Norwegian Airlines founder Bjørn Kjos was left floundering as Piketty gave a rare glimpse of the steely campaigner behind the smiling chat-show economist when both appeared on the chat show hosted by Norway's Fredrik Skavlan on Sweden's SVT channel.
“This is amazing,” the Paris professor exclaimed with a mischievous smile as Kjos continued to refuse to give a clear answer after minutes of constant pressing.
The grilling began when Kjos claimed to pay a tax rate of 1000 percent.
“I think I'm not even among the 20 highest paid in Norwegian,” he said, little knowing what he was letting himself in for. “A lot of pilots earn more than me. I pay ten times as much tax what I earn in total income.”
“So what I have to do is sell off things, out of the things that you create. Is it right or wrong?”
This seems to have in some way annoyed Piketty, who works as a professor at the Paris School of Economics, as from then on he pursued Kjos without mercy.
"So what's your tax rate as a fraction of your wealth each year?” he asked.
Kjos squirmed. “I have wealth tax”.
“So how much is your wealth and what is your tax each year, so that we can understand?" Piketty continued .
“I pay ten times what I have in total income,” Kjos said.
“But you're not answering the question,” Piketty kept at him. “So, how much is your wealth, your net worth today?”
“My net worth depends on the value of the shares,” Kjos said, again trying to avoid giving an answer.
“OK, with the market value of today,” Piketty continued.
Kjos then tried to deflect the questioning with a joke.
“Well, the shares are going down with the strike so now I am on the wrong side,” he said leaning back and giving a belly laugh.
Piketty barely smiled. “I am asking you for a number.”
“For this year it has been negative, but I still pay ten times what I earn,” Kjos said.
“Your net worth is negative?” Piketty asked, raising an eyebrow in a way only a Frenchman can.
“No, but the value has gone down?” Kjos explained. “OK, I have to multiply the shares.”
“Well roughly,” Piketty said, asking him to do it.
At that point Kjos pushed back on his seat again.
“Look, I don't care about how much I own. I just want a payback on the work I do.”
At this the French economist pointed out that the exchange had started out after Kjos had complained about how much tax he paid.
“I’m just trying to get a sense of what's your wealth and what's your tax so we can all have a sense of what's going on. I don't know what's the answer, but If you don't tell me what can we do?“
“It's a market, it's on the stock exchange,” Kjos repeated.
The show’s host Fredrik Skavlan, then intervened to suggest that Kjos was worth one billion or two billion, presumably meaning in Norwegian kroner.