A new report strategically timed for release with the start of the World Economic Forum boondoggle at Davos, shows that the world's 26 richest billionaires now own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world's population.
The report titled "Public Good or Private Wealth," found that top world's 26 richest billionaires now hold as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population, some 3.8 billion people. That number was 43 in 2017 and 61 in 2016. According to the Guardian, the report also found that in the 10 years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has almost doubled. It also found that between 2017 and 2018, a new billionaire was created every two days.
For development charity Oxfam, that was enough to prompt calls for a global 1% wealth tax. The charity claims that the widening gap of wealth hinders the fight against poverty and called for a 1% wealth tax that it estimated could raise $418 billion a year. The charity believes this money should be re-purposed to educate every child not in school, as well as provide healthcare that would reportedly prevent 3.3 million deaths, according to the Guardian.
The charity also calculated that the total wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires worldwide increased by $900 billion in 2018, which amounts to $2.5 billion per day. This increase of 12% contrasts with a fall in the wealth of the poorest half of the world's population by 11%.
To be sure, while some billionaires engage in philanthropy and charity work – including Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who gives away money in the hope of eradicating poverty – others seem to assume little responsibility for the world's increasingly alarming future. The Oxfam report picks on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man with an estimated fortune of $112 billion, who once said that he sees no better way to dispose of his tremendous wealth than to fund space travel.
While his admission might have excited space enthusiasts, it also sparked outrage, strengthening the case for more taxes for the rich. According to Oxfam, just 1% of Bezos' fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
Oxfam also said the impression that the wealthiest one percent don't give back enough to the community is justified, as they are indeed paying less and less: "In rich countries, the average top rate of personal income tax fell from 62% in 1970 to 38% in 2013," the report says, while in the developing countries it stands at 28% on average.
Director of campaigns and policy for Oxfam, Matthew Spencer, stated:
“The massive fall in the number of people living in extreme poverty is one of the greatest achievements of the past quarter of a century but rising inequality is jeopardising further progress. The way our economies are organised means wealth is increasingly and unfairly concentrated among a privileged few while millions of people are barely subsisting. Women are dying for lack of decent maternity care and children are being denied an education that could be their route out of poverty. No one should be condemned to an earlier grave or a life of illiteracy simply because they were born poor."
"It doesn’t have to be this way – there is enough wealth in the world to provide everyone with a fair chance in life. Governments should act to ensure that taxes raised from wealth and businesses paying their fair share are used to fund free, good-quality public services that can save and transform people’s lives."
Oxfam is also calling for governments to tackle more universal public services and to force taxation on corporations who are under-taxed or avoiding taxes outright. The idea of a global wealth tax has been advocated for by French economist Thomas Piketty, who believes it can help stop the widening inequality gap worldwide.
Meanwhile, with the world's attention focused on Davos for the next few days where the world's richest are headed in their private jets to party in sheer opulence while lamenting the evils of global wealth inequality, we are confident that many of them will voluntarily offer a portion of their net worth to the world's poortest in line with Oxfam's recommendations, and to confirm that their money is where their noble mouth is, lest they be accused of another year of abject hypocrisy.