Global inequality grows

Marcus Roberts
February 5, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

As you, dear reader, sit there in your superyacht, drinking a highball, musing on which A-list party to go to tonight in your helicopter, and of course reading this column on your diamond-encrusted iPad, you may want to consider whether you are in the group of the 62 wealthiest individuals on the planet. If you are, you are part of a group that is as wealthy as the poorest 50 percent of the world's population.

Yes, that's right; Oxfam has just released figures that show that the 62 richest people on the planet own the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people on this planet. That is, on average, each of those 62 has as much wealth as 56.5 million of the poorest.

"Oxfam said that the wealth of the poorest 50% dropped by 41% between 2010 and 2015, despite an increase in the global population of 400m. In the same period, the wealth of the richest 62 people increased by $500bn (£350bn) to $1.76tn."

The growing concentration of wealth at the top of the global heap is starkly illustrated by the fact that the number of the world's wealthiest that equalled the wealth of the bottom 50% has steadily declined over the last five years: from 388 in 2010, to 177 in 2011, to 159 in 2012, to 92 in 2013, to 80 in 2014 and finally to 62 in 2015.

Furthermore, the much-railed-against "1%" own more wealth than the other 99% combined. Although we are collectively richer than ever before and the number of people in poverty and hunger is declining throughout the world, the concentration of such wealth in so few hands suggests that something is not right with the "system". And perhaps something is not right either with those wealthiest people (I keep telling myself that I'd quit after my first $100 million - you don't need more than that, right?)

However, here I am on shakier ground. The top 1% of the world's population is roughly made up of 75 million people. I live in New Zealand, own a house with a plot of land (in partnership with a lovely bank...), own a car, have a personal computer and have a steady income. In global terms I am very rich. Whether or not I am one of the "1%" I'm not sure. However, I do know that I would be considered to be extremely wealthy by many, many people throughout the world.

Therefore when I look at those wealthy individuals and think about the ostentatious displays of wealth and think that if I were them I could not justify spending that sort of money on a super yacht or a Maserati car, I sometimes pause. Tonight I bought a drink for my wife and I and a pizza for the family to share at a reasonably fancy restaurant on the Auckland waterfront (it was a public holiday here and the weather was beautiful). That was all very pleasant. But would not someone else in the world less fortunate than I say to themselves, "I could never justify spending $40 on an overpriced dinner and drinks if I had that sort of money"...

In short, am I not, in my own small way, ostentatiously spending on things that I have no need for? And how will I justify that spending at the end of my life when I could have had a cheaper dinner and spent the difference on the poor?

And when I think of that I wonder if we should not pity those 62 richest people in the world. If I can't seem to justify tonight's dinner, how will they justify any of it? Camels and needles seem to come into the picture somewhere.