The world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth between them as the poorest half of the globe’s population, according to a charity warning of an ever-increasing and dangerous concentration of wealth.
In a report published to coincide with the week-long World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam said it was “beyond grotesque” that a handful of rich men headed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates are worth $NZ593b / $A563b, equivalent to the wealth of 3.6 billion people.
The British-based charity called for a new economic model to reverse a trend of inequality it said helped explain Brexit and Donald Trump’s election victory.
Oxfam blamed rising inequality on aggressive wage restraint, tax dodging and the squeezing of producers by companies. It said businesses were too focused on delivering ever-higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives.
The World Economic Forum said much the same last week – that rising inequality and social polarisation pose two of the biggest risks to the global economy in 2017 and could result in the rolling back of globalisation.
Oxfam said the world’s poorest 50% owned the same in assets as that owned by a group headed by Gates, Amancio Ortega, founder of the Spanish fashion chain Zara; and Warren Buffet, the renowned investor and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.
The others are Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecoms tycoon and owner of conglomerate Grupo Carso; Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon; Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook; Larry Ellison, chief executive of US tech firm Oracle; and Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, founder and owner of the Bloomberg news and financial information service.
Last year Oxfam said the world’s 62 richest billionaires were as wealthy as half the world’s population.
However, the number has dropped to eight in 2017 because new information shows that poverty in China and India is worse than previously thought, making the bottom 50% even worse off and widening the gap between rich and poor.
As the forum opened with guests ranging from Chinese president Xi Jinping to pop star Shakira, the WEF’s “inclusive development index” said median income had fallen by an average 2.4% across 26 advanced nations between 2008-13.
Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark filled the top five places in the WEF’s index, with Britain 21st and the US 23rd.
The report found 51% of the 103 countries for which data was available saw their scores decline over the past five years, “attesting to the legitimacy of public concern and the challenge facing policymakers regarding the difficulty of translating economic growth into broad social progress”.
Basing its research on the Forbes rich list and data provided by investment bank Credit Suisse, Oxfam said the vast majority of people in the bottom half of the world’s population were facing a daily struggle to survive, with 70% living in low-income countries.
“From Brexit to the success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, a worrying rise in racism and the widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics, there are increasing signs that more and more people in rich countries are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo,” the report said.
Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: “This year’s snapshot of inequality is clearer, more accurate and more shocking than ever before. It is beyond grotesque that a group of men who could easily fit in a single golf buggy own more than the poorest half of humanity.
“While one in nine people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight, a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it.
“The fact that a super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us at home and overseas shows how warped our economy has become.”
Mark Littlewood, director-general at the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, said: “Once again Oxfam have come out with a report that demonises capitalism, conveniently skimming over the fact that free markets have helped over 100 million people rise out of poverty in the last year alone.”
The Oxfam report added that since 2015 the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet.
It said that over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs – a sum larger than the annual GDP of India, a country with 1.3 billion people. Between 1988 and 2011 the incomes of the poorest 10% increased by just $US65, while the incomes of the richest 1% grew 182 times as much.