Europe, wealth, income disparity, Oxfam

World's richest 85 people have as much as bottom half the population

Trend is bad and getting worse, Oxfam study indicates

McClatchy Foreign StaffJanuary 20, 2014 


Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, in 2008


— The world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as the total held by half the world’s population, according to a report issued today by the British-based anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

The means the world’s poorest 3,550,000,000 (3.55 billion) people must live on what the richest 85 possess. Another way to look at it: Each of the wealthiest 85 Earthlings has access to the resources available to about 42 million of the world’s poor, a population equal to the total number of people living in Canada, with those all those from Kentucky and Kansas tossed in.

Announcing the study, Oxfam’s website noted that it isn’t a simple notion of Social Darwinism. The game is rigged for the rich, and against the poor.

“Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population.”

And the report makes clear that the trend is seeing a rapidly increasing division of global wealth.

The report says 210 people joined the very small ranks of billionaires last year (the report said the total number of about 1,400 worldwide).

“The past quarter of a century has seen wealth become ever more concentrated in the hands of fewer people… 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.”

In fact, the report notes that while the recent financial crisis was an enormous burden on the world’s poor, it ended up being a huge benefit to the rich elite. The very wealthiest people on earth collected 95 percent of the post crisis growth, increasing the global wealth disparity.

The report, released Monday, quotes Adam Smith (the author of “The Wealth of Nations”) saying “No society can be flourishing and happy of which the far greater part of members are poor and miserable.”

The report notes that the trend of an increasing share of wealth flowing to the hands of the wealthiest one percent is more pronounced in the United States than on any other nation.

But the trend is hardly limited to the United States.

The report states: “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).”

It then adds: “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.”

And, the report notes, the increasing wealth disparity is not accidental.

“Markets 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 in favor of the middle classes and the poorest sections of society. However, when only the rich are gaining, the rules start bending towards their interests exclusively.”


Email: Twitter: @mattschodcnews

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service