Inequality Hits Davos

DAVOS – Sixty-two. That is how many of the world’s wealthiest people own as much as the poorest 3.6 billion, down from 388 people in 2010. This shocking figure has made the rounds at this week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, as political and business leaders debate how to improve the state of the global economy. The question is whether the global elite attending Davos will take action to combat damagingly high (and growing) economic inequality.

World leaders have been worried about the rise in inequality for several years now; last September, they agreed to a Global Goal to reduce it. Yet the gap between the richest and the rest has continued to grow. This time last year, Oxfam predicted that the wealth of the top 1% would overtake that of the rest of the population by 2016; that milestone was reached two months ahead of schedule.

The longer we wait to take action, the more serious the consequences will be. Economic inequality is a corrosive force that undermines economic growth, hampers the fight against poverty, and sparks social unrest. In 2012, the WEF’s global risk report highlighted severe income inequality as the single greatest threat to social and political stability. Oxfam estimates that, without strong efforts to tackle inequality, the much-heralded goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 will be impossible to reach.

The very real damage inequality does to people’s lives is evident across the globe. For example, garment workers in Myanmar told Oxfam that, even with overtime, they could not afford housing, food, and medicine. At the other end of the retail chain, the CEO’s of the clothing companies enjoy multimillion-dollar pay deals.