Since the establishment of the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2000, progress has been sporadic. While the global community has had some success in alleviating global poverty, global wealth inequality has reached extreme new levels. 62 individuals now possess assets that combined represent 48 percent of the world’s total wealth. This trend of top-heaviest wealth distribution shows no signs of slowing down. In a new report, Oxfam warns that by year’s end, the world’s top 1 percent will unequivocally be worth more than the rest of the world combined.
Between 2002 and 2008, the bottom 50 percent of the world’s population actually saw its wealth increase. In the wake of the financial crisis and global recession, this positive trend reversed course. Since 2010, the richest 80 people according to Forbes have seen their wealth increase by $600 billion while the vast majority of people suffered economic decline. In 2014, the bottom 80 percent of the global population controlled only 5.5 percent of the world’s total wealth. “The poor are hurt twice by rising inequality – they get a smaller share of the economic pie and because extreme inequality hurts growth, there is less pie to be shared around,” says Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.
The Oxfam report warns that extreme inequality is not simply immoral; it is systemically destabilizing. “Business as usual for the elite isn’t a cost free option – failure to tackle inequality will set the fight against poverty back decades,” says Byanyima. Extreme inequality in the 21st century exacerbates the crisis of climate change, by which poor communities will be disproportionately affected. Oxfam urges governments to take action by closing international tax loopholes and investing this new revenue into social services and economic development. “In the past 12 months, we have seen world leaders from President Obama to Christine Lagarde talk more about tackling extreme inequality. We are still waiting for many of them to walk the walk. It is time our leaders took on the powerful vested interests that stand in the way of a fairer and more prosperous world,” says Byanyima.
Images via Oxfam International