New Orleans Rev. Martin Luther King’s last campaign was about poor people and human rights, taking another step down the road from civil rights. It’s no surprise that Oxfam International, even though based in the United Kingdom, chose the day set aside to celebrate King’s legacy as the day to release a report on the soaring increases in global inequality just in recent years.
Their report is hard to ignore when you look at the figures alone:
In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet. Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years… with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016.
Rising inequality is not like climate change where you can wonder what the world might look like in 20, 30, 50, or 100 years. This is happening right this second last year, this year, and next year and demands action.
As startling, we can almost put faces and names on this problem since so few now have so incredibly much:
The wealth of these 80 individuals [at the top of the Forbes list] is now the same as that owned by the bottom 50% of the global population, such that 3.5 billion people share between them the same amount of wealth as that of these extremely wealthy 80 people.5 As the wealth of everyone else has not been increasing at the same rate as that for the top 80, the share of total wealth owned by this group has increased and the gap between the very rich and everyone else has also been increasing. As a result, the number of billionaires who have the same amount of wealth as that of the bottom half of the planet has declined rapidly over the past five years. In 2010, it took 388 billionaires to equal the wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population; by 2014, the figure had fallen to just 80 billionaires
Oxfam’s report is a little different though because it involves more than wringing their hands about the grossness of the inequality. They bell the cat by pointing out that much of the concentration of wealth is coming in the finance, insurance, health, and pharmaceutical sectors and is correlated directly with not just the amount these industries are over compensating their owners and executives, but also the amount they are investing in lobbying. Almost $1 billion was spent by the financial industry between lobbying and direct election contributions in the last year. Healthcare and drugs spent $500 million in lobbying last year. Oh, yeah, all of that is in the United States, where so much of the wealth is concentrated, but even in the EU the Oxfam count is $150 million euros and $50 million by finance and health respectively.
If you follow the money and want to decrease inequality, it’s hard to ignore the Oxfam argument. The chicken and the egg question is straightforward in their report. Curtail the ability of the these industries and the rich to buy special treatment and favors through lobbying and politics, and we might have a chance to finally start narrowing the inequality gap here and abroad between the very, very, very rich and the poor and poorer, which is pretty much the rest of us.