Global inequality and the survival of… the richest?

If we organized a small village like our global economy, we would probably call this an authoritarian or a feudal regime. Oxfam’s recent report shows the staggering picture of global inequality and how the survival of all requires a radically different turn. 

You may have already heard of the famous number that 8 men own as much wealth as 50% of humans on planet earth? If not, welcome to the reality of inequality on a world scale [1]. The organization Oxfam documents the rise of global inequality for quite some years now. Their most recent report titled “survival of the richest” shows the degree to which our global economic system transfers large parts of economic growth to those who already have [2]. Look at the report’s central figure below. It shows, that out of every 100 additional dollars (or € or rupees, if you like) wealth the world has produced in the last two years, 63 dollars went to the richest 1% on the planet. While this figure of 63% is indeed a new record, it is not an outlier but in line with the general trend over the entire last decade in which more than 50% of all the new wealth created went to the top 1%.

When in the beginning of the pandemic some might have hoped for a surge of solidarity and a change to redistribute and prioritize the common good over profit-making, facts like this show the sobering reality. The pandemic and the energy crisis following the Russian war on Ukraine have only intensified global inequalities. In particular food and energy companies could more than double their profits [ibid] while at the same time, the majority of people face a significant “cost of living crisis”. The World Bank already doubts, whether extreme poverty can be ended by 2030 as envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [3]. 

Source: Oxfam calculation based on Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report.

If we organized a small village like our global economy, we would probably call this an authoritarian or a feudal regime, in which the richest survive the multiple crisis we´re facing. But the global scale makes it less tangible for those living in the center of powers in the Global North and profiting from it. Since we live in an escalating climate crisis, also picture the ecological irrationality of this distribution: All the materials and energy for the 63% of wealth that are not available for meeting basic needs in a time in which we even need to drastically limit material and energy use to survive. This is why the title survival of the richest is provocative but accurate. For the survival of all, Oxfam shows that we need to tax wealth and invest in universal basic services instead. 



[3] , seen here: 

Image credit: Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

Author: Sven-David Pfau, Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien / Austria

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