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World's billionaires have more wealth than 60% of the global population, Oxfam says

A new report by Oxfam has found that the number of billionaires has doubled in the past decade.

Image: Shutterstock/Rumir

THE WORLD’S BILLIONAIRES have doubled in the past decade and are richer than 60% of the global population, charity Oxfam said today, ahead of the opening of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. 

The charity said poor women and girls were at the bottom of the scale, putting in “12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day,” estimated to be worth at least €9.7 trillion a year.

“Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist,” Oxfam’s India head Amitabh Behar said. 

“The gap between rich and poor can’t be resolved without deliberate inequality-busting policies,” Behar said ahead of the Davos summit. 

Oxfam’s annual report on global inequality is traditionally released just before the forum opens in the Swiss Alpine resort.

“The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa,” the report said. 

If the world’s richest one percent paid just 0.5% extra tax on their wealth for 10 years, it would equal the investment needed to create 117 million new jobs in elderly and child care, education and health, Oxfam said.  

Oxfam’s figures are based on data from Forbes magazine and Swiss bank Credit Suisse, but they are disputed by some economists.

The numbers show that 2,153 billionaires now have more wealth than the 4.6 billion poorest people on the planet.

Environment

Environmental issues expected to be a major focus at Davos, which marks its 50th anniversary of the forum

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney were due to attend but will remain in Ireland as the general election looms. 

Following another year of extreme heat and out-of-control wildfires, environmental issues are considered to be the top five long-term risks confronting the global economy, WEF said last week, citing a survey of more than 750 decision-makers.

It said catastrophic trends like global warming, climate change and the extinction of animal species would top the agenda at the meeting.

The forum is shifting its focus of recent years from how technology is transforming lives to the environment and responsible business practices that promote jobs, fight climate change and work for social good along with profit-making.

The focus on environment could make for an uncomfortable subject for US President Donald Trump, whose administration has called for expanded use of coal, paired-back environmental protections and played down concerns among scientists about man-made climate change.

Trump has also moved to take the US out of the landmark 2015 Paris accord to fight climate change.

‘Reputational suicide’ 

WEF founder Klaus Schwab, meanwhile, said Trump is welcome because of his role on the world stage while climate activist Greta Thunberg will keep the focus on the environment. Both will speak tomorrow on the opening day.

Micah White, co-creator of the anti-finance movement Occupy Wall Street, will also attend the summit alongside chief executives, celebrities and politicians.

White conceded that “attending Davos will most likely be reputational suicide”. Nonetheless, he argued for a “difficult alliance” between activists and members of the economic and social elite.

That much is required if the WEF wants to live up to its slogan of “improving the state of the world”, a lofty progression since it began in 1971 as a cosy Alpine get-together for European businessmen under the guidance of German economist Schwab.

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Schwab, now 81, remains very much in charge of an organisation.

From a symposium first devoted to bringing US-style best practice to Europe, the forum has evolved into “some sort of speed dating” for economic and political leaders, former European commissioner Pierre Moscovici said. 

Schwab’s attempts to broaden the agenda, to include issues such as climate change and income inequality, are a “sincere” attempt to enhance the dialogue, he added. 

Privately, company CEOs praise Davos as an unparalleled opportunity to met their peers and forge contracts. 

Critics, however, say that many of those CEOs will undercut the WEF’s commitments on the environment by jetting to Switzerland aboard private jets. The forum stresses its actions to counter that, such as carbon offsets.

- © AFP 2020

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