The familiar adage, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” has taken on greater concern in the wake of the Great Recession.
“In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer,” reported Oxfam, a consortium of organizations that work to rectify poverty and social injustice around the world.
Worldwide, Oxfam reports, the wealthiest 1 percent of people — the top 85 — have more wealth than the poorest half of the world, about 3.5 billion people. And the picture becomes more and more distorted by the year:
• Seven out of 10 people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the past 30 years.
• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countriues for which Oxfam had data between 1980 and 2012.
This isn’t just a matter of the haves and the wish-they-haves. It is a matter endangering the economic stability of the world and the function of democratic government.
“Oxfam is concerned that, left unchecked, the effects are potentially immutable and will lead to ‘opportunity capture’ — in which the lowest tax rates, the best education, and the best healthcare are claimed by the children of the rich,” the report states.
The belief is already in place throughout the world.
Among low-wage earners in the U.S., another recent Oxfam poll shows that 65 percent believe Congress passes laws that predominantly benefit the wealthy.
Statistics bear out that belief: In the United States, the wealth disparity is growing faster than in any other country — and at more than twice the rate it grew 30 years ago.
And it’s no coincidence that as the economy slowly recovers, low- and middle-income workers are not sharing in that recovery. Employment and wage levels are not recovering at the same pace as the economy.
We’ve heard politicians talk about the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. population as irrelevant — and we fear that belief is even more widespread than publicly stated, among both parties.
This is not only having a negative impact on the poor, but on the middle class. The once-comfortable majority continues to shrink.
Oxfam made its plea for a move toward greater equality at Davos to the World Economic Forum, asking these wealthy individuals to:
• not dodge taxes in their own countries,
• not use wealth to seek political favor,
• make public the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners,
• support progressive taxation on wealth and income,
• challenge governments to use tax revenue for universal healthcare, education and social protection, and
• demand a living wage in all the companies they own.
What happens if more effort isn’t made to have the rich pay their fair share? The same thing that is happening now: A dearth of full-time, living wage jobs. A shrinking middle class. Increasing worldwide poverty. Social and political destabilization.
Wealth, when put to use can serve as an economic engine that benefits more than a select few.
Hoarding of vast riches makes them essentially nothing more than a marker in a rigged game.