Skip to content Skip to footer

Can the Davos Rich Do More Than Talk?

Our global top 1 percent now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined.

Just a busload of billionaires, says Oxfam, now hold as much wealth as the entire bottom half of humanity. The elites now at Davos could, if they so choose, start steering that bus in a different direction.

Every winter the world’s political and business elite retreat to the Swiss mountain resort of Davos to think deep thoughts and sup at five-star eateries. The corporate execs, bankers, and finance ministers who frequent this annual Davos World Economic Forum have of late devoted considerable time to the topic of inequality. Last year’s forum, for instance, identified income inequality as 2015’s “most significant trend.”

But talk can be cheap. In fact, the more the elites at Davos seem to contemplate our global great divide, the more global wealth seems to concentrate in fewer pockets.

Back in 2010, as the global charity Oxfam reminds us in a new report released on the eve of Davos 2016, the world’s 388 richest billionaires had a combined fortune that equaled the net worth of the poorest half of the world’s population.

But last year just 62 top billionaires had enough net worth to match the wealth of humanity’s poorest half. That bottom half totals some 3.6 billion people.

Since 2010, those 3.6 billion folks have together lost just over $1 trillion – 41 percent – of their household wealth. The richest 62 of our global billionaire class, meanwhile, have gained $542 billion over that same time span, a 44 percent increase in their personal net worth.

These fortunate 62 – a group small enough to fit in a bus – certainly do have some good-times company. Our world’s wealthiest 1 percenters now average $1.7 million each in wealth, a total over 300 times greater than the average net worth of our world’s bottom 90 percent.

The ultimate global inequality bottom line? Our top 1 percent, notes Oxfam, “now have more wealth than the rest of the world combined.”

The crowd that’s assembling this week in Davos could, with a snap of a few fingers, end this staggeringly stark inequality in a relative matter of minutes. Wealth, after all, isn’t concentrating at such a ferocious rate because the rich are “innovating” at some spectacular level. Wealth is concentrating so ferociously in good part because the rich have become incredibly adept at concealing – from tax collectors – a huge chunk of their fortunes.

Oxfam’s researchers put the amount of wealth that the global rich now have stashed away in offshore tax havens at $7.6 trillion. And those doing the hiding include the hefty share of the movers and shakers at the Davos World Economic Forum.

Oxfam has analyzed the tax machinations of 200 of the world’s top corporations, a group that encompasses a fair number of the corporate “strategic partners” at Davos. Nine of ten of these corporate giants turn out to “have a presence in at least one tax haven.”

Those corporate CEOs sashaying around Davos, in other words, could with some simple executive orders put a huge dent on a “global system of tax avoidance” that, says Oxfam, “denies poor countries the resources they need to tackle poverty, put children in school, and prevent their citizens dying from easily curable diseases.”

Don’t hold your breath.

​​Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.

Truthout is widely read among people with lower ­incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.

We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so — especially now, because we have just 2 days left to raise $33,000 in critical funds.

We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?