Just one percent of the world’s population owns and controls world wealth, according to a report released this morning by Oxfam International, a global organization that is changing the world by mobilizing “the power of people against poverty.” In monetary terms, one percent of people on earth are worth $110 trillion, a figure that Oxfam says is “65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.” Additionally, the richest 85 people own the same as the bottom half in total.
Published on the eve of Davos 2014, the World Economic Forum’s 44th annual international meeting that starts tomorrow, the six-page document calls on delegates to “make the commitments needed to counter the growing tide of inequality.” Titled Working For The Few: Political capture and economic inequality, it presents an argument that inequality is both “impacting social stability” and “threatening security on a global scale.”
The fact that there is a “massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people,” is a critical threat to “inclusive political and economic systems,” the report states. It also warns that there is an increasing risk of “societal breakdown” as people become increasingly segregated by political and economic power.
Other examples of “rising wealth concentrations” cited in the report include the fact that 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries that have increasing economic inequality. At the same time, the wealthiest one percent of the world’s population has grown their income share in 24 of the 26 countries studied by Oxfam researchers. In the US, the rich one percent has “captured 95 percent of post financial crisis growth since 2009.” The lowest 90 percent of people are poorer than they were previously. These are the people who don’t own world wealth.
While it is accepted that a degree of economic inequality is “essential to drive growth and progress,” the concern of researchers was that the “extreme levels of wealth concentration” would jeopardize the interests of the rest. The danger, they believe is that millions will be excluded from achieving, and being rewarded for hard-earned skills, talent, innovation and entrepreneurialism.
With world wealth owned by a mere one percent of the people on earth, the danger is that other inequalities will be compounded, including those between the sexes. The “pernicious impact that wealth concentrations can have on equal political representation” is another very worrying issue, the report states. If the policymaking of governments is captured by wealth, rules tend to bend in favor of those who are rich – specifically the top one percent.
This, the report maintains it will be the end of equal opportunity for everyone.
We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.
– US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
Calling for political solutions that will “curb the influence of wealth on politics,” the report quotes Justice Louis Brandeis who famously pointed out that democracy and the type of wealth concentration that has emerged cannot exist together. Instead, world governments will continue to “work for the interests of the rich, while economic and political inequalities continue to rise.”
Polling public opinion, Oxfam researchers carried out a survey in the US, United Kingdom, Brazil, India, Spain and South Africa, and discovered that most people in those countries are convinced that laws have been “skewed in favor of the rich.” Another poll that was conducted in the US recently showed that 65 percent of the population believes Congress deliberately passes laws that “predominantly benefit the wealthy.”
The theme of the meeting, to be held in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland from January 22-25, is The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business. More than 2,500 people will participate in the meeting, including close on 40 heads of government or state, 1,500 important business leaders and at least 300 people who are recognized public figures.
Co-Chairs of the meeting read like a who’s who of the international business world, and include two American women–Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer and Rockefeller Foundation President, Judith Rodin–and five men from other parts of the world. They are Novartis CEO from Switzerland, Joseph Jimenes; Confederation of Indian Industry President, Kris Gopalakrishnan; Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s Chairman of the Board, Jiang Jianqing; Total’s Chairman and CEO from France, Christophe de Margerie; and the Dangote Groups’s President and CEO, Aliko Dangote from Nigeria.
A number of prime ministers and presidents from the G20 countries are set to speak at the meeting, including Tony Abbott (Australia), who is also 2014 G20 Chair; Shinzo Abe (Japan); David Cameron (UK); Enrique Peña Nieto (Mexico); Park Geun-Hye (Republic of Korea); and Dilma Rousseff (Brazil).
Oxfam fervently believes that these people, and other participants, have the power to reverse the alarmingly rapid increase in wealth inequality, and has recommended a number of policies. These include regulating markets more convincingly so that equitable and sustainable growth is promoted. They want the “power of the rich to influence political processes and policies that best suit their interests” to be curbed. They also want all global powers to put an end to “extreme economic inequality” all over the world.
An interesting question one might ask is how many of those attending Davos are themselves part of the top one percent of people on earth who own all of the world wealth.
By Penny Swift