Global inequality: some mind boggling statistics

Some mind boggling statistics from a report by Oxfam called Working for the Few: political capture and economic inequality.

The one that I found hardest to conceptualize is that the wealth of 85 INDIVIDUALS equals that of 3.5 BILLION people.

Others include:

  • Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
  • The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
  • Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
  • The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
  • In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

These trends reflect the rise of a plutocratic elite class of the global mega-rich; largely detached from any political accountability.

I recently caught a fascinating and rather depressing radio documentary about London. Like other top global cities, it is becoming harder and harder for ordinary people to live in the city. Families with long roots in localities are being forced to move out due to spiralling property prices. Massively rich global investors are distorting the market in London and places like New York, San Francisco and others. The result is that these cities are beginning to struggle to have the necessary workers actually to run the city – nurses, teachers, service industry, etc

A piece of the Oxfam report: –

Extreme economic inequality is damaging and worrying for many reasons: it is morally questionable; it can have negative impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction; and it can multiply social problems. It compounds other inequalities, such as those between women and men. In many countries, extreme economic inequality is worrying because of the pernicious impact that wealth concentrations can have on equal political representation. When wealth captures government policymaking, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else. The consequences include the erosion of democratic governance, the pulling apart of social cohesion, and the vanishing of equal opportunities for all. Unless bold political solutions are instituted to curb the influence of wealth on politics, governments will work for the interests of the rich, while economic and political inequalities continue to rise. As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’
The response here in Ireland and Europe to the financial crisis of 2008 on is a good example of how the response of the elites is to favour the rich (the banks, the financial system) at the massive expense of taxpayers who did not cause the crisis.

The moral and democratic deficit at the heart of the European enterprise, where unelected bureaucrats in the European Central Bank, the IMF and the European Commission now hold political power over locally elected governments, may eventually undermine the whole project.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

11 thoughts on “Global inequality: some mind boggling statistics

    • Greetings Emily and welcome. I have no idea how you can manage being a pastor of 4 churches!
      I saw from your blog your story of your visit to Israel / Palestine. We had Munther Issac of Bethlehem Bible College in Dublin last year.

      • Yes, my call sounds a bit crazy. I’m the pastor with children, youth, and families at all four congregations (so there are head pastors at each church, as well.) They are all in the same neighborhood in Chicago, and I live in between all of them and can walk to each one. My youth do a lot of joint events together, which is nice for them to get to know other youth from similar neighborhoods, backgrounds, and schools, and I rotate every few weeks between churches on Sundays in order to lead worship and preach. It actually is a wonderful call, and I just love the youth, children, and families that I work with! This position works really well for small, urban, lower-income churches that cannot hire a full-time youth, children, and family pastor.

        That is wonderful you had Munther Issac in Dublin last year. I met him while visiting Bethlehem Bible College, and he gave a great presentation on theology in the land. I was also just in Dublin last May. Next time I visit, I will have to stop by Irish Bible Institute.

        Also, I saw you are a part of a Presbyterian congregation. Though I serve in three Evangelical Lutheran churches (of America) and one American Baptist church, I am ordained in the Presbyterian Church of USA. Small world.

  1. It’s an unequal world, always has been and probably will get worse as population grows and grows.

    Unfortunately the West’s 1960s generation of business whizz kids and politicians has proved to be just greedy and lacking the responsibility and statesmanship of their predecessors (not all of them of course).

    Your point about distortion of city property prices is only too valid. How to control that becomes more difficult because of its ever widening international implications.

    No harm in trying to work out what our world will be like 100 years on or even longer> Maybe there will be some technological breakthrough which will change things more than we can imagine now.

    Question remains – what Christians should say and do about inequality that is practical.

    Best wishes

  2. Patrick (eh, you will know this is my very first EVER time commenting!) – this is staggering and of course some of it doesn’t come as a surprise. We can bat back and forth on the inequality of it all and air our frustrations but any suggestions as to what we, little us in the lower levels, do about it in practice? What can we do to make a difference?

  3. Greetings Barbara and Littlegirl, welcome.

    At a macro govt level the Oxfam report has good recommendations (pp 3-4). But as the report highlights, the weighting of power to the rich is so strong (and growing) that asking Govts to take radical action that may harm (or be perceived to harm) economic growth – and the interests of the rich who support the political elites – is going to be a ‘hard sell’. This doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done and advocated for and it needs people with a passion and calling to do that.

    But I suspect for most of us, changing macro level world and national policies on tax and economics is going to feel a bit out of reach. I think churches and individuals can though make a difference at local levels – through partnerships in the developing world; through seeking justice in their own neighbourhoods, making a difference where they are.

    I found Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice very helpful in thinking theologically and practically about the local context – did a series of posts (could find with a search for Keller). He says there “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is an inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith”.

    Sounds pretty like Pope Francis too ….

    • Hello John, Yes I saw Rosling on TV a while back; brilliant communicator and his big argument that the world’s population will level out in about a century while countries get better off was persuasive (if depending on all sorts of variables remaining constant). Behind those big picture trends though is the bigger and bigger gap between rich and poor – and Ireland is no exception.

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