All the money in the world is growing ever more concentrated in the hands of just a few people, a report released Sunday night makes clear.
Just 62 ultra-rich individuals — a list that is primarily made up of men and includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, the Koch Brothers and the Walmart heirs — have as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. Five years ago, it took 388 rich guys to achieve that status.
The wealth of the richest 62 has increased an astonishing 44 percent since 2010, to $1.76 trillion. Meanwhile, the wealth of the bottom half of the world dropped by 41 percent.
“This is terrible,” Gawain Kripke, Oxfam’s Policy Director, told The Huffington Post. “No one credible will say this is good for the world or good for the economy.”
While the wealthy might argue that their rising wealth is just a fabulous sign of economic prosperity (the “you’re just jealous” rationale), the disproportionate growth at the top is keeping those on the bottom from climbing out of poverty, Oxfam notes in its report.
“It is unjust that people living in poverty are not getting the boost to their incomes that they desperately need, while already privileged capital owners receive a greater share of income and wealth,” the report says.
Kripke also points out that wide inequality is no longer seen as an unfortunate consequence of economic growth. Now many economists — most famously Thomas Piketty — contend that gross inequality actually slows down growth, as fewer people can afford to buy stuff, and creates economic and political instability.
Indeed, Piketty says extreme wealth inequality helps fuel instability in the Middle East.
Rising wealth and income inequality is not simply an issue of fairness or social justice or economic growth.
There’s a wide body of research that shows inequality adversely affects the health of those at the bottom, raising the risk of cardiovascular disease, increasing suicide rates and shortening lifespans, Linda Rosenstock, a professor at the UCLA school of public health and the former director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, told The Huffington Post last year.
“There’s an added reason to be concerned that income inequality is growing,” Rosenstock said.
Much of the astonishing rise of wealth at the top is tied up with the booming stock market, as Credit Suisse noted in its Global Wealth Report last year. That report, which Oxfam used in its analysis along with a list of the richest people in the world from Forbes, determined that global inequality had reached a new milestone: The richest 1 percent of the world’s population now own half the world’s wealth.
Stocks have been on a tear since the economic recovery kicked in. The S&P 500 is up 46 percent from 2010. Unfortunately, most normals have missed out on the gold rush. Most of us get our money from paychecks — not stocks. And wages have largely gone nowhere since the recovery, even as executive pay has soared.
But it’s not just the stock market driving the rise in inequality. Oxfam’s report also points a finger at tax dodging and urges governments worldwide to get a handle on tax avoidance by wealthy individuals and corporations.
“It’s a significant loss to governments,” Kripke said. The rich use exotic strategies to park money so that it’s invisible and inaccessible to governments, who could redistribute those dollars to their citizens, he said. “We need reform on this.”