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par Rajesh MAKWANA
Last year alone, the world’s 100 richest people earned a combined additional income of $241 billions. According to new calculations, redistributing just a quarter of this vast quantity of money would enable governments to wipe out extreme poverty for an entire year. Unfortunately for the 40000 people who die needlessly every day from poverty-related causes, these billionaires are as unlikely to share their earnings voluntarily as governments are to enact policies that redistribute their excessive incomes more fairly across society.
In the latest in a string of reports, books and public protests by those calling for sharing and justice to guide social and economic policy, Oxfam has put forward a robust argument for putting an end to extreme wealth by 2025. In their media briefing, ‘The cost of inequality : how wealth and income extremes hurt us all‘, the charity gives a litany of reasons why extreme inequality is bad for the economy, the environment and society in general. According to the briefing, the incomes of the top 1 % of the world’s population have increased 60 % in the past twenty years. While joblessness rocketed across the US and Europe after the financial crisis of 2008, the income of this elite group of multimillionaires continued to expand. And the growth in income for the top 0.01 % has been even greater –there are now around 1200 billionaires in the world. Unsurprisingly, the market for luxury goods has ‘registered double-digit growth every year since the [financial] crisis hit’. Despite notable reductions in the number of people living in extreme poverty, the paper also highlights the rapid escalation of inequality in developing countries. For example, in China the top 10 % of the population now earn nearly 60 % of the country’s income, which places it almost on par with South Africa as one of the most unequal countries on earth. This trend has been just as pronounced in rich countries such as the UK, where inequality levels are fast reaching Dickensian proportions. Similarly, in the US the share of national income since 1980 has doubled for the top 1 % and quadrupled for the top 0.01 %.
It is important to understand the root cause of this all-pervasive growth in inequality and determine whether it constitutes a serious problem for society. As George Monbiot reminded us in a recent article, for many decades policymakers have regarded inequality as a necessary by-product of the neoliberal ideology to which they subscribe. For adherents of this extreme pro-market belief system, any attempts to enact policies to reduce inequality interfere with the efficiency of the free market and should be avoided at all costs. Instead more should be done to further deregulate economies, privatise resources, services and industry, downsize the public sector and open up markets to even more competition both within and between nations. As a theory based on the principles of individualism and self-interest, neoliberalism seeks to remove collective public oversight from economic activity, even when this could have dire implications for society and the environment.