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2017-01-17

Eight billionaires own more than the poorest 50% of the world combined

SLum Here lives the poorest half of the world (Photo: CC0)

Just eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population combined, according to a new report published by the charity organisation Oxfam. The report ‘An economy for the 99 percent’ shows that the richest eight individuals, led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, have a net wealth of $426bn, which is the same as the net wealth of the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. Gates, whose net worth is $75 billion, is followed by Amancio Ortega, the founder of the Spanish fashion chain Zara (net worth $67 billion) and the American investor Warren Buffett (net worth $60.8 bn). “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy,” she added and warned of a growing and dangerous concentration of wealth. The report, released ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, reveals that the divide between rich and poor is more pronounced than had been previously feared. Last year, Oxfam had calculated that 62 people owned the same as the poorest half of the world but new data on the distribution of global wealth, particularly in India and China, shows that the situation is even worse.

Oxfam’s calculations are based on the Global Wealth Data book 2016, an annual report published by financial services company Credit Suisse. Oxfam says the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by avoiding taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics. “Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite,” said Winnie Byanyima. And the rich are quickly getting richer. Between 1988 and 2011, the incomes of the poorest 10% increased by just $65 per person, while the incomes of the richest 1% grew by $11,800 per person – 182 times as much. The report quotes UBS figures estimating that in the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs – a sum larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people. Oxfam says the world could see its first trillionaire within just 25 years. The report calls for fundamental changes to achieve an economy that works for the 99% of the world’s population and not just a handful of super-rich people. “Governments are not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces,” said Byanyima. Oxfam calls on governments to increase taxes on both wealth and high incomes in order to generate funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation and to crack down on tax dodging. In addition, governments need to make sure workers are paid a decent wage, especially for women. “If politicians stop obsessing with GDP, and focus on delivering for all their citizens and not just a wealthy few, a better future is possible for everyone.” In order to achieve a better future for all, world leaders adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Among other objectives, these goals aim at eradicating extreme poverty for all people everywhere by 2030, ending hunger and malnutrition and reducing inequalities within and among countries. (ab)

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