The world's richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as half the world's population, according to a report issued on Monday by the British-based anti-poverty charity Oxfam.
That means the world’s poorest 3.55 billion people must live on what the richest 85 possess. Another way to look at it: Each of the wealthiest 85 has access to the same resources as do about 42 million of the world’s poor, a number equal to the populations of Canada, Kentucky and Kansas, taken together.
The report was issued just before the World Economic Forum opens today in Davos, Switzerland. The forum is a gathering of world political, academic and business leaders to “shape global, regional and industry agendas,” says the forum’s website.
In announcing the study, Oxfam said that a growing wealth gap is undermining democracy.
“The past quarter of a century has seen wealth become ever more concentrated in the hands of fewer people,” it said. “The wealth of the 1 per cent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half.”
The report says 210 people joined the ranks of billionaires last year, bringing to around 1,400 the people who hold that status.
The report also said 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 per cent of the post-crisis growth, the report said.
The report said that the trend is more pronounced in the United States than in other nations, but hardly limited to the US. In only two countries, Colombia and the Netherlands, had the share of income received by the wealthiest 1 per cent not increased between 1980 and 2012.
In the United States, China and Portugal, the report said, the wealthiest 1 per cent had seen its share of income more than double in the same period.
“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 between 2008 and 2010,” it said.
Oxfam urged countries to take steps to make certain that policies didn’t make the situation worse.
“When there is growth and diminishing inequality, the rules governing markets are working in favour of the middle classes and the poorest sections of society,” the report said. “However, when only the rich are gaining, the rules start bending towards their interests exclusively.”