The world’s 85 wealthiest people hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion, or half the world population, according to a new report from global anti-poverty group Oxfam.
That’s roughly $1.7 trillion for both the 85 richest people, and the poorest half of the planet.
The global economy has become so skewed in favour of the rich that economic growth in many countries today “amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest,” Oxfam said in a statement.
The report, titled Working for the Few, warns that democratic institutions are being undermined as an increasing amount of wealth is concentrated in the hands of the richest, making it ever easier for them to influence policy to enrich themselves further. The report calls this process “political capture.”
The report comes ahead of this year’s gathering of business people and policymakers at the World Economic Forum, and is clearly aimed to get the forum’s attention.
“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,” said Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima in a statement.
“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.”
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The report does recognize that “some economic inequality is essential to drive growth and progress, rewarding those with talent, hard earned skills, and the ambition to innovate and take entrepreneurial risks.”
But “the extreme levels of wealth concentration occurring today threaten to exclude hundreds of millions of people from realizing the benefits of their talents and hard work,” the Oxfam report says. It argues that income inequality widens other forms of social gaps, such as those between men and women.
Among its findings:
• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one per cent of the population.
• The wealth of the one per cent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
• Seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
• The richest one per cent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which Oxfam has data between 1980 and 2012.
• In the U.S., the wealthiest one per cent captured 95 per cent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 per cent became poorer.
Oxfam sees a risk to both democratic institutions and to social stability in these trends.
“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,” the report says.
The WEF has itself been making noise about growing income inequality. A recent report identified growing wealth inequality as one of the top risks to the global economy.
The WEF said income disparity in the wake of the global financial crisis is the "most likely risk to cause an impact on a global scale in the next decade" and warned of a "lost generation" of young people that could stoke tensions in society.
"The generation coming of age in the 2010s faces high unemployment and precarious job situations, hampering their efforts to build a future and raising the risk of social unrest," the Forum said in Global Risks 2014, which was compiled with contributions by 700 global experts.
Oxfam is calling on attendees at this year’s WEF to take a pledge to support progressive taxation and government health care and education programs, as well as to push for living wages at the companies they invest in and to “refrain from using their wealth to seek political favours that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens.”
— With files from The Associated Press