Economy

8 Wealthiest Men Own the Same Amount as the Poorest Half of the World

According to Oxfam, because of our broken economics, never have so few owned so much.

homeless man
Photo Credit: Rui Duarte/Flickr CC

A new Oxfam report confirms many of our worst suspicions about inequality: that it is horrible and getting worse. Just eight men have the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world, or 3.6 billion people, according to the report, which was published to coincide with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the world's largest gathering of leaders and business heads. 

The poorest half of the world own the same in assets as that group of eight, $426 billion to be exact. The group of eight is led by Bill Gates; Amancio Ortega, the founder of the Spanish fashion chain Zara; and investor Warren Buffett. The others on the startlingly short list are Carlos Slim Helú; the Mexican telecom tycoon; Jeff Bezos; Mark Zuckerberg; Larry Ellison of Oracle; and Michael Bloomberg, former billionaire mayor of New York and founder of Bloomberg news.

This information would be frightening enough on its own, but gets even worse when compared to 2016's data, when a whopping 62 people owned the same amount in assets as the poorest half of the world, partly because new data shows that poverty in India and China is even worse than reported just last year. Such a steep drop should be troubling to anyone concerned about the scourge of economic inequality, although it was hardly a good number to start with. Oxfam's report didn't mince words, calling the data "beyond grotesque," and as the Guardian reports, advocating for "a new economic model to reverse an inequality trend that it said helped to explain Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election." 

“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 warned.

It's probably counterproductive to make these eight men the poster boys for economic evil, though they are the beneficiaries. As Mark Goldring, Oxfam's CEO writes in a Guardian op-ed, many of the top eight are also among the world's most prominent philanthropists. Goldring continues, 

"...this is not an exposé of eight people, but of a broken economics. Narrowing the gap between the richest and the rest requires us to take on a more challenging task than asking eight men to change their behaviour. It requires us to create a more human economy; one that does not result in 1% of the world’s population owning the same wealth as the other 99%. One that encourages and rewards enterprise and innovation, yes, but one that also offers everyone, regardless of background, a fair chance in life and ensures when individuals and businesses succeed, they do so for the benefit, rather than at the expense, of others."

Even the Davos heavyweights know this. In a study published ahead of the gathering, 700 experts said inequality is the number one threat to the global economy. One way to begin might be to address this threat, aside from a fundamental cultural shift in values, would be to limit tax avoidance, which Goldring reminds us, "costs poor countries more than $100bn annually that could be used to provide clean water, lifesaving medicines or education. Rich countries, including the U.K., lose countless billions more. Yet governments, anxious to defend their own corporate sectors and perceived national interests, have failed to adequately respond to companies’ use of tax loopholes, corporate power and new technology to avoid paying their fair share." Also contributing to inequality are policies allowing aggressive wage restraints.

If any of the Davos attendees were serious about fighting this threat they would do well to read both the report, and and Goldring's commentary

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.

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