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Sixty-Two People Now Have a Greater Net Worth Than Half the World's Population

As the World Economic Forum gets underway in Davos, Oxfam has highlighted runaway wealth inequality across the globe, and the tax havens which keep extreme wealth out of government hands.
Photo par Andy Rain/EPA

As the world's wealthy and powerful gather this week in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, research has revealed the richest 1 percent of the world's population now own more than the rest of the population combined.

An Economy for the 1%, a report by anti-poverty NGO Oxfam, said although the number of people living in extreme poverty halved between 1990 and 2010, the average annual income of the poorest 10 percent has risen by less than $3 a year in the past quarter of a century.


An even starker figure was the charity's finding that just 62 people — 53 of them men — own as much wealth as half the world's population. This figure has fallen from 388 five years ago.

The wealth of the poorest half of the world's population — more than 3.6 billion people — has fallen by a trillion dollars (41 percent) since 2010. Meanwhile the value of the richest 62 people has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76 trillion.

"Far from trickling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate," the report said.

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There has been some criticism of Oxfam's figures, as the charity uses individuals' net worth to make its calculations — assets minus debts. This means that a person living on a few dollars a day who has no debt ends up being classed as wealthier than a person who has a reasonable income but hundreds of thousands of dollars in mortgage and student debt.

But while such anecdotes were eye-catching and made sense on an individual level, "at a macro level they are not relevant, they are not powerful," Deborah Hardoon, a lead author of the report, told VICE News. "They do not affect the trend we are highlighting which is the fact that the vast majority of wealth goes straight to the top."

Having a lot of debt could seriously impact an individual's well-being, Hardoon added. "It's necessary to have a certain degree of security if you're faced with a shock such as a medical bill, or a poor harvest," she said. "if you have zero or negative wealth then your ability and robustness to respond is very poor."


The really major issue was what is being done with all wealth at the top, said Hardoon. "You only have to look at the money in lobbying and financing to know that extreme wealth and extreme influence go hand in hand. The extremely wealthy have power to influence policies, economic systems, and environmental policy that affect all of us."

Related: Young People Are Poorer, Jobless, and Believe That the American Dream Is Dead

Oxfam also highlighted the "global spider's web" of tax havens that allows this wealth to stays out of reach of ordinary citizens and governments. Its report pointed out that 9 out of 10 of this year's World Economic Forum corporate partners have a presence in at least one tax haven.

It is estimated that $7.6 trillion of individuals' wealth — a twelfth of the global total — sits offshore, said the report. If tax were paid on the income that wealth generates, an extra $190 billion would be available to governments every year, it said.

The report notes that corporate investment in tax havens almost quadrupled between 2000 and 2014.

"Tax havens are at the heart of a global system that allows large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share, depriving governments, rich and poor, of the resources they need to provide vital public services and tackle rising inequality," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America.

"It's a major wake-up call," said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, which represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors. "Inequality is one of the biggest threats to economic well-being and it needs to be addressed."

Related: The United Nations Wants to Crush Extreme Poverty

Reuters contributed to this report.