The world’s 85 richest people control as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the population. That’s according to an Oxfam report released earlier this week. In more striking terms, less than 100 people on the face of the planet own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people.
It’s this rising income inequality that has many expressing concern. Pope Francis has taken the unprecedented move of admonishing the super rich, advising them to do more to improve the lives of the poor.
“I ask you to ensure humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,” he said while addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
President Obama has hammered home similar themes about income inequality. In a recent speech he highlighted:
“Since 1979, when I graduated from high school, our productivity is up by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than eight percent. Since 1979, our economy has more than doubled in size, but most of that growth has flowed to a fortunate few.
The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income — it now takes half. Whereas in the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today’s CEO now makes 273 times more. And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.”
President Obama is expected to further make his case for strategies to reduce income inequality tomorrow in his State of the Union address.
Yet, these strategies are likely to face huge obstacles. Congress is unwilling to increase income taxes on the wealthy or make changes to current estate tax laws.
And many of the elite are fighting back as well, suggesting that they have been unjustly demonized. Venture capitalist Thomas Perkins, for instance, took heat after comparing his perceived demonization of the rich to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
“Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich,” Perkins wrote in a column in the Wall Street Journal.
Forbes magazine contributor Harry Binswanger goes even further, citing that it’s time for the 99% to give back to the 1%.
“It is “the community” that should give back to the wealth-creators. It turns out that the 99% get far more benefit from the 1% than vice-versa…… For their enormous contributions to our standard of living, the high-earners should be thanked and publicly honored. We are in their debt.”
With these types of attitudes it appears that income inequality will only continue to worsen.
BMWK, what do you think? Should the rich bear responsibility for helping the less fortunate? Does society have a responsibility to redistribute wealth through taxes and other means when wealth inequality becomes so skewed?