New study on wealth distribution: eight men richer than half the world

An Oxfam study shows: The eight richest billionaires own more capital than the poorer half of the world’s population.

Does the unequal distribution of income and wealth strengthen nationalist tendencies? Photo: dpa

What does it mean for societies when a few citizens own far more than half the population? That is the question posed by the development organization Oxfam in its new study, "An Economy for 99 Percent."

According to the study, the eight richest billionaires worldwide have accumulated more capital than the poorer 50 percent of the population. The vast majority – the "99 percent" – suffer massive disadvantages as a result.

Oxfam published the report on the occasion of the World Economic Forum in Davos. One of the issues discussed there is whether the growing inequality in the distribution of income and wealth is fueling the rise of the new nationalism. Some managers fear that too much injustice will drive voters to politicians like Donald Trump or the supporters of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Compared to the corresponding study in 2016, polarization is even stronger today. Back then, 62 billionaires owned as much as the poorer half of the world’s population, according to Oxfam. The calculations are based, among other things, on global wealth data from the bank Credit Suisse. According to this, the eight richest men in the world together owned just under 400 billion euros in 2016 – including U.S. entrepreneurs Bill Gates (Microsoft), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Marc Zuckerberg (Facebook).

Adverse consequences of the development

In Germany, 36 billionaires own as much as the poorer half of the federal population. At the top are members of the Albrecht family (Aldi), Susanne Klatten (BMW) and Georg Schaeffler. In total, about 90 percent of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 10 percent of the population.

According to Oxfam, this development has three detrimental consequences: First, the super-rich could buy increasing political influence even over democratically elected governments. Second, "more and more people feel disconnected," says Jorn Kalinski, campaign director of Oxfam Germany. The sense of injustice "undermines faith in democracy." Third, the money that the super-rich are stashing away is missing from public tasks such as building or renovating schools, he said.

Closing tax havens, higher taxes for the rich

Oxfam is therefore calling for measures at the national and international level to get at some of the hoarded assets. Tax havens should be closed, international minimum tax rates for corporations and higher taxes for the rich should be introduced.

In recent years, there have been attempts in this direction. The OECD, an organization of industrialized countries, has stepped up its activities against tax havens, and the EU is working on common tax rules for corporations. However, due in part to the upcoming Brexit, such measures could be difficult to implement. The British government has already indicated that it would rather lower taxes for companies than raise them.

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