Eton boys with poor boys ullstein bild/Getty Images

Global Bookmark

Inequality and the Coming Storm

In recent decades, the wealth gap between a narrow upper class and the rest of the human population has become a gaping chasm, with far-reaching implications for most countries around the world. Rising inequality may be the greatest economic challenge of our time, but it’s not the first time human civilization has faced it.

MILAN – The world is becoming increasingly unequal, and at an astonishing pace. According to Oxfam, in 2010, 388 billionaires owned as much private wealth as the poorer half of the global population. By 2016, a mere eight people did. The Great Recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis has hit the vulnerable especially hard, while many of the gamblers who triggered it have grown wealthier.

The accumulation of massive fortunes by a tiny coterie of plutocrats represents the tipping point in a more complex phenomenon. Although China’s meteoric rise to become the world’s second-largest economy (by GDP) has compressed inequality at the global level, the fact remains that disparities within most countries have been expanding rapidly.

In developing economies, the past three decades of globalization have produced a burgeoning urban middle class, but widened the gap between cities and rural regions. And in advanced economies, globalization and technological progress have conferred significant benefits on a small minority of highly qualified professionals, but squeezed the middle class. The standard of living for those not at the top of the income scale has stagnated, owing to the availability of cheap labor abroad and inadequate redistributive policies at home.

To continue reading, please subscribe to On Point.

To access On Point, log in or register now now and read two On Point articles for free. For unlimited access to the unrivaled analysis of On Point, subscribe now.


Log in;
  1. A giant election campaign board supporting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi i KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

    The Struggle for Egypt’s Future

    • The ideological war between Islamists and nationalists has defined the politics of the Arab world for at least 60 years, and shows no sign of ending. 

    • While the impending reelection of Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi suggests that the nationalists have won, all it will really mean is that the Egyptian people have lost, yet again.
  2. Financial planning report Getty Images

    The Metric God That Failed

    • Over the past few decades, formal institutions have increasingly been subjected to performance measurements that define success or failure according to narrow and arbitrary metrics. 

    • The outcome should have been predictable: institutions have done what they can to boost their performance metrics, often at the expense of performance itself.
  3.  Laborers fill orders of machine grade steel to be shipped throughout the Pacific Northwest Natalie Behring/Getty Images

    Trump and the All-American Trade Debate

    • Donald Trump’s recently announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum have raised fears that his administration will roll back the rules-based free-trade system that has facilitated global commerce since World War II. 

    • But a closer examination of the history of US trade policy shows that Trump’s protectionist gambits are neither new, nor likely to have a lasting effect.
  4. Pictures of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Financial Secretary Paul Chan of Hong Kong ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

    The Asian Values Debate Returns

    • For the time being, concrete evidence of policy success in countries like China and India may well be the most effective way to buttress the case for applying non-Western perspectives to national development strategies. 

    • But, in the longer term, non-Western thinkers will need to translate their ideas into testable models and theories.