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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyThe inequality gap grows

This week the rich and powerful of the world are gathering for their annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The meeting includes 70 national leaders with 2,500 economic decision-makers.

Oxfam has outlined some alarming statistics about who got richer in 2017. In a Jan. 22 report, the international charity said that billionaires have been created at a record rate of one every two days over the past year. At the same time, the bottom 50 per cent of the world’s population has experienced no increase in wealth. Eighty-two per cent of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy one per cent.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.”

He added: “For work to be a genuine route out of poverty we need to ensure that ordinary workers receive a living wage and can insist on decent conditions, and that women are not discriminated against. If that means less for the already wealthy then that is a price that we — and they — should be willing to pay.”

The Guardian said booming global stock markets have been the main reason for the increase in wealth of those holding financial assets during 2017. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, saw his wealth rise by US$6 billion in the first 10 days of 2017 as a result of a bull market on Wall Street, making him the world’s richest man.

Oxfam noted that 42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population. Last year it took 61 people to make up that amount and in 2009 it took 380 people. Nine of 10 of the world’s 2,043 billionaires are men.

In its report “Reward Work, Not Wealth,” Oxfam says that billionaires saw their wealth increase by US$762 billion last year. This increase could have ended global poverty seven times over. A CEO from one of the world’s top five global fashion brands has to work for just four days to earn what a garment worker in Bangladesh will earn in an entire lifetime, Oxfam reports.

“The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s executive director.

“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,” she said. “Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.” 

Big business and the super-rich fuel the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

Oxfam listed a series of actions that governments should take, including: limiting returns to shareholders and top executives; ensuring workers receive a minimum “living wage”; and pushing through policies to eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of women workers.

Not only Oxfam is worried about current global economic trends. A central banker is warning that the world is on the brink of another 2008-style credit meltdown.

“All the market indicators right now look very similar to what we saw before the Lehman crisis, but the lesson has somehow been forgotten,” William White, head of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s review board, said.

Oxfam should be invited to Davos to discuss its report.