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Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new report published by Oxfam today ahead of the annual meeting of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.
Oxfam’s report, “An economy for the 99 percent,” shows that the gap between rich and poor is far greater than had previously been estimated and details how big business and the super-rich are fueling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics. The report also calls for a fundamental change in the way we manage our economies so that they work for all people, and not just a fortunate few.
“It is mind-boggling that just 8 men own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, but that’s the sobering reality of 2017,” said Paul O’Brien, Oxfam America’s Vice President for Policy and Campaigns. “Such dramatic inequality is trapping millions in poverty, fracturing our societies, and poisoning our politics. We must take urgent action to reverse dangerous inequality here at home and across the world – not accelerate it.”
Public anger with inequality is already creating political shockwaves around the globe, as seen recently with the election of Donald Trump here in the US, and Brexit in the UK. But rather than moving forward with a constructive vision to unrig the rules, we are seeing dangerous, often xenophobic approaches, which blame inequality on the very people who bear its greatest burdens and empowers special interests to rig the rules even more.
“Americans want the political establishment to wake-up to the way elites and special interests have rigged the system to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else,” continued O’Brien. “We have seen no proposals from President-elect Trump or his transition team to unrig the rules. In fact, what little detail is available of his team’s proposals indicates quite the opposite.”
Inequality is a daily reality for millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, which is part of a global trend that has seen the wealthy profit from an unfair political system as everyone else is left behind. In the US, the 1% control 42% of wealth. Between 1988 and 2011 the poorest 10% of Americans saw their incomes grow by an average $427 while the richest 10% saw their income increase by $13,490 on average.
From Nigeria to Bangladesh, from the UK to Brazil, people are fed up with feeling ignored by their political leaders and millions are mobilizing to push for change. Seven out of 10 people live in a country that has seen a rise in inequality in the last 30 years. Between 1988 and 2011 the incomes of the poorest 10 percent globally increased by just $65, while the incomes of the richest 1 percent grew by $11,800- 182 times as much.
But instead of attacking such dramatic inequalities, President-elect Trump and some in Congress seem to want to respond to the outcry by giving massive tax cuts to the rich, dismantling protections for workers and punishing refugees and immigrants. Oxfam is also concerned that to lead the agencies that protect workers, the environment, and human rights, President-elect Trump has nominated individuals who have spent their careers attacking the rules, undermining protections, and resisting progress.
“This agenda, and these leaders, are not going to spur equitable growth, but only further concentrate income and wealth in the superclass of the 1%,” continued O’Brien. “Tax cuts for the rich, dismantling protections for workers and punishing refugees and immigrants will only worsen inequality and the suffering of working people.”
Oxfam is instead calling on world leaders, including President-elect Trump, to take urgent action to reduce inequality and the extreme concentration of wealth by ensuring that workers are paid a decent wage and by increasing taxes on both wealth and high incomes. This is key to ensure a more level playing field and to generate the funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation. Oxfam is also calling on leaders to cooperate not just compete with other leaders, and put a stop to tax dodging and the race to the bottom on corporate tax.
Oxfam is also calling on business leaders attending the World Economic Forum – which this year has responsive and responsible leadership as its key theme – to play their part in building a human economy. They can start by committing to pay their fair share of taxes and by ensuring their businesses pay a living wage. Governments must also ensure economies work for women. They must help to dismantle the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work.
“We are calling on President Trump and Congress to fight inequality,” continued O’Brien. “Inequality is not inevitable. It is a political choice our leaders make every day, with every law they pass and every regulation they write or dismantle.”