The rich get richer – the gap is widening

(Photo: Sarah Joy)

(Photo: Sarah Joy)

What type of world do we want to live in? Do we really want to live in a world where the eight richest people in the world (all men) own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world?

A recent report from Oxfam has found this is the world we have allowed to be created. The richest eight people in the world in 2016 shared an estimated net wealth of $426 billion – the same as the net wealth of the poorest half (p. 10). And the gap between the richest and poorest keeps getting bigger. In 2010 the wealthiest 388 people had the same wealth as the poorest half, in 2014 it was 80 and in 2015 it was 62.

Based on figures from Oxfam

Based on figures from Oxfam

Since 2015, the world’s richest 1% of the population has owned more wealth than everybody else. The incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182 times as much (p. 2).

The free market economy is clearly not meeting the needs and interests of most of the world’s population (nor has it been able to respond to climate change).

The Oxfam report suggests six false assumptions driving the economy that helps protect the interest of the top 1%:

  1. The market is always right, and the role of governments should be minimized
  2. Corporations need to maximize profits and returns to shareholders at all costs.
  3. Extreme individual wealth is benign and a sign of success, and inequality is not relevant.
  4. GDP growth should be the primary goal of policy making.
  5. Our economic model is gender-neutral.
  6. Our planet’s resources are limitless. (See page 6 for a summary and pages 22-27 for more details.)

They also suggest the characteristics of a human economy that will help promote a more equitable world.

  1. Governments will work for the 99%.
  2. Governments will cooperate, not just compete.
  3. Companies will work for the benefit of everyone.
  4. Ending the extreme concentration of wealth to end extreme poverty.
  5. A human economy will work equally for men and women.
  6. Technology will be harnessed for the interests of the 99%.
  7. A human economy will be powered by sustainable renewable energy.
  8. Valuing and measuring what really matters. (See pages 7-8 for a summary and pages 28-36 for more details.)

This leads to a world where:

One of the themes that underpins this blog is a strengths-based approach (including my approach to social change). These shocking levels of inequality are quite inconsistent with a strengths-based approach. Not only does social just have to be at the heart of strengths-based approaches but the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, prevent millions of people from acting on their full potential.

We all have a responsibility to do something. Here’s seven things you can do to help make a difference:

  1. Consume less of the world’s resources
  2. When you shop, try to shop ethically and make choices not just based on cost
  3. Join Oxfam’s campaign to make tax fair
  4. Inform yourself (start by having a look at Oxfam’s report)
  5. Support an increase in overseas aid
  6. Vote for politicians who support a more just world
  7. Donate more of your time and money to making a better world.

It’s important to remember that we aren’t just talking statistics. We are talking about real people who are suffering and dying because we have such an unfair distribution of wealth. Here’s a little reminder about the difference we can make to people’s lives.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Why I support Oxfam
  2. The life you can save by donating
  3. The widening gap between rich and poor – Time to even it up.
  4. Slashing foreign aid? Not good enough!
  5. 10 ways to reduce your consumption
  6. Our addiction to growth

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
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