Home > inequality, Plutonomy, upward income redistribution > 85 people versus 3.5 billion people – the OXFAM report

85 people versus 3.5 billion people – the OXFAM report

from Edward Fullbrook

In the run-up to the annual Davos get-together of the world’s hyper-rich and their most-favoured agents, OXFAM has issued a report titled “Working For The Few”.  Commenting on it, today’s Guardian notes that

. . . if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.

The OXFAM report emphasizes how democracies round the world are increasingly under threat due their subversion by the ultra-rich. Here is a key passage from the report. 

When wealth captures government policymaking, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else. The consequences include the erosion of democratic governance, the pulling apart of social cohesion, and the vanishing of equal opportunities for all. Unless bold political solutions are instituted to curb the influence of wealth on politics, governments will work for the interests of the rich, while economic and political inequalities continue to rise. As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’

Oxfam is concerned that, left unchecked, the effects are potentially immutable, and will lead to ‘opportunity capture’ – in which the lowest tax rates, the best education, and the best healthcare are claimed by the children of the rich. This creates dynamic and mutually reinforcing cycles of advantage that are transmitted across generations.

Given the scale of rising wealth concentrations, opportunity capture and unequal political representation are a serious and worrying trend. For instance:

• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.2

• The wealth of the one percent 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.3

• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.4

• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.5

• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.6

• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.7

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.

  1. Nell
    January 21, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Yep and but I don’t see how asking the top 1% to share nicely is going to be all that effective. My guess is they are going to keep on pushing until they get overwhelmed by social unrest. No excuse for apathy on the part of the 99%, though.

  2. robert r locke
    January 21, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    The red specter that Marx wrote about in the Communist Manifesto (1846) shall scare the hell out of the 1% and its government minions in the next decades.

  3. Fred Zaman
    January 21, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    The American Economy’s Political Deconstruction:
    Democracy for Machiavelli

    What “Democracy for Machiavelli” hopefully provides to readers is a common understanding in principle applicable to diverse situations of the absence of economic and political fairness, and abuse of the general populace by those holding the reins of power through misinformation, deception, and outright lying; with those rebelling against such abuse being the “Whigs,” and those supporting this abuse called “Tories.” The account thereof thus reflecting a historical example of such abuse found in the American colonies. The general theme of which is that secular society virtually always either begins in or evolves into the class struggle of the “haves” against the “have nots;” which generally ends in the failure to maintain social harmony to such an extent that sectarian discord then dominates society until a new secular government is formed. This secular-sectarian cycle of institutionalized malevolence, if repeated endlessly in the futile search for social harmony, will be doomed to failure unless and until a secular government finally has the strength and political will, maintained permanently over the long term, to stop the perpetual class war conducted behind the scenes – through misinformation, deception, and outright lying – by society’s haves against its have nots. This in a nut shell is the thesis of “Democracy for Machiavelli.”

    What indeed does Niccoló Machiavelli, or “Machiavellianism,” have to do with democracy in America? The United States today is a nation that Machiavelli, if he were present today, would recognize as having political roots in his own day. The U.S. Constitution in no way bars Machiavellianism from having taken root in American politics. To the contrary, the hallowed “free market,” “free enterprise,” and “free trade” of democratic government, absent effective regulation and oversight, are fertile ground for the economic and political corruption of “The Prince” on Wall Street thereby enthroned. American capitalism, it will be argued here, most certainly is a current exemplar of “Democracy for Machiavelli.”

    In “Democracy for Machiavelli” (D4M), the political “contexts” of American democracy and freedom are “deconstructed” by and for the benefit of the most wealthy, powerful, and privileged; which elitist deconstruction also is correspondingly to the detriment of those less wealthy…. Democracy and freedom in D4M are contextually deconstructed on an ongoing basis by capitalism’s reactionary “Tories” of the 21st century – the economic and political warfighters of a de facto class war currently waged by the capitalist elite against society’s progressive “Whigs.” The reactionary Tories of which seem in most polls to constitute about 20% of the U.S. population, with the progressive Whigs then being the remaining 80%; the percentages of which in the U.S. today thus constitute the current demographics of America’s “Democracy for Machiavelli.”

    More to follow….

  4. Garrett Connelly
    January 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    It is not revolution when existing governments disenfranchise the citizens who then establish a more modern seven branch democracy,

  5. January 21, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Taking Sides.

  6. giom
    January 21, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Welcome to the club! Einstein made this conclusions already in 1949. To cite an excerpt:
    “Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.” http://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism .
    So, we have some 65 years lost in trying not to see the obvious. Does anyone really believe, that we are to change anything before the situation becomes unbearable?

  7. January 21, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    WHY NOT a Central Bank that is the custodian of the sovereign currency that acts as the social banker “For the people”. Being fully aware that the social group is the one and only true owner of the “money”, the CB is aware that the wealth of the nation is not theirs to use rather just placed in their care for validating transactions, exchanges of anything of value.
    Also it is their job the maintain the quality and quantity of the entrusted wealth. What better way to run such a bank than that of allowing the CB to use the “money” that is entrusted to them in order …” “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,…”
    How would they do this ? It is very simple:
    TAXATION is the best place to start.
    As President Obama *even* knows but somehow does not understand that he has the answer, yet.
    Stated on ” 60 minutes” (12/11/11)” President Obama said,”You can’t raise revenues by lowering taxes unless you get the money from somewhere else.” ?
    YES,YES…reduce FICA to zero. Reduce federal personal income taxes to
    zero percent.
    That simple!
    Dare you ask , “Where is the “SOMEWHERE ELSE”?
    *****There shall be but one and only one issuer of the sovereign currency.
    Any issuance after the recording of the wealth of the sovereignty shall be by way of loans.The amount on deposit belongs to the social group and is in trust for them and exchangeable on demand for the Federal Reserve is the caretaker. All new issuance must be loans and shall bear a taxation, commonly known as interest. INTEREST paid to the central bank
    shall be the taxation which is turned over to Congress for appropriations..
    Surely: You are aware that the private for profit banks have raise over $100 trillion as interest profit for themselves since inception of being legally allowed to do just that: issue new currency and tax it via interest!
    $100 trillion that the PFPB have taken out of our pockets, spent for their our interests
    Just do for the people what we have allowed the Private For Profit Banks to do—Issue currency as loans with a tax attached.
    How the Feds DO unto US what they have done for the PFPB!

    Frederick Soddy writings, namely “The Role Of Money”
    (Entire book as a free download…)

    This book attempts to clear up the mystery of
    money in its social aspect. With the monetary
    system of the whole world in chaos, this mystery
    has never been so carefully fostered as it is to-day.
    And this is all the more curious inasmuch as
    there is not the slightest reason for this mystery.
    This book will show what money now is, what it
    does, and what it should do. From this will
    emerge the recognition of what has always been
    the true role of money. The standpoint from
    which most books on modern money are written
    has been reversed. In this book the subject is not
    treated from the point of view of the bankers
    as those are called who create by far the greater
    proportion of money but from that of the
    PUBLIC, who at present have to give up valuable
    goods and services to the bankers in return for
    the money that they have so cleverly created
    and create. This, surely, is what the public
    really wants to know about money.
    It was recognized in Athens and Sparta ten
    centuries before the birth of Christ that one
    of the most vital prerogatives of the State was
    the sole right to issue money. How curious that
    the unique quality of this prerogative is only now
    being re-discovered. The” money-power
    ” which has been able to overshadow ostensibly responsible
    government, is not the power of the merely ultrarich,
    but is nothing more nor less than a new
    technique designed to create and destroy money
    by adding and withdrawing figures in bank ledgers,
    without the slightest concern for the interests of
    the community or the real role that money ought
    to perform therein.

    Comments by Justaluckyfool ( http://bit.ly/MlQWNs )
    ( “You are always welcome to share, copy, plagiarize, improve, etc..any comments.)

    Where we went wrong is not in establishing a Federal Reserve Bank; it is in : We have destroyed “In God We Trust” and turned that into “In Private For Profit Banks (PFPB) We Trust”.
    It was the fear of giving the awesome power to one institution that allowed for legislation to give PFPB the power TO ISSUE and TAX our sovereign currency.
    Whom would you now rather trust?
    Roger Mitchell, “You are a Monetarily Sovereign nation, with two major assets: The unlimited power to create your own sovereign currency, and the unlimited power to determine your economic fate.
    Obviously, you don’t want such a burden. You’d rather be a slave nation. So what do you do? You voluntarily surrender those most valuable assets, and you put your nations fate into the hands of some unelected, foreign bureaucrats called the EU.
    Surprise! That hasn’t worked out so well:…”
    May I, Justaluckyfool paraphrase:
    America ,you are a Monetary Sovereign nation…..
    (read above)…SO what do you do ? You give to the Private For Profit Banks the sovereign rights to CREATE SOVEREIGN CURRENCY and the POWER TO TAX that currency giving the PFPBanks unlimited power to determine your fate !
    How is that working for you?
    The great USA mystery solved. We have lied as printed on our currency:
    “In God We Trust” The truth is : “We Now Trust The Private For Profit Banks”.
    Read more: http://bit.ly/MlQWNs

    • Kihano
      January 23, 2014 at 8:09 am

      It is wrong to blame the banking system only for the problems. The problems lay in the basic principles of the economic system. The monetary system matches the needs of the economic system. You may nationalize the banking system (and its profit), and that will be good for the nation, you will have 1/3 Soviet Union. Then you will see the problems persist. You will have to nationalize the entire economy (and its profit), having 2/3 Soviet Union. Then you will see the problems modified, but persist. The problem is the existence (allowance) of monetary profit itself. The monetary profit makes the monetary system mathematically inconsistent regardless of if the property is private or public (state). Of course, the profit goes together with the market and is possible only because the market is unable to determine the prices (or imperfect in determining the prices, to be more compliant with the current economics).
      Thus, it seems we need entirely new economic system, but why we stick to the existing one?
      The understanding, that capitalism is deeply unjust exists from long time. I think everyone will laugh on the statement, that these 85 people contributed to the mankind as much as 3.5 billion people. And in what sense exactly they contributed? Obviously, the “profit on the market” system is completely unable of at least approximately approaching just distribution of the wealth. But we accept this. Why? Because we consider sane and moral to take whatever you can regardless of if you deserve it. That is a piece of ethics of a psychologically underdeveloped person. The way out is not easy.

      • February 3, 2014 at 6:02 pm

        Your points have some merit, but you’re discouraging necessary reforms. We have to work within the realms of possibility, and that means keeping money, at least for the short term. Having money means allowing inequality to some degree. Not allowing inequality seems to pose significant risks of its own, so it seems preferable to just allow inequality to be mitigated naturally (in the first instance), and by fiat (in the second instance), but only to a degree less than the total inequality.

        The monetary system is the MAJOR source of inequality, so fixing that would be a step in the right direction. There will be no perfect systems imposed by force, but since we live in one of the worst possible systems that can be imposed by force, implementing monetary reform could have huge benefits. We would NOT have 1/3 Soviet Union. The ideologies of the Soviet Union are completely different, and hence the use of seigniorage would also, very likely, be significantly different. We could even put this into the reforms itself. We could insist that all seigniorage be equally distributed among the entire population, providing some part of a universal income.

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