According to a report by Oxfam, the world’s eight richest people have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world–roughly comprised of 3.6 billion people. Last year, the charity reported that the richest 62 people were as wealthy as the poorest half of the world, but the number fell to just eight this year due to the availability of more accurate data.
The world’s eight richest billionaires, according to Forbes March 2016 billionaires list, are Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffet, Carlos Slim Helu, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and Michael Bloomberg. Their combined net worth equals $462.2 billion. Oxfam’s report is based on this list and data from the annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth datebook.
Critics have questioned the figures presented by the charity, but Oxfam stands by them, stating that they come from improved data. Oxfam’s head of global external affairs, Katy Wright, said that this report presents a challenge to “the political and economic elites”.
Ben Southwood, head of the Adam Smith Institute, stated, “The data is fine—it comes from Credit Suisse— but the interpretation is not.” The report has similarly been criticized for focusing too much on the privilege wealthy and not on plight of the poor. Mark Littlewood, director general of think tank Institute of Economic Affairs, says “As an ‘anti poverty’ charity, Oxfam seems to be strangely preoccupied with the rich.” Littlewood added that the charity should focus on measures that promote economic growth. According to Southwood, the wealth of the world’s richest does not matter; it is the welfare of the world’s poorest that should. The latter group, according to Southwood, has been improving every year.
The report arrives just as the World Economic Forum begins in Swiss ski resort Davos. Many of the world’s top political and business leaders will be in attendance. “We’re under no illusions that Davos is anything other than a talking shop for the world’s elite,” says Wright, “but we try and use that focus.”
Gerald Lyons, UK economist, disagrees with this focus. According to Lyons, putting extreme wealth into intense focus “does not always give the full picture”. However, he supports Oxfam’s right to call out companies that the charity believed to fueling inequality with objectionable business models.
Wright connects recent polarity in politics to this wide-spread economic inequality. Using Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as examples, Wright observes “People are angry and calling out for alternatives. They’re feeling left behind because however hard they work they can’t have a share in their country’s growth.”
To this end, Oxfam calls for a “more human economy”. It is directing attention to the government and urging a more scrupulous practices in regards to tax evasion and taxing the wealthy.