OXFAM Briefing Paper: “Working For The Few – Political Capture And Economic Inequality”

Oxfam International is an organization that “works to find practical, innovative ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive.” Issues addressed by Oxfam include agriculture, education, indigenous and minority rights, and peace and security. Oxfam regularly publishes briefing papers on these issues and more.

On January 20 of this year, Oxfam published a briefing paper on economic inequality around the world. The briefing is entitled oxfamWorking For The Few – Political Capture and Economic Inequality. I learned of this briefing when one statistic presented in the paper – that the richest 85 people in the world own as much wealth as the 3.5 billion of the people who comprise the bottom half of the world’s population – continued to appear in political blogs and in Facebook comments.

I decided to read the report for myself. When I did, I was staggered by the Oxfam findings about economic inequality in the world.

The briefing begins by stating that …

” … the wealth of the world is divided in two: almost half going to the richest one percent; the other half to the remaining 99 percent. The World Economic Forum has identified this as a major risk to human progress. Extreme economic inequality and political capture are too often interdependent. Left unchecked, political institutions become undermined and governments overwhelmingly serve the interests of economic elites to the detriment of ordinary people. Extreme inequality is not inevitable, and it can be and must be reversed quickly.”

Oxfam then presents a number of facts that give it cause for concern about the extreme economic inequality that exists in the world. These facts should give you and me cause for concern as well.

  • 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
  • The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 86 people in the world
  • Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years
  • In the United States, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer

The authors of the briefing paper write that, “This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems.” This statement is expanded upon when they write,

” … that the preferences of wealthy Americans are overwhelmingly represented in their government, compared to those of the middle classes. By contrast, the preferences of the poorest people demonstrates no statistical impact on the voting patterns of their elected officials. If this trend continues, public policies will most likely reproduce the conditions that are worsening economic inequality and political marginalization.”

” … the influence of wealthy groups leads to imbalanced political rights and representation. The outcomes include the capture of legislative and regulatory decision-making functions by those powerful groups.”

“Wealth begets wealth, and once the political and institutional system is rigged in favor of an elite, the consolidation of their privileges cascades down through different mechanisms.”

With these realities in mind, Oxfam says that bold political solutions need to be taken to “curb the influence of wealth on politics.” If this not done, “governments will work for the interests of the rich, while economic and political inequalities continue to rise.”

In “Working For The Few”, Oxfam International makes a number of specific recommendations for the reversing of the devastating economic inequality that exists in the world today. These recommendation have been presented to the global political and business elites who recently gathered at Davos, Germany for the annual World Economic Forum.

Oxfam calls on the world’s political and business elites to:

  • Not dodge taxes in their respective countries or in countries where they invest and operate
  • Not use their wealth to seek political favors that undermine the democratic will of people
  • Support progressive taxation
  • Challenge governments to use their tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education, and social protection for citizens
  • Demand a living wage in all of the companies to own or control

Oxfam also shares a number of actions that have been implemented by developing and developed countries that have proven effective for reducing economic inequality. Four of these actions are:

  • Cracking down on financial secrecy and tax dodging
  • Investment n universal access to healthcare and education
  • Progressive taxation
  • Strengthening wage floors and worker rights

In conclusion, economic and income inequality has dramatically increased over the last three decades. The rich have gotten richer and the poor, poorer. This economic trend continues and it threatens the welfare of individuals and families and the stability of nations and world regions.

The facts and information contained in Oxfam’s  “Working For The Few” must be read with an open mind to the facts and a willingness, readiness, and commitment to do what is necessary to reverse the tragic growth of economic inequality in the world.

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