A new study has shown that the combined wealth of the 85 richest people on the planet is now equivalent to the income of half the global population, and equal to the total wealth of the 3.5 billion poorest people alive.
The study was carried out by the global anti-poverty charity Oxfam, and is designed to coincide with the beginning of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Oxfam is urging global leaders to take serious steps to reverse the alarming, and rapidly increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of an increasingly small minority at the top.
The study, entitled “Working for the Few,” estimates that the combined income of the top 1% of earners is now $110 trillion, 65 times the combined wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population. The study’s authors were adamant danger such a concentration of wealth poses:
[box type=”shadow”]”This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems. Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.”[/box]
Oxfam recommended some measures to alleviate rising income inequality, such as clamping down on tax evasion and avoidance by wealthy individuals and corporations. In the United Kingdom alone, tax dodging by the top 1% of earners is believed to cost the Treasury £95 billion/$156 billion per year.
The study also included a poll which revealed that the majority of respondents in six countries (Spain, South Africa, Brazil, India, the US and the UK) believe that laws and regulations are disproportionately designed to benefit the wealthiest members of society. According to CNBC:
[box type=”shadow”]”Oxfam singled out India as an example, where the number of billionaires increased from less than 6 to 61 in the past decade, concentrating approximately $250 billion among a few dozen people in a country of 1.2 billion.”[/box]
In the current capitalist model, freedom is relative to one’s income. If the market is given a free hand in the provision of healthcare, for example, that means that the quality of care offered will be relative to the purchasing power of the individual. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be healthy and taken care of if you are sick.
The advent of neo-liberalism in the late 1970s, and the subsequent deregulation of the financial industry in the ’80s and ’90s, led to an unprecendented explosion in earnings for the wealthiest in society. It has also led to the greatest level of inequality seen in human history.
As neo-liberal policies such as privatization of industry and services increase globally, we are seeing that people’s freedom of choice is being steadily, and deliberately eroded. These are not the findings of an extremist group bent on the overthrow of global capitalism, but the results of a careful and serious study from a mainstream and widely respected charity dedicated to ending global poverty. Global leaders arriving in Switzerland would do well to take Oxfam’s recommendations on board, and work to reverse policies that will only lead to greater resentment, instability and possible social unrest in their own countries.