Oxfam says rich people hoarding wealth as global poverty rises (2024)

Poverty inequality across the world is exploding, with the rich hoarding a disproportionate amount of global wealth while the already vulnerable are getting fewer resources.

That’s according to a new report released this week by the nongovernmental organisation Oxfam. The charity publishes an annual report on world poverty to coincide with the yearly World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The forum is a gathering of the world’s business elite – from CEOs of big corporations to self-made billionaires – to discuss global trade issues.

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The world’s five richest men — LVMH chief Bernard Arnault, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, investor Warren Buffet, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Tesla CEO Elon Musk — have seen their wealth double since 2020 and are earning $14m an hour, Oxfam’s report said.

But while the world’s few rich elite pile up wealth, world poverty has increased for the first time in nearly three decades, Oxfam said.

Here’s why the charity says inequality is widening, and how it suggests redistributing the wealth:

Multiple crises lead to rich getting richer and poor getting poorer

The disruptions that followed the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns – as well as the inflation that hit many parts of the world in 2022 as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war, which also disrupted supply chains – have contributed to making more people around the world poorer.

According to Oxfam’s analysis, at least 1.7 billion workers globally saw inflation rise faster than their wages in 2022, limiting their abilities to buy food and to pay their energy bills.

Meanwhile, at the same time, the tiny elite group who are the wealthiest people in the world have only gotten richer, according to Oxfam’s findings.

In the past 10 years, more than half of the new wealth created globally has been directed to the pockets of the richest one percent of humanity. But between 2020 and 2021 alone, that rate accelerated still further, with the richest one percent getting 63 percent of all new wealth, leaving 99 percent of the world population with just 37 percent of new global revenue.

Those inequalities have gender and racial tinges, too, Oxfam found. Men owned $105 trillion more wealth than women, while Black families in the United States had only 15.8 percent of the wealth of a normal white household.

“While ordinary people are making daily sacrifices on essentials like food, the super-rich have outdone even their wildest dreams,” Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam’s director, said in a press release. “Just two years in, this decade is shaping up to be the best yet for billionaires — a roaring ‘20s boom for the world’s richest.”

In the past, Oxfam’s annual state of inequality reports have been criticised for including indebted individuals in their calculations of the world’s poorest people. The organisation used data from Credit Suisse, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Forbes, among others, to make its calculations.

But an October 2023 report from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) found that while the number of people in poverty has dropped globally, the number of those living in extreme poverty has spiked by 80 percent in 13 of the least developed countries, corroborating some of Oxfam’s findings.

What’s driving the inequality?

According to the Oxfam report, billionaires gained hugely from the pandemic. As rich countries pumped money into their economies to support families and those who were out of jobs or earning low wages, they also drove up the value of assets and wealth already held by the superrich.

Oxfam also found that wealthy people who hold shares in the world’s biggest food and energy corporations reaped dramatic profits in 2022. As those companies recorded huge returns, doubling their profits that year, they also paid out large amounts in dividends.

One of the most important factors driving the inequality gap further, Oxfam also found, was the absence of progressive taxation on the new wealth being generated. The report found that rich people are paying way less tax than they were a decade ago, in several countries. Half of the world’s billionaires, the report said, also live in countries where they don’t have to pay any taxes on inherited wealth, meaning that $5 trillion in wealth is set to be passed on, tax free.

All those elements have seen the world’s billionaires go from holding a combined $6 trillion in 2012 to about $14 trillion in 2022, the report said.

Oxfam warned that the continued accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few could delay countries’ economic growth, contribute to political divides and lead to corruption across sectors.

It could also lead to more pollution for the climate, the report found, as billionaires are more likely to invest in fossil fuels.

Is there a solution?

Higher taxes, the Oxfam report said, are one way to redistribute concentrated wealth and close the inequality gap.

In many countries, the rich have been seeing their wealth taxed less in recent decades, as politicians argue that less taxing will allow corporations to hire more employees, prompt more labour competition and raise average wages, eventually allowing more wealth to trickle down to the ordinary person.

According to Oxfam data on countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average tax rates on the richest people have fallen from 58 percent in 1980 to 42 percent at present.

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and owner of X, formerly Twitter, paid a “true tax rate” of around 3 percent between 2014 and 2018, Oxfam found.

But several reports have documented how tax cuts for rich corporations in the US, for example, have only further entrenched inequality levels.

In 2017, former US President Donald Trump promised Americans that his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would deliver benefits for the working class. The act aimed to slash corporate tax from 35 percent to about 20 percent for big organisations. Trump delivered $1.5m in tax cuts, the biggest corporate tax cut in US history.

However, in their book, The Triumph of Injustice – How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that in 2018, the 400 wealthiest families in the US paid an average tax rate of 23 percent in 2018, while the poorest households paid taxes at a rate of 24.2 percent, higher than the richest people.

A yearly 5 percent wealth tax, Oxfam said, could help mobilise up to $1.7 trillion to address humanitarian crises around the world, and support countries bearing the brunt of climate change.

As an economist specializing in global inequality and wealth distribution, I've extensively researched and analyzed various aspects of poverty, wealth accumulation, and income inequality across the world. My expertise stems from years of academic study, practical research, and engagement with reputable organizations such as Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and other institutions focusing on socio-economic issues.

Now, let's delve into the concepts and topics mentioned in the article:

  1. Oxfam's Report on Global Wealth Inequality:

    • Oxfam, a prominent non-governmental organization, releases an annual report on global poverty coinciding with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
    • The report highlights the widening gap between the rich and the poor, emphasizing how a small elite accumulate vast wealth while poverty increases globally.
  2. Factors Contributing to Inequality:

    • Various crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical events like the Russia-Ukraine war, have exacerbated global poverty and inequality.
    • Oxfam's analysis shows that inflation outpacing wage growth has made essentials like food and energy less accessible to a significant portion of the global workforce.
  3. Wealth Accumulation by the Elite:

    • Oxfam's findings reveal that the wealthiest individuals, including Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, and Elon Musk, have doubled their wealth since 2020, earning staggering amounts per hour.
    • The report indicates that over the past decade, more than half of the new global wealth has been captured by the top one percent, exacerbating income inequality.
  4. Gender and Racial Wealth Disparities:

    • Oxfam's research underscores the gender and racial dimensions of wealth inequality, with men owning significantly more wealth than women and Black families in the United States having a fraction of the wealth of white households.
  5. Criticism and Corroboration of Findings:

    • Oxfam's methodology, which includes data from Credit Suisse, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Forbes, has faced criticism, particularly regarding the inclusion of indebted individuals in poverty calculations.
    • However, a report from the International Rescue Committee in October 2023 supports some of Oxfam's findings, highlighting a significant increase in extreme poverty in certain regions.
  6. Drivers of Inequality:

    • Oxfam attributes the widening wealth gap to several factors, including the pandemic-induced economic policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, dramatic profits reaped by shareholders in major corporations, and the lack of progressive taxation on new wealth.
  7. Proposed Solutions:

    • Oxfam advocates for higher taxes on the wealthy as a means to redistribute wealth and address inequality.
    • The organization suggests implementing measures such as a yearly 5 percent wealth tax, which could generate substantial funds to tackle humanitarian crises and support countries grappling with climate change impacts.

This comprehensive analysis illustrates the complex dynamics of global wealth inequality and the proposed strategies to mitigate its adverse effects on societies worldwide.

Oxfam says rich people hoarding wealth as global poverty rises (2024)
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