In­equal­ity around the planet

If the three rich­est peo­ple on Earth spent one mil­lion dol­lars a day, it would take them 200 years to run out of money. While some live in im­mense wealth, oth­ers can’t af­ford ba­sic health care. This is the global in­equal­ity gap – and it’s still grow­ing.

Element - - Contents - By Jodie Hart

The num­ber of billionaires world­wide have more than dou­bled, ac­cord­ing to a new Ox­fam re­port, Even It Up: Time to End Ex­treme In­equal­ity.

The re­port de­tails how the rich­est peo­ple in the world live in com­plete abun­dance, while mil­lions re­main poor with­out ac­cess to ba­sic health­care and af­ford­able ed­u­ca­tion.

Ox­fam’s New Zealand ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Rachael Le Mesurier, says the in­equal­ity is caus­ing grave con­cerns.

“Around the world mil­lions of peo­ple are dy­ing due to a lack of health­care and mil­lions of chil­dren are miss­ing out on school, while a small elite have more money than they could spend in a lifetime.”

From the IMF to the Pope, from Pres­i­dent Obama to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, world lead­ers are be­com­ing more vo­cal and agree­ing that the in­equal­ity gap is a real threat.

In re­sponse, Ox­fam has started a cam­paign, also called Even it Up, to put pres­sure on lead­ers to act on what is al­ready ac­knowl­edged as a ma­jor chal­lenge of our time. The or­gan­i­sa­tion is call­ing on gov­ern­ments around the world to re­assess the tax­ing sys­tems to make sure the rich­est pay their fair share, invest more in health­care and ed­u­ca­tion, ex­am­ine fair pay and the avail­abil­ity of sus­tain­able jobs.

The Even it Up cam­paign aims to en­sure the rich­est peo­ple’s in­ter­ests are no longer put ahead of the rest of the pop­u­la­tion.

The re­cently re­leased book by economist Thomas Piketty, Cap­i­tal in the Twenty First Cen­tury, ex­am­ines wealth and in­come dis­par­ity.

Piketty says that in­equal­ity is no ac­ci­dent but rather an in­evitable fea­ture of cap­i­tal­ism, which can quickly be­come un­de­sir­able.

“In­equal­ity is de­sir­able up to a point. But beyond a cer­tain level it is use­less. One of the key lessons of the 20th cen­tury is that you can have high growth with­out the in­equal­ity of the 19th cen­tury.”

Piketty be­lieves the ideal so­lu­tion is a pro­gres­sive tax on in­di­vid­ual net wealth, which “will foster wealth mo­bil­ity and keep con­cen­tra­tion un­der con­trol and un­der pub­lic scru­tiny.”

The re­sults of an un­equal so­ci­ety was also out­lined in The Spirit Level, by Richard G. Wilkin­son and Kate Pick­ett, who wrote for El­e­ment mag­a­zine last year.

Wilkin­son says the more un­equal a so­ci­ety is, the higher the so­cial prob­lems are.

“There can no longer be any se­ri­ous doubt that coun­tries with large in­come dif­fer­ences be­tween rich and poor are likely to per­form so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally less well than more equal so­ci­eties,” he said.

“Big­ger ma­te­rial dif­fer­ences be­tween peo­ple cre­ate big­ger so­cial dis­tances. Ris­ing in­equal­ity seems to strengthen all the ways in which sta­tus and class im­print them­selves on us from early child­hood on­wards. It is not sur­pris­ing then that where in­equal­ity has in­creased, so­cial mo­bil­ity has slowed and equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity for chil­dren has be­come a more dis­tant dream.”

Le Mesurier says in­equal­ity hin­ders growth, cor­rupts pol­i­tics, sti­fles op­por­tu­nity and fu­els in­sta­bil­ity while deep­en­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion, es­pe­cially against women.

This is a global trend. Ex­treme in­equal­ity is ap­par­ent in most coun­tries. The wealth is not trick­ling down, and gov­ern­ments have had de­layed re­ac­tions to the prob­lem.

In South Africa, in­equal­ity is now greater than it was at the end of apartheid. And if In­dia was to halt the re­cent in­crease in in­equal­ity, it could en­able 90 mil­lion more out of ex­treme poverty by 2019.

Le Mesurier says that Pa­cific Is­land com­mu­ni­ties in par­tic­u­lar are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ex­treme dis­parges be­tween rich and poor.

“The top 20% of peo­ple across the Pa­cific Is­land coun­tries con­sume up to 12 times as much as the bot­tom 20% with lev­els of in­equal­ity high­est in the Solomon Is­lands, Pa­pua New Guinea and Fiji.”

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