A new Oxfam report entitled Working for the Few (PDF), documents a "power grab" by the world's wealthy super-elite, who have amassed astonishing assets while the rest of the world grew poorer. Not only do the top 1% of the world's richest own 65 times more than the world's poorest 50%, but the 85 richest people own more than half the world. Oxfam is clear that this wealth expansion at the top is the result of a horribly corrupt political process by which elected representatives end up making policies to enrich the already-wealthy.
They're at Davos this week, asking the world's elites to pledge support for progressive taxation; an end to tax-avoidance; an end to financial corruption of legislation and policy; transparency in their own fortunes; universal healthcare, education and social protection; and a living wage for all.
The Oxfam report found that over the past few decades, the rich have successfully wielded political influence to skew policies in their favour on issues ranging from financial deregulation, tax havens, anti-competitive business practices to lower tax rates on high incomes and cuts in public services for the majority. Since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 out of 30 countries for which data are available, said the report.
This "capture of opportunities" by the rich at the expense of the poor and middle classes has led to a situation where 70% of the world's population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s and 1% of families own 46% of global wealth – almost £70tn.
Opinion polls in Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the US, UK and Netherlands found that a majority in each country believe that wealthy people exert too much influence. Concern was strongest in Spain, followed by Brazil and India and least marked in the Netherlands.
In the UK, some 67% agreed that "the rich have too much influence over where this country is headed" – 37% saying that they agreed "strongly" with the statement – against just 10% who disagreed, 2% of them strongly.
Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world [Graeme Wearden/The Guardian]