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.