The private jets of the world's wealthiest men and women are swarming the Swiss Alps for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF), which begins Monday in Davos, Switzerland, in the midst of an ongoing global inequality crisis.
"Across the world, people are being left behind[...] their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite."
Oxfam InternationalAnd that crisis is accelerating, according to a new Oxfam report released Monday: today, only eight men own the same amount of wealth as the 3.6 billion people who comprise the poorest half of humanity. Those eight men are Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim Helu, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and Michael Bloomberg.
The report, An Economy for the 99% (pdf), observes that "[f]ar from trickling down, income and wealth are being sucked upwards at an alarming rate."
It goes on to describe how super-rich individuals and the massive corporations they run are fueling the inequality crisis by offshoring taxes, driving down wages, and influencing government to their advantage, and argues that the "very design of our economies and the principles of our economics have taken us to this extreme, unsustainable, and unjust point."
"It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when one in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day," said Oxfam International director Winnie Byanyima in a statement. "Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy."
Indeed, the report links rapidly rising inequality with the vote for Brexit and the election of President-elect Donald Trump, a frightening rise in xenophobia, and widespread frustration with mainstream politics.
"There are increasing signs that more and more people in rich countries are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo," the report notes. "Why would they, when experience suggests that what it delivers is wage stagnation, insecure jobs, and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots?"
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The report's research also highlights how rising inequality in poorer nations fuels profits to the world's wealthiest.
"Oxfam interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, six days a week and still struggle to get by on the $1 an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world's biggest fashion brands," the organization wrote. "The CEOs of these companies are some of the highest paid people in the world. Corporate tax dodging costs poor countries at least $100 billion every year. This is enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren't in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children every year."
"Across the world, people are being left behind," Byanyima said. "Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite."
The report also outlines a plan for a "human economy" that would work to combat the exponential rise of global inequality.
"Together we need to create a new common sense, and turn things on their head to design an economy whose primary purpose is to benefit the 99 percent, not the one percent," the report reads. "The group that should benefit disproportionately from our economies are people in poverty, regardless of whether they are in Uganda or the United States. Humanity has incredible talent, huge wealth and infinite imagination. We need to put this to work to create a more human economy that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few."
It is hard to imagine Davos as the place to create this economy: while the WEF is purportedly focusing anew on inequality this year, the super-rich and leaders of multinational corporations who attend the forum continue to offshore trillions of dollars worth of taxes.
"We have a situation where billionaires are paying less tax often than their cleaner or their secretary," Max Lawson, Oxfam's policy advisor, told the Associated Press. "That's crazy."