Moral Low Ground

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Oxfam: Number of Billionaires has Doubled Since ’09 Financial Crisis

November 1, 2014 by Brett Wilkins in Rich & Poor, World with 0 Comments
Rich and poor live in close proximity in São Paulo, Brazil's largest city. (Wikipedia)

Rich and poor live in close proximity in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. (Wikipedia)

The number of billionaires in the world has more than doubled since the global financial crisis of 2009, with inequality reaching new extremes, according to a recently-released report from the UK-based charity Oxfam.

There are now 1,646 billionaires in the world, according to data from Forbescited in the Oxfam report. That’s up from 793 in March 2009. The combined wealth of those billionaires has soared 124 percent to $5.4 trillion, with the 85 richest people in the world owning as much as the poorest half of the world’s population, or more than 3.6 billion individuals.

Those 85 multi-billionaires enjoyed gains of more than $240 billion over the past year, the report states, with gains amounting to $668 million per day, or nearly $1 million per minute.

The report notes that while the super-rich experienced record growth in wealth, one million women and girls have died during childbirth due to a lack of basic health care services, while 57 million children receive no formal education.

“In a world where hundreds of millions of people are living without access to clean drinking water and without enough food to feed their families, a small elite have more money than they could spend in several lifetimes,” Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring noted.

“The consequences of extreme inequality are harmful to everyone—it robs millions of people of better life chances and fuels crime, corruption and even violent conflict. Put simply, it is holding back efforts to end poverty,” added Goldring.

“Far from being a driver of economic growth, extreme inequality is a barrier to prosperity for most people on the planet,” said Oxfam international executive director Winnie Byanyima.

“Inequality hinders growth, corrupts politics, stifles opportunity and fuels instability while deepening discrimination, especially against women,” she added.

It’s not only charities and advocates for the poor who are sounding the alarm on inequality.

Andrew Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, warned earlier this year that capitalism could be planting the seeds of its own destruction if bankers failed to acknowledge a moral obligation to work for a more equitable society.

“Just as any revolution eats its children, unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself,” Haldane told the Independent in May.

Haldane also raised eyebrows in the US in 2012 when he praised the Occupy Wall Street movement for taking a stand against economic inequality.

“Occupy has been successful in its efforts to popularize the problems of the global financial system for one very simple reason—they are right,” Haldanesaid at a London debate hosted by Occupy Economics.

In the US, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen recently blasted rising inequality, which she suggested was contrary to American values.

“The past several decades have seen the most sustained rise in inequality since the 19th century after more than 40 years of narrowing inequality following the Great Depression,” Yellen said last month. “By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years, much higher than the average during that time span and probably higher than for much of American history before then.”

“I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity,” Yellen added.

The Fed chairwoman also noted that “the past several decades of widening inequality has often involved stagnant or falling living standards for many families.”

A 2012 study by University of California, Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez found that 93 percent of income gains since 2010 went to the top one percent. That study followed a 2011 report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which revealed that the income of the top one percent of wealthiest US households rose 275 percent over the past 30 years, while the poorest 20 percent of US households gained just 18 percent over the same period.

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