According to the new Oxfam report, “Reward Work, Not Wealth,” economic inequality is alive, well and growing worse worldwide. These reports are published annually in January, just prior to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in the vain hope of positively impacting the plutocrats, elites and political lackeys there gathered. It never seems to matter much. “It is hard to find a political or business leader these days who is not saying they are worried about inequality,” the report chastises. “Yet actions, not words, are what count, and here most of our leaders are lacking. Indeed, many are active promoting policies that increase inequality” (like the recent Republican tax cut, which mainly benefits rich individuals and large corporations). Some high (neigh, low) lights of the report include:
- More new billionaires were minted in 2017 than any year in history. There are now over 2000 worldwide, with another created every two days. 9/10 are men.
- In the last year their wealth increased by $762 billion. This is enough to end extreme poverty worldwide 7 times over!
- 82% of all growth in global wealth was captured by the top 1%, while the bottom 50% received exactly nothing, though their labor was the source of most of it.
- 42 individuals worldwide own as much wealth as the bottom half of the globe – 3.7 billion souls.
- The richest 1% own as much wealth as the whole rest of humanity.
- The 3 richest people in the USA (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and ?) have as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the population (160,000,000 people).
Inequality, of course, is as old as civilization itself, dating to the dawn of agriculture, when man first learned to accumulate and differentially distribute a surplus. It thrives in a range of societies, from authoritarian to “democratic” capitalism, anywhere vast differentials of power and influence are allowed to reign unchecked. It has dramatically worsened over my adult lifetime under the pressures of globalization, automation, the financialization of the economy and neoliberal policies designed to shower the rich with tax cuts in the hope that a few drops will “trickle down” to the masses.
I’ve been helplessly watching this for forty years, talking, thinking, teaching, stewing, grousing, gnashing my teeth, annoying those around me, most of whom couldn’t care less or couldn’t conceive of anything different. Like Howard Beale in the 1970s movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Will you join me? Future posts will explore how.
PS: I am aware of and saddened by allegations of misbehavior by Oxfam field staff and a cover up by leadership. This does not, in my view, negate all the good work done by this fine organization over the decades or cast doubt of the validity of the analysis in their report.