With 48 hours left in the role of US vice-president, Joe Biden used his swansong speech at Davos to tell an audience of the world’s wealthiest that they do not pay enough in tax.
He said the “top 1% is not carrying their weight”.
He also issued a “call to action” in defence of liberal democracy, warning Russia would try to meddle in European elections this year.
And he joked that once he left office, he would “start to say what I think”.
To the Davos audience, who pay thousands of dollars to be at the exclusive event, he said the tax system in the US was not equitable.
He said inheritance tax breaks, for example, were a waste of money.
“You are not bad buys, you are all good guys,” he said. But he argued the money would be better spent paying for every US student to attend college for nothing, which he said would cost $6bn a year and have a greater knock-on impact on the economy.
“We can afford to do that in a heartbeat,” he said.
However, he will not any longer be in a position to affect policy directly after Friday, when President-elect Donald Trump takes the reins and Mike Pence takes over as vice-president.
Mr Trump has been most outspoken in his scepticism over free trade, promising to row back on international trade treaties and threatening a stand-off with China. And on Tuesday China’s President Xi Jinping, attending Davos for the first time, responded by extolling the virtues of free trade.
In his speech, Mr Biden said he was a supporter of globalisation, but acknowledged that it had “deepened the rift” between those at the top and the rest. He said that was “undermining the liberal order from inside”.
He said that and other pressures meant liberal democracy was under threat.
“In recent years, it has become evident that the consensus upholding this system is facing increasing pressures,” he said.
“It’s imperative that we act urgently to defend the liberal international order.”
And he warned specifically against Russian interference in the political process.
“Under President Putin, Russia is working with every tool available to them to whittle away at the edges of the European project, test the fault lines of western nations and return to a politics defined by spheres of influence,” he said.
“With many countries in Europe slated to hold elections this year, we should expect further attempts by Russia to meddle in the democratic process. It will occur again, I promise you. And again the purpose is clear: to collapse the liberal international order,” Mr Biden said.
In a thinly-veiled criticism of President-elect Trump, he warned against creating further divisions and spoke out strongly for Nato and the European Union.
“As we have seen time and again throughout history, demagogues and autocrats have emerged – seeking to capitalise on people’s insecurities. In this case, using Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, or xenophobic rhetoric to stoke fear, sow division, and advance their own narrow agendas. It offers a false sense of security in an interconnected world.”
“The impulse to hunker down, shut the gates, build walls, and exit at this moment is precisely the wrong answer. It will not resolve the root causes of these fears – and it risks eroding from the inside out the foundations of the very system that spawned the West’s historically unprecedented success.”