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Oxfam highlights ‘obscene’ wealth inequality

20 January 2017


Security: an armed Swiss police officer stands guard on a roof-top in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday

Security: an armed Swiss police officer stands guard on a roof-top in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday

THE RICHEST eight people in the world — all men — are as wealthy as the planet’s 3.6 billion poorest, Oxfam has said, in an analysis of global inequality released to coincide with the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

The report, An Economy for the 99 per cent, is informed by the Global Data Wealth Databook 2016, published by the bank Credit Suisse, and the Forbes billionaires list, which was published in March last year.

The report describes an “obscene level of inequality”, which, if left unchecked, “threatens to pull our societies apart.”

“From Brexit to the success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, a worrying rise in racism and the widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics, there are increasing signs that more and more people in rich countries are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo. Why would they, when experience suggests that what it delivers is wage stagnation, insecure jobs and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots? The challenge is to build a positive alternative — not one that increases divisions.”

The report calls for further crackdowns on tax dodging, higher investment in public services, and higher wages for the low paid to narrow the gap.

World leaders and the super rich gathered at the WEF in the Swiss ski resort of Davos this week. The Global Risks Report 2017, published by the WEF last week, said that “rising income and wealth disparity” was the top trend that would “determine global developments” in the next ten years.

Climate change was ranked the second most significant trend, and “increasing polarization of societies” the third.

Last year, Oxfam said that the world’s 62 richest billionaires were as wealthy as half the world’s population. The number has dropped to eight in 2017, however, because new information shows that poverty in China and India is worse than previously thought, making the bottom 50 per cent even worse off, and widening the gap between rich and poor.

The executive director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when one in ten people survive on less than $2 a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.”

Oxfam’s report suggests that the eight men have fortunes totalling £349.8 billion ($421.75 billion), while the world’s poorest 50 per cent have that sum between them.

The top eight men are headed by the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, who has a fortune of $75 billion; the founder of fashion chain Zara, Amancio Ortega, who is worth $67 billion; and the US investor Warren Buffett, who is worth $60.8 billion. The remaining five include the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos ($45.2 billion), and the co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg ($44.6 billion).

Many of the world’s poorest are in India and Africa, and women are more likely to be poorer than men. Oxfam said that, on current trends, it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men.

Speaking at the WEF this week, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said that world leaders should be accountable to the whole of humanity, not just to the rich.

“New expressions of polarising populism are leading to greater division in our world and in our societies,” he said. “We see more tribalism, nationalism, racism, and violence. The root causes of these trends can often be found in the negative effects of economic globalisation — or of its radical opposite, economic protectionism, inequality, and exclusion — with more and more people marginalised and left behind, creating ever greater gaps between the rich and the poor.

“Appeasing the fear of one group by increasing the fear of another cannot be the solution. These challenges require leadership accountable to the whole and one humanity for the sake of justice and peace for all.”

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