This brings a whole new meaning to inequality: A new Oxfam report has found that the 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. Which is 3.5 billion people. The report comes as many of the world's wealthiest and most powerful people gathered this week in Davos, Switzerland for the invitation-only World Economic Forum, which carries the superlative of the “World’s Most Exclusive Gathering.”
The conference takes place in Davos, Europe’s highest-altitude town. It’s a good time for participants, who have paid an average of $40,000 to attend — though the cost can reach $250,000 — to not only talk about solutions and make “declarations of action,", but network. So who's there?
Well, no less than 2,500 world leaders, including business leaders, media, Bono, and Matt Damon (why not.) Google’s chairman is showing up, along with the CEOs of Yahoo, Walmart, and JPMorgan Chase. The prime ministers of Japan, Israel, the UK, and Australia are coming, along with the president of Iran, which should make for an interesting mix. As the Huffington Post points out, there aren’t a lot of totally blemish-free attendees, whether dictators or executives with criminal backgrounds.
Media attendees include the editors-in-chief of USA Today, WSJ, Reuters, Al Arabiya News Channel (English version), and the VP of the AP. Unfortunately, only a shocking 16 percent of the delegates are women to continue, although “efforts are being made” to create better representation for half the world’s population.
This year, the theme is “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business,” which “reflects on the disruptions that societies face on a global scale driven by rapid technological and scientific innovation, accelerating social change and a shifting global economic order." Attendees will debate how to fix recessions in America and Europe, and the financial fallout of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa.
According to the Oxfam report, America is not only home to some of the world’s greatest income inequality, it’s actually seen an increase in the wealth of its richest 1 percent. This is a trend that, on a global scale, means that the world’s richest 1 percent holds $110 trillion — 65 times as much as the poorest half of the globe. If the discrepancy continues to increase, then the theme of economic equality will dominate the coming years' World Economic Forums, as social tensions driven by inequality escalate.
"Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table," the executive director of Oxfam, Winnie Byanyima, noted.
Luckily, Byanyima’s attending the conference — hopefully to talk some inequality-busting sense into everybody. Or at least encourage them not to tax-dodge, or bribe people for political favors. You gotta start somewhere, right?
In the meantime, the Gates are feeling optimistic future about the world's economic future: The Gates Foundations’ most recent letter estimates that by 2035, all of the world’s countries will be lower-middle-income or richer. And the WEF has four days this year to figure out how to bring that about...