fair share” of tax and help reduce growing wealth inequalities in the world, but revenue collection systems are antiquated and open to manipulation and abuse, he said.
The same is true of welfare systems, said Hilary Cottam, Author and Entrepreneur, Centre for the Fourth Social Revolution. “The brilliant welfare systems that were set up in the last century no longer work,” she said and suggested a “social revolution” to accompany the Fourth Industrial Revolution that digital technology has ushered in.
“In every industrial revolution there has been a social revolution, because every industrial revolution has created huge inequalities. All the different sectors of society must come together to help design an architecture that allows us to make the transitions required,” said Cottam.
Technology has helped lift millions of people out of poverty in the world, but millions more have been left behind and disparities between the ultra-wealthy few and the poor masses have grown. This prompted Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, Kenya, to demand that governments impose much higher taxes on companies and rich people.
“Extreme economic inequality is out of control,” said Byanyima. “The wealth of the few very rich increases by $2.5 billion a day, while the wealth of the 3.8 billion poorest people in the world decreases by $500 million a day.” She added that, as wealth accumulates at the top end, welfare infrastructure crumbles at the bottom.
Moritz said citizens have seen powerful people with money and authority misusing these resources and not helping the poor – and mistrust has grown exponentially. People can see what’s happening because of greater transparency, thanks to digital; now, also thanks to digital, they have a voice to register their unhappiness.
Technology should not be blamed for wealth inequality, said Amitabh Kant, Chief Executive Officer, National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog. In fact, it can make a “radical difference” and should be used a lot more rigorously, with governments bringing digital solutions to bear in the critical areas of nutrition, healthcare and education.
India is an example of how this can work, he said, with technology already having helped to raise 250 million people above the poverty line and the rollout of dozens of applications – such as bank accounts – across the vast country, dramatically improving lives.
However, technology should not be used to underpin failing current systems, observed Cottam. “We can use tech to design new systems that address the challenges we face. But we need a revolution.”
The business community needs to step up and play a leading part in reconfiguring the architecture of the mooted Fourth Social Revolution, said Subramanian Rangan, The Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court Endowed Chair in Societal Progress at INSEAD, France. “They must ask themselves big questions – how do we handle human capital, who owns data, what do we want artificial intelligence to do?” said Rangan.
He called for “moral entrepreneurship”, with CEOs showing courage in leading shareholders to a new way of seeing the enterprise. “Even as you deepen cyber capital, you must deepen your moral capital,” he said.