The Guardian has given coverage this morning to a new Oxfam report, issued to coincide with Davos. That report says that the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population and that 1% of people own more wealth than the other 99% combined.
You can argue with the numbers: some will, and I always wonder why. Whichever way the data is now cut the story is always the same: wealth (and income) inequality is massive and growing. At the same time the number who think this is not harmful is declining whilst the number thinking this is the inevitable outcome of a world of unfettered capitalism where privatisation and the suppression of labour force rights is the focus of far too many government’s economic policies is growing.
Oxfam calls for a crackdown on tax dodging; higher investment in public services; and higher wages for the low paid.
On the first they focus on tax havens. That is fair as this report comes from the UK and so far we have dismally failed to impose a requirement of transparency and accountability on our own tax havens, let alone anyone else’s. Indeed, the steps we have take to tackle the hidden economy and disguised ownership in the UK are pathetic: the new rules on beneficial ownership disclosure might at best be described as a an honesty box arrangement for those already inclined to tell the truth leaving those wishing to remain in the shade firmly untouched by a system without checks or effective sanctions (let alone admin resources to impose them) within it. The opportunities for abuse are little impacted by almost any huff or puff by David Cameron over recent years on this issue.
When it comes to higher investment in public services the UK is doing all it can to aid the forces of inequality whilst real wage growth will only happen when there is real trade union power and this government is doing all it can to destroy that.
I think the Oxfam report is objective. I would add in more solutions and fill in some of the gaps, but Oxfam knows it is operating in a deeply hostile political environment.
And in many ways the report has got it right. We have a problem. The detail of this issue is massively complex and yet the essence can be simply stated; income and wealth distributions as they exist now are harmful. But there are solutions. Again, the detail is complicated but if you are heading in the wrong direction on all of them you have no hope of solving the problem. For the moment forget the detail: the message is we are going the wrong way. That’s enough and Oxfam are doing the right job, at the right time and in the right way to highlight this fact on behalf of those who are losing out as a result. That’s what good charitable campaigning is all about.