— The Erimtan Angle —

The UK-based USA TODAY journalist Kim Hjelmgaard reports that the “British charity Oxfam has concluded that the combined wealth of the world’s 85 richest people is equivalent to that owned by the bottom half — in wealth terms — of the world’s population”.[1]  Getting down to specifics, Hjelmgaard indicates that “the 1% richest people on the planet are rich to the tune of $110 trillion” according to the Oxfam report Working for the Few. The report, released on 17 January 2013, was authored by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, Head of Research, Oxfam GB, and Nicholas Galasso, Research and Policy Advisor, Oxfam America.

Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva do not mince their words: the “past quarter of a century has seen wealth become ever more concentrated in the hands of fewer people. This global phenomenon has led to a situation where one percent of the world’s families own almost half (46 percent) of the world’s wealth. The bottom half of the world’s population owns less than the richest 85 people in the world In the past year, 210 people have become billionaires, joining a select group of 1,426 individuals with a combined net worth of $5.4 trillion. Corporate profits, chief executive officer (CEO) salaries, and stock exchanges are breaking new records daily, with no signs of slowing down. At the time of writing, the Dow Jones industrial average reached the highest mark in its 117-year history. The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half”.[2]  In this way, Oxfam gives credence to the phrase “the 99%” that was launched by the Occupy movement in 2011 — the slogan seems to go back to a Tumblr blog launched in support of the Occupy movement by the activist known only as “Chris”, as revealed by Mother Jones.[3]  The Tumblr blog ‘We Are the 99 Percent’ is still going strong today — well, more or less.[4]  And now Oxfam has made it public that the 1% trope is actually a worldwide reality . . .

Posted 14 October 2013

The authors Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva continue that “[t]his trend may seem surprising in light of the recent global financial crisis. Yet, while the crisis caused a momentary dip in the share of global wealth held by the rich, they have already gained it back, and more. In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth between 2009 and 2012, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer. The Great Recession did not change the trend in concentration of income: the share of US national income going to the top decile stands at 50.4 percent – its highest since World War I. Had the share of income going to the richest one percent stayed the same as in 1980, the rest of America would have an additional $6,000 dollars at their disposal in 2012. Global elites are increasingly becoming richer. Yet the vast majority of people around the world have been excluded from this prosperity. For instance, while stocks and corporate profits soar to new heights, wages as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) have stagnated. To give an indication of the scale of wealth concentration, the combined wealth of Europe’s 10 richest people exceeds the total cost of stimulus measures implemented across the European Union (EU) between 2008 and 2010 (€217bn compared with €200bn). Furthermore, post-recovery austerity policies are hitting poor people hard, while making the rich even richer. Austerity is also having an unprecedented impact on the middle classes. Rich people are pulling further away from everyone else in terms of wealth in many countries. The World Top Incomes Database covers 26 countries, with information on the share of pre-tax income going to the richest one percent since the 1980s. In all but two countries (Colombia and the Netherlands), the share of income of the richest percentile increased – and in Colombia, it stayed at around 20 percent. The richest one percent of people in China, Portugal, and the US have more than doubled their share of national income since 1980, and the situation is getting worse. Even in more egalitarian countries such as Sweden and Norway, the share of income going to the richest one percent has increased by more than 50 percent”.[5]

Taking the bull by the horns, Galassso and Feuntes-Neuva argue that “[m]arkets are not autonomous, spontaneous phenomena operating according to their own natural laws. In reality, markets are social constructions whose rules are set by institutions and regulated by governments that should be accountable to the participants and citizens. When there is growth and diminishing inequality, the rules governing markets are working [for] the middle classes and the poorest sections of society. However, when only the rich are gaining, the rules start bending towards their interests exclusively. Oxfam has spent 70 years working to fight poverty and injustice in more than 90 countries. Oxfam has fought against unsustainable debt and against tax havens. Through these experiences, Oxfam has witnessed first-hand how the wealthiest individuals and groups capture political institutions for their aggrandizement at the expense of the rest of society. Today’s unprecedented levels of economic inequality tell us that left unchecked, representative institutions will decay further, and the power disparity between the haves and have-nots may become entrenched and immutable. Strong quantitative data support Oxfam’s concerns regarding rising wealth concentration and unequal political representation. A recent study presents compelling statistical evidence that the preferences of wealthy Americans are represented in their government, compared with those of the middle classes. By contrast, the preferences of the poorest people demonstrate statistical impact on the voting patterns of their elected officials. If this trend continues, public policies will most likely reproduce the conditions that are worsening economic inequality and political marginalization. How do the rules governing national economies become subservient to elite interests? This is a problem inherent to the nature of politics. As we have seen, the influence of wealthy groups leads to imbalanced political rights and representation. The outcomes include the capture of legislative and regulatory decision-making functions by those powerful groups”.[6]

And, making the discourse personal and personable, to the Oxfam report Working for the Few singles out “Mexico’s Carlos Slim [, who] moves in and out of the world’s richest person spot, possessing a net worth estimated at $73bn. The enormity of his wealth derives from establishing an almost complete monopoly over fixed line, mobile, and broadband communications services in Mexico. Slim is the CEO and Chairman of América Móvil, which controls nearly 80 percent of fixed line services and 70 percent of mobile services in the country. A recent OECD review on telecommunications policy and regulation in Mexico concluded that the monopoly over the sector has had a significant negative effect on the economy, and a sustained welfare cost to citizens who have had to pay inflated prices for telecommunications”.[7]  The Oxfam report concludes pessimistically that “[w]ealth begets wealth, and once the political and institutional system is rigged in favor of an elite, the consolidation of their privileges cascades down through different mechanisms. This ‘privilege cascade’ affects elements that otherwise should be conducive to fair opportunities and protection for all members of society. What, by some measure, looks and sounds meritocratic is a result of rules that are biased in favor of the elite. Good quality education and other public services overwhelmingly benefit the few, providing them with more opportunities for development”.[8]

[1] Kim Hjelmgaard, “World’s 85 richest own 46% of global wealth” USA Today (20 Jan 2014). http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/01/20/davos-2014-oxfam-85-richest-people-half-world/4655337/.

[2] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality” Oxfam (17 Jan 2014). http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/working-for-the-few-economic-inequality.

[3] Adam Weinstein, “‘We Are the 99 Percent’ Creators Revealed” Mother Jones (07 Oct 2011). http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/we-are-the-99-percent-creators.

[5] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[6] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[7] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

[8] N. Galassso and R. Feuntes-Neuva, “Working for the Few. Political capture and economic inequality”.

Comments on: "Inequality Rising: 46% of Global Wealth owned by 86 Individuals" (1)

  1. Global poverty will not be stemmed using classic Mechanical paradigms, a systemic approach must be adopted to solve systemic problems. See URL: Poverty & the field of power:

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