Globally, the income gap has widened to “record heights in modern history,” and 26 individuals now hold as much in assets as the lowest 50% of the world’s population. The development charity Oxfam suggests a wealth tax of 1%.
By S.T. Patrick
To mark the beginning of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the development charity Oxfam released its annual wealth check report. It states that 2018 was a year in which the income gap widened to record heights in modern history. In fact, the 26 most wealthy billionaires now own as many assets as the lowest 50% of the world’s population, some 3.8 billion people.
According to Oxfam, the wealth of the “Top 26 Billionaires” increased in 2018 by $900 billion, or $2.5 billion per day. In 2016, the number of the world’s richest billionaires needed to eclipse half of the world’s population was 61. It was 43 in 2017.
Oxfam does have a solution. The charity’s suggestions in the report include a wealth tax of 1% that would “educate every child not in school and provide healthcare that would prevent 3 million deaths.”
Oxfam is not a Robin Hood organization with a desire to rob the rich and give to the poor. They share some of the same concerns as conservatives and libertarians who also have a desire to earn wealth, but on an equal playing field and while ensuring that public services for the poor are of the same quality as public services for the rich.
Matthew Spencer, the director of campaigns and policies for Oxfam, said: “Women are dying for lack of decent maternity care and children are being denied an education that could be their route out of poverty. No one should be condemned to an earlier grave or a life of illiteracy simply because they were born poor. … It doesn’t have to be this way—there is enough wealth in the world to provide everyone with a fair chance in life. Governments should act to ensure that taxes raised from wealth and businesses paying their fair share are used to fund free, good-quality public services that can save and transform people’s lives.”
The report listed multiple interesting findings: When consumption taxes are included, the poorest 10% of Brits are paying a significantly higher tax rate than the richest 10% (comparatively, 49% to 34%). In the last two years, a new billionaire was created every two days. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the number of billionaires globally has nearly doubled.
The world’s richest man is American Jeff Bezos, the founder of “Amazon.com.” In 2018, his total wealth increased to $112 billion. No man may be an island, but Bezos is a country (or even continent) unto himself. His $112 billion is larger than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over 120 countries including Morocco, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Lithuania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Afghanistan.
Author and AFP journalist Donald Jeffries wrote about these issues illuminatingly in his vital work, The Survival of the Richest: How the Corruption of the Marketplace and the Disparity of Wealth Created the Greatest Conspiracy of All. In it, Jeffries writes about the structural and attitudinal issues that cause the economic inequality that divides even the wealthiest nations, those where resources and wealth should not be limited.
“The wealth in our society is plentiful,” Jeffries writes, “but it’s been absconded by a relative handful of exceptionally greedy individuals. Even most Ayn Rand disciples would understand that it wouldn’t be right for one child in a preschool to hoard all the toys while the others sat around and cried. But they freely defend a system that permits a faction of humanity to have far more than they could ever hope to spend, while condemning most of the world’s population to what Thomas Wolfe termed ‘lives of quiet desperation.’ ”
Americans have become so divided over partisan politics that we can no longer discern right from wrong, heartless indifference from human compassion. Any discussion about raising the marginal tax rate on billionaires is not inching toward “pinko communism” any more than a widowed grandmother wanting to afford staying in her own home is being a “capitalist pig.”
American capitalists are right to want people to strive for increases in wealth, but in doing so, what we should all strive for is a level playing field. Equal opportunity cannot be had by anyone in the lower 99% when the top 1% continues to buy politicians, hire lobbyists to write advantageous legislation, loophole billions in taxes, and pretend to help the needy by starting a sham foundation as a tax haven.
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected]. He is also an occasional contributor to TBR history magazine and the current managing editor of Deep Truth Journal (DTJ).