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Cracks in the New Gilded Age

Since 2020, the combined wealth of the world’s five richest people has more than doubled, to $869 billion, while nearly five billion people have become poorer, pushing inequality to unprecedented levels and posing a growing threat to democracy. But, as workers, regulators, and organizers are showing, the fight against oligarchy can be won.

WASHINGTON, DC – The past 12 years have been extremely good for the ultra-rich. The fortunes of billionaires – a group comprising the 2,640 wealthiest people on the planet, most of whom are men – has more than doubled. The wealth gap between the top 0.01% and the bottom half of the world’s population has increased by 50% since the 2008 global financial crisis.

The aftermath of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine have been particularly lucrative for the ultra-wealthy as they reaped an enormous windfall from pandemic-era stimulus packages and corporate welfare, raked in record profits by raising prices and blaming inflation, and benefited from decades of favorable policies. A recent report by Oxfam found that the combined wealth of the world’s five richest people – Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault, Larry Ellison, and Warren Buffett – has more than doubled since 2020, to $869 billion.

At the same time, nearly five billion people, representing 60% of the world’s population, have become poorer. While global income inequality declined gradually over time, primarily due to rising incomes in China, inequality between countries has increased for the first time in decades, and inequality within most countries has increased, too. Worryingly, a recent World Bank analysis has found that “the fight against poverty has stalled.” Given the current trajectory of wealth distribution, the world could have its first trillionaire within a decade, while eradicating global poverty would take 230 years.