An alternative to growing global inequality
As world leaders, billionaires and celebrities gather this week for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, they would do well to keep in mind the warning from the anti-poverty organization Oxfam International:
If the global growth in income inequality keeps on at its current pace, populist and nationalist trends around the world will flourish.
If that doesn't make the glitzy Davos crowd think twice about the policies they are debating (and creating), then shocking figures in Oxfam's report, Reward Work, Not Wealth, should do the trick.
Top among them: A CEO from any one of the world's top five global fashion brands has to work for only four days to earn what a garment worker in Bangladesh will earn in an entire lifetime. Not a year. A lifetime.
If that's not a wake-up call to world leaders, consider that the report also found that 82 per cent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest 1 per cent of the global population. The poorest half of the world's population — 3.7 billion people — saw no increase at all.
Indeed, the wealth of the billionaire class has risen by an annual average of 13 per cent since 2010, over six times faster than the wages of average workers. The number of billionaires rose at an astonishing rate of one every two days in the year to March 2017.
And billionaires are getting richer by the minute. Last year, alone, they would have seen an uptick in their collective wealth of $762 billion — enough to end extreme poverty seven times over.
As Oxfam International's executive director, Winnie Byanyima of Uganda, put it: "The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system."
Oxfam proposes a prescription to balance the growing disparity between rich and poor. Governments, it says, need to "get back into the driving seat" and challenge the big corporations and billionaires.
They can do that by limiting returns to shareholders and top executives, ensuring workers receive a minimum "living wage," and pushing through policies to eliminate the gender pay gap and protect the rights of women workers.
The report also urges governments to clamp down on tax avoidance and other associated practices highlighted in the recent Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, and to plow the estimated $7.6 trillion that is being hidden from authorities into education, health care and jobs.
This is a fundamental challenge to the established order, reflected in the rich and powerful gathered at Davos. At the very least, it's a starting point to imagine an alternative to the increasingly unequal reality of the global economy.
— The Toronto Star
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