Comment | Inequality reigns supreme

Short of a perfectly timed meteor strike in Davos last week, there was little hope for anything in the way of a real solution to global inequality at the World Economic Forum. Crammed with career politicians, the irony of some of the world’s top 1 per cent meeting to fight economic inequality was almost too much bear.

The stunning magnitude of global inequality was revealed earlier in the week in a report compiled by Oxfam, which was tactically released before the World Economic Forum that began last Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland. Entitled ‘Working For The Few’, the study revealed that the combined wealth of the 85 richest individuals (at around £1 trillion) is equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion – approximately half the world’s population. Mark Twain’s contention that there are ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ may well be a cynical truism, but the shocking statistics presented in Oxfam’s report are incontrovertible. The implications of the report are far greater than the singular injustice of global wealth disparity, but show a staggeringly steep hierarchy of concentrated power and influence, and the core historical failure of ‘trickle down economics’. Money and wealth on a global level influence the flow of resources and play a fundamental role in shaping the political and economic systems that define and dictate the way people live.

The report therefore has greater implications than just who has the most money; it is about where power resides. We can broadly interpret the report as saying this: that the influence of the 85 richest people is equivalent to that of half the world’s population; an uncomfortable reality to say the least.

How can democracy, on both a national and supranational scale, operate effectively within such an unfair concentration of power?  Can the media function effectively when control over the dissemination of information is in the hands of the mega rich, through infamous media moguls such as Murdoch and Harbert?  These are but a few of the serious issues that emerge in light of the evidence of rising global inequality; contradictions that were not seriously addressed in Davos.

Income inequality is not the core problem, but a symptom of the inflationary monetary policy that rewards those who own capital and income-producing assets, not the vast majority of people who earn wages. Wealth is complex, but in essence having wealth breeds more wealth, conferring an unfair advantage to those with wealth, and leading to systemic polarisation.

Radical reform is necessary, but won’t come from the World Economic Forum. The Forum should be a place where solutions to economic inequality can be constructed. In reality, it is part of the problem. Real debate concerning the future of the world economy should be encouraged at local level, where instead a miserable form of apathy reigns. This year’s World Economic Forum has passed. Next year the farce will repeat itself; the guardians of global capitalism will meet again, valiantly fighting to prevent any reform that would result in the poor frittering money away on mundane commodities, such as food, and to protect the heritage of the yacht and private-jet industry.

Jethro Norman

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