Unbalanced: 85 Super-Wealthy own as Much as Half the World’s Population

(By Andrea Germanos)

The global elite have rigged the rules so that "economic growth looks more like a winner-take-all system" that undermines democracy and threatens future generations with a "cascade of privilege and disadvantage," a new report from Oxfam states.

The report, Working for the Few: Political capture and economic inequality, states that just 85 of the world's richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population. Further:

  • Seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased over the past three decades.
  • In 24 out of 26 countries the top one percent increased their share of income from 1980 to 2012.
  • In the U.S. following the 2009 financial crisis, the bottom 90 percent has become poorer while the top one percent has captured 95 percent of the growth.

Among the factors that are contributing to policies that favor the rich and corporations over everyone else are tax havens and tax structures that enable tax dodging, financial deregulation, and austerity policies that have benefited investors while hurting everyone else. As the report states, these policies undermine democracy:

When there is growth and diminishing inequality, the rules governing markets are working of the middle classes and the poorest sections of society. However, when only the rich are gaining, the rules start bending towards their interests exclusively. […]

Concentration of wealth in the hands of the few leads to undue political influence, which ultimately robs citizens of natural resource revenues, produces unfair tax policies and encourages corrupt practices, and challenges the regulatory powers of governments. Taken together, all of these consequences serve to worsen accountability and social inclusion.

We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest."Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam Executive Director, states that a continuation of such policies will contribute to inequality for generations to come.
We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest."Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam Executive Director, states that a continuation of such policies will contribute to inequality for generations to come.

"In developed and developing countries alike, we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children," stated Byanyima.

"Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest," Byanyima stated.

Oxfam is urging those attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) to address growing inequality by supporting fair, progressive taxation, eliminating tax havens, supporting a living wage, eliminating undue influence of wealth on policies, and reversing course on austerity by using tax revenue to fund universal health care, education and social protections.


Mirrored from Commondreams.org

Related video:

PBS interview Robert Reich on growing Income Inequality in the US

16 Responses

  1. Isn’t the 85 persons vs the bottom half equivalent to saying that we have some big global corporations? I’d argue that the most important inequality is not in wealth and not even in income, but in consumption. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, for instance, don’t consume Google, they simply founded it, own it and try to run it rationally.

    Regarding wealth inequality, the second poorest town in America is Athens, Ohio, which is full of middle class college students with low net worth. But should we really regard them as poor? Aren’t they simply young? And there are a lot of young adults out there, considering the population pyramids in countries such as India.

    FWIW, I think the world inequality in consumption between the middle class and the rich might have widened a bit, but the inequality in consumption between the poor and the middle class has narrowed, and also lots and lots of people have moved from poverty into the global middle class. The latter, to me, is far more important.

    I agree with some of the suggestions Oxfam puts forward to address inequality, but I think there are drawbacks to a onesided view that does not acknowledge the great progress we continue to have globally.

    • Your whole argument is based on the notion that consumption is desirable, however the ensuing environmental degradation of such consumption is, as usual in such comments, ignored. The consumption patterns of the US alone is unsustainable, let alone that of the west in general; once India and China come online environmental damage will only increase exponentially.

      That apart though, your augment is utter nonsense: consumers – a disparate and disorganized citizenry from a political standpoint – cannot and have not purchased the political process. They may be able to punish (say) Burger King (say it used tomatoes based on slave labor in Florida), but a disparately elected congress with its diverse representatives from different states and districts? HA! Sheer Balderdash!

      Consumers my ass – this is about legislative capture by the corporate/media/politcal elite.

      • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. However, I don’t agree that Western consumption in general is unsustainable. Looking at the environmental footprint indices, we seem to be roughly within our boundaries excluding carbon emissions, and carbon emissions can be dealt with by renewables and/or nuclear power. Granted, there are other unsustainable practices, but they can generally be dealt with, and some have been dealt with historically. Along the same lines, the footprint history doesn’t support the notion of exponential damage increase.

        Regulatory capture by corporate/media/political elites? Yes, I’d definitely agree with that. But to me, there is a certain amount of checks and balances in play between those three (and within each group), and all these have to adjust somewhat to consumer demands and grassroot sentiments. It isn’t perfect, but then again, can it be? To me, the capitalism-democracy combo is the best we’ve seen so far.

        • Glad jeppen is comfortable with Bidness As Usual. Others running the numbers seriously disagree:

          link to theguardian.com

          link to context.org

          jeppen may be old enough and comfortable enough and secure enough to want to preserve his/her niche while yet he/she lives, but my grandkids and extended family are already feeling the cold breath of self-gratifying, iFirst consumption. “Apres moi le deluge” ain’t a particularly admirable ethos, especially when coupled with smug observations about how the “middle” is closing the gap with the poor (by getting poorer) as proof of “all is well.”

    • Mr Jeppen’s first sentence is utterly and breathtakingly meaningless. The rest of the tirade is blather. No facts, no reference to verifiable data of any kind, just right-wing commonplace pulled from the ether.

      • Kent, thanks for your honest and hearthfelt reply. I, in turn, honestly did my best, so I’m sorry you didn’t find my reasoning good enough. I’d like to repair whatever was bad, but I don’t find anything specific in your reply to expand on. However, I’m always happy to discuss matters further and to provide specific references when asked.

    • Pure piffle. Try being born into great poverty – with all the attendant loss of opportunity, food insecurity, and poor health. Congratulations – you are either a troll from the universe of the 1% or have a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome – either way not pretty.

    • “Concentrated wealth is concentrated power; concentrated power is tyranny.”

      Does your dictum above apply to someone, say, like George Soros?

      • Dear Bill,
        I fail to read a
        qualifier in his
        What, may I ask,
        makes you ask
        that question?
        J. Hansen

      • And Soros, “the man who broke the Bank of England,” link to en.wikipedia.org, who hardly qualifies as a Born Again Liberal, even if he does some bits of anti-tyrannical stuff, is what fraction of the players in the “We OWN the rest of you” crowd? Compared, say, to the Kochs? True alignments and interests begin to appear, as the razor cuts closer to the nociceptors, the place where torture, er, “not-illegal harsh interrogation,” does its work… link to en.wikipedia.org

      • Yes, of course! However, if you’re honest you’ll admit that the vast, vast majority of the world’s billionaires heavily lean towards the conservative end of the political spectrum. It’s convenient to single out Soros, when in truth the influence he wields pales in comparison to that wielded by conservative billionaires.

  2. The Berkeley group’s experiments and research appear to me to be exercises in a word that (unless I missed it) wasn’t mentioned:


    What the world needs now…

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