People's Stories Equality

Billionaire fortunes grew by $2.5 billion a day last year
by Oxfam, George Washington University, Bloomberg
21 January 2019
Billionaire fortunes grew by $2.5 billion a day last year as poorest saw their wealth fall, reports Oxfam International.
Billionaire fortunes increased by 12 percent last year – or $2.5 billion a day - while the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth decline by 11 percent, reveals a new report from Oxfam today. The report is being launched as political and business leaders gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
‘Public Good or Private Wealth’ shows the growing gap between rich and poor is undermining the fight against poverty, damaging our economies and fuelling public anger across the globe. It reveals how governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education, on the one hand, while under taxing corporations and the wealthy, and failing to clamp down on tax dodging, on the other. It also finds that women and girls are hardest hit by rising economic inequality.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “The size of your bank account should not dictate how many years your children spend in school, or how long you live – yet this is the reality in too many countries across the globe. While corporations and the super-rich enjoy low tax bills, millions of girls are denied a decent education and women are dying for lack of maternity care.”
The report reveals that the number of billionaires has almost doubled since the financial crisis, with a new billionaire created every two days between 2017 and 2018, yet wealthy individuals and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades.
Getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth could raise more money than it would cost to educate the 262 million children out of school and provide healthcare that would save the lives of 3.3 million people.
Just four cents in every dollar of tax revenue collected globally came from taxes on wealth such as inheritance or property in 2015. These types of tax have been reduced or eliminated in many rich countries and are barely implemented in the developing world.
Tax rates for wealthy individuals and corporations have also been cut dramatically. For example, the top rate of personal income tax in rich countries fell from 62 percent in 1970 to just 38 percent in 2013. The average rate in poor countries is just 28 percent.
In some countries, such as Brazil, the poorest 10 percent of society are now paying a higher proportion of their incomes in tax than the richest 10 percent.
At the same time, public services are suffering from chronic underfunding or being outsourced to private companies that exclude the poorest people. In many countries a decent education or quality healthcare has become a luxury only the rich can afford. Every day 10,000 people die because they lack access to affordable healthcare.
In developing countries, a child from a poor family is twice as likely to die before the age of five than a child from a rich family. In countries like Kenya a child from a rich family will spend twice as long in education as one from a poor family.
Cutting taxes on wealth predominantly benefits men who own 50 percent more wealth than women globally, and control over 86 percent of corporations.
Conversely, when public services are neglected poor women and girls suffer most. Girls are pulled out of school first when the money isn’t available to pay fees, and women clock up hours of unpaid work looking after sick relatives when healthcare systems fail.
Oxfam estimates that if all the unpaid care work carried out by women across the globe was done by a single company it would have an annual turnover of $10 trillion – 43 times that of Apple, the world’s biggest company.
“People across the globe are angry and frustrated. Governments must now deliver real change by ensuring corporations and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of tax and investing this money in free healthcare and education that meets the needs of everyone - including women and girls whose needs are so often overlooked. Governments can build a brighter future for everyone – not just a privileged few,” added Byanyima.
Jan. 2019
Do We Really Need Billionaires, asks Lawrence Wittner, Professor of History emeritus at the George Washington University.
According to numerous reports, the world’s billionaires keep increasing in number and, especially, in wealth.
In March 2018, Forbes reported that it had identified 2,208 billionaires from 72 countries and territories. Collectively, this group was worth $9.1 trillion, an increase in wealth of 18 percent since the preceding year.
Americans led the way with a record 585 billionaires, followed by mainland China which, despite its professed commitment to Communism, had a record 373. According to a Yahoo Finance report in late November 2018, the wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by 12 percent during 2017, while that of Chinese billionaires grew by 39 percent.
These vast fortunes were created much like those amassed by the Robber Barons of the late nineteenth century. The Walton family’s $163 billion fortune grew rapidly because its giant business, Walmart, the largest private employer in the United States, paid its workers poverty-level wages.
Jeff Bezos (whose fortune jumped by $78.5 billion in one year to $160 billion, making him the richest man in the world), paid pathetically low wages at Amazon for years, until forced by strikes and public pressure to raise them.
In mid-2017, Warren Buffett ($75 billion), then the world’s second richest man, noted that “the real problem” with the U.S. economy was that it was “disproportionately rewarding to the people on top.”
The situation is much the same elsewhere. Since the 1980s, the share of national income going to workers has been dropping significantly around the globe, thereby exacerbating inequality in wealth.
“The billionaire boom is a symptom of a failing economic system,” remarked Winnie Byanyima, executive director of the development charity, Oxfam International. “The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited.”
As a result, the further concentration of wealth has produced rising levels of economic inequality around the globe. According to a January 2018 report by Oxfam, during the preceding year some 3.7 billion people about half the world’s population experienced no increase in their wealth.
Instead, 82 percent of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the wealthiest 1 percent. In the United States, economic inequality continued to grow, with the share of the national income drawn by the poorest half of the population steadily declining.
The situation was even starker in the country with the second largest economy, China. Here, despite two decades of spectacular economic growth, economic inequality rose at the fastest pace in the world, leaving China as one of the most unequal countries on the planet.
In its global survey, Oxfam reported that 42 billionaires possessed as much wealth as half the world’s population.
Upon reflection, it’s hard to understand why billionaires think they need to possess such vast amounts of money and to acquire even more. After all, they can eat and drink only so much, just as they surely have all the mansions, yachts, diamonds, furs, and private jets they can possibly use. What more can they desire?
When it comes to desires, the answer is: plenty! That’s why they drive $4 million Lamborghini Venenos, acquire megamansions for their horses, take $80,000 “safaris” in private jets, purchase gold toothpicks, create megaclosets the size of homes, reside in $15,000 a night penthouse hotel suites, install luxury showers for their dogs, cover their staircases in gold, and build luxury survival bunkers.
Donald Trump maintains a penthouse apartment in Trump Tower that is reportedly worth $57 million and is marbled in gold. Among his many other possessions are two private airplanes, three helicopters, five private residences, and 17 golf courses across the United States, Scotland, Ireland, and the United Arab Emirates.
In addition, billionaires devote enormous energy and money to controlling governments. ”They don’t put their wealth underneath their mattresses,” observed U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders; “they use that wealth to perpetuate their power. So you have the Koch brothers and a handful of billionaires who pour hundreds of millions of dollars into elections.”
During the 2018 midterm elections in the United States, America’s billionaires lavished vast amounts of money on electoral politics, becoming the dominant funders of numerous candidates. Sheldon Adelson alone poured over $113 million into the federal elections.
This kind of big money has a major impact on American politics. Three billionaire families the Kochs, the Mercers, and the Adelsons; played a central role in bankrolling the Republican Party’s shift to the far Right and its takeover of federal and state offices.
Thus, although polls indicate that most Americans favor raising taxes on the rich, regulating corporations, fighting climate change, and supporting labor unions, the Republican-dominated White House, Congress, Supreme Court, and regulatory agencies have moved in exactly the opposite direction, backing the priorities of the wealthy.
With so much at stake, billionaires even took direct command of the world’s three major powers.
Donald Trump became the first billionaire to capture the U.S. presidency, joining Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin (reputed to have amassed wealth of at least $70 billion), and China’s president, Xi Jinping (estimated to have a net worth of $1.51 billion).
The three oligarchs quickly developed a cozy relationship and shared a number of policy positions, including the encouragement of wealth acquisition and the discouragement of human rights.
Admittedly, some billionaires have signed a Giving Pledge, promising to devote most of their wealth to philanthropy. Nevertheless, plutocratic philanthropy means that the priorities of the super-rich (for example, the funding of private schools), rather than the priorities of the general public (such as the funding of public schools), get implemented.
Moreover, these same billionaires are accumulating wealth much faster than they donate it. Philanthropist Bill Gates was worth $54 billion in 2010, the year their pledge was announced, and his wealth stands at $90 billion today.
Overall, then, as wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, most people around the world are clearly the losers.
* Global Wealth Inequality, by Gabriel Zucman - University of California, Berkeley:

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Social and economic rights are being denied for too many people
by UN human rights office (OHCHR)
Dec. 2018
UN human rights experts have issued an urgent call to intensify efforts to combat economic inequality and discrimination. In a statement marking the anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development, the experts stress the critical need to promote societies that are less unequal and to improve equality of opportunity and outcome within and between countries:
“Inequality and discrimination are some of the defining challenges confronting the world today. They not only pose an obstacle to the realisation of the right to development, but also remain among the major threats to peace, security, and human rights worldwide. As such, they count among the strongest drivers for migration.
More than 30 years ago, the Declaration on the Right to Development recognised that inequality was inherently undermining human rights. Calling for more equitable development at the international and national levels, the Declaration highlights the importance of ensuring the fair distribution of the benefits of development and the equality of opportunity for all in their access to education, health services, food and housing. However, this remains an aspirational statement for a large part of the world’s population.
Today, we live in a world that is wealthier but also more unequal than ever before. Social and economic rights are being denied for too many people across the world, including the over 800 million still living in extreme poverty. Income inequality continues to rise, with the richest 10 percent of the world population earning up to 40 percent of total global income. Some reports suggest that 82 percent of all wealth created in 2017 went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom 50 percent saw no increase at all.
Wide gaps between women and men’s economic empowerment and opportunity also remain pervasive across the globe. The inequalities women face in many area of their lives infringe upon their rights to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development.
Demands for development justice around the world have remained unanswered. Inequality in income, pay and wealth is plaguing developed and developing countries alike. According to OECD figures, income inequality in OECD countries is at its highest level for 50 years.
The average income of the richest 10 percent of the population is about 9.5 times higher than that of the poorest 10 percent. Wealth inequality is even more pronounced, with the top 10 percent holding half of total wealth, while the bottom 40 percent holds only 3 percent. These disparities are even starker in developing countries and emerging economies.
Systemic inequalities embedded in the global economic architecture combined with structural discrimination – on the basis of sex, gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, and legal, economic or other status – mean that many individuals, minorities and groups remain marginalised and entirely excluded from development.
This not only undermines human dignity but also the rule of law and the realisation of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
In addition, inequalities in our global governance system mean that countries facing the greatest difficulties in implementing the right to development – especially the least developed countries, displacement-affected countries, landlocked developing countries and small-island developing States – are left behind and unable to enjoy the benefits of development on a fair and equitable basis.
Even worse, some are being pushed further behind due to the disproportionate impact of adverse global trends such as climate change, environmental degradation, natural hazards or imposed austerity policies resulting from financial and economic crisis.
Overcoming inequality and combatting discrimination are not only a necessity, they are in fact legally binding obligations. Equality and non-discrimination are fundamental guarantees at the core of international human right law.
States must respect their duties and combat the various forms of discrimination and inequalities in order to ensure a future that is based on just, inclusive and equitable development.
“Next year, States will report to the High-level Political Forum on ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’. We urge all stakeholders to seize this opportunity to promote the right to development, economic and social rights, and to strengthen advocacy for more equal societies,” the UN experts concluded.
* UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston
Call for input - Expansion of the Recognition, Institutionalization and Accountability Framework for Economic and Social Rights
The Special Rapporteur released a report in 2016 that set out the Recognition, Institutionalization and Accountability (RIA) Framework for realizing economic and social rights. In that report he observed that economic and social rights are not being adequately realized because, generally speaking:
a) in spite of a wave of constitutional enshrinement of such rights in the last couple of decades, this is not being backed up with adequate legislative recognition and regulatory frameworks;
b) there is a lack of appropriate institutional arrangements and internalization of economic and social rights norms to promote and facilitate realization of economic and social rights; and
c) there is a need for stronger mechanisms beyond reliance on the judicial arm of government to promote accountability for realizing these rights at both the inter- and intra-state level.
The current research project seeks to expand upon the 2016 report by investigating the extent of legislative recognition and institutionalization of economic and social rights globally, and the existence and strength of non-judicial accountability mechanisms at both the international and domestic level.
The Special Rapporteur is seeking input from governments, academics, activists, and international and non-governmental organizations on this topic, whether by way of written submission or conversation with the Special Rapporteur’s staff. The following questions may serve as a guide for input, but all material relevant to the broader topic is welcomed:
What has made a difference in your country in promoting the implementation of a specific economic and social right? How important, for example, are constitutional or legislative recognition, clearly focused regulations, strong policy statements, the creation of a specialist agency, or the adoption of non-judicial accountability mechanisms? Are you aware of any evidence to link the relevant initiative to positive outcomes?
What domestic institutions have succeeded in implementing, monitoring and advocating for economic and social rights? What contributed to their success? How did they come to work on this topic? What conditions or circumstances have made it difficult to recognize, institutionalize, and hold the government to account in relation to economic and social rights?
Are there situations in which legislation on economic and social rights has been drafted but has subsequently failed to be adopted? If so, what were the major obstacles?
Have you been involved in efforts to recognize a specific economic or social right, to set up an institution to promote it or to ensure accountability? If so, please describe the experience and results.
The call for input is open until 29 March 2019. Please direct all queries and submissions to Anna Bulman at
Sep. 2018
Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to the UN General Assembly on the Privatization of Public Goods & Services
Privatization is generally presented as a technical solution for managing resources and reducing fiscal deficits, but in fact, it is an integral part of an economic and social philosophy of governance. Key international actors now promote it aggressively without regard to its human rights implications or consequences, while most human rights bodies have either ignored the phenomenon or assumed that tweaking existing procedures provides an adequate response.
Yet privatization often involves the systematic elimination of human rights protections and further marginalization of the interests of low-income earners and those living in poverty. Existing human rights accountability mechanisms are clearly inadequate for dealing with the challenges presented by large-scale and widespread privatization. Human rights proponents need to fundamentally reconsider their approach:

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