by Jon Queally

October 14, 2014

from CommonDreams Website





While wealthiest top one percent

own nearly fifty percent of all world's assets,

the entire bottom half of the global population

hold less than one percent of the wealth,

new financial analysis shows





"The bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world's wealth,

and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets."

(Photo: Credit Suisse / Global Wealth Report)



The top one percent of the wealthiest people on the planet own nearly fifty percent of the world's assets while the bottom fifty percent of the global population combined own less than one percent of the world's wealth.

"These figures give more evidence that inequality is extreme and growing, and that economic recovery following the financial crisis has been skewed in favor of the wealthiest.


In poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life saving medicines."

Emma Seery, Oxfam International

Those are the findings of an annual report (Global Wealth Report 2014) by the investment firm Credit Suisse released Tuesday, which shows that global economic inequality has surged since the financial collapse of 2008.





According to the report,

"global wealth has grown to a new record, rising by $20.1 trillion between mid-2013 and mid-2014, an increase of 8.3%, to reach $263 trillion - more than twice the $117 trillion recorded for the year 2000."

Though the rate of this wealth creation has been particularly fast over the last year - the fastest annual growth recorded since the pre-crisis year of 2007 - the report notes that the benefits of this overall growth have flowed disproportionately to the already wealthy.


And the report reveals that as of mid-2014,

"the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world's wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets."

Campaigners at Oxfam International, which earlier this put out their own report on global inequality, said the Credit Suisse report, though generally serving separate aims, confirms what they also found in terms of global inequality.

"These figures give more evidence that inequality is extreme and growing, and that economic recovery following the financial crisis has been skewed in favor of the wealthiest.


In poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life saving medicines," Oxfam's head of inequality Emma Seery, told the Guardian in response to the latest study.

In addition to giving an overall view of trends in global wealth, the authors of the Credit Suisse gave special attention to the issue of inequality in this year's report, noting the increasing level of concern surrounding the topic.

"The changing distribution of wealth is now one of the most widely discussed and controversial of topics," they write.


"Not least owing to [French economist] Thomas Piketty's recent account of long-term trends around inequality. We are confident that the depth of our data will make a valuable contribution to the inequality debate."

According to the report:

In almost all countries, the mean wealth of the top decile (i.e. the wealthiest 10% of adults) is more than ten times median wealth.


For the top percentile (i.e. the wealthiest 1% of adults), mean wealth exceeds 100 times the median wealth in many countries and can approach 1000 times the median in the most unequal nations.


This has been the case throughout most of human history, with wealth ownership often equating with land holdings, and wealth more often acquired via inheritance or conquest rather than talent or hard work.


However, a combination of factors caused wealth inequality to trend downwards in high income countries during much of the 20th century, suggesting that a new era had emerged.


That downward trend now appears to have stalled, and possibly gone into reverse.






Working for The Few
Political Capture and Economic Inequality

from Oxfam Website



This paper was written by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva and Nick Galasso. Oxfam acknowledges the assistance of Natalia Alonso, Ana Arendar, Teresa Cavero, Anna Coryndon, Kimberly Pfeifer and Max Lawson in its production.

It is part of a series of papers written to inform public debate on development and humanitarian policy issues.
For further information on the issues raised in this paper please e-mail




Housing for the wealthier middle classes

rises above the insecure housing of

a slum community in Lucknow, India.

Photo: Tom Pietrasik/Oxfam


In November 2013, the World Economic Forum released its 'Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014',1 in which it ranked widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the coming 12 to 18 months.


Based on those surveyed, inequality is 'impacting social stability within countries and threatening security on a global scale.' Oxfam shares its analysis, and wants to see the 2014 World Economic Forum make the commitments needed to counter the growing tide of inequality.

Some economic inequality is essential to drive growth and progress, rewarding those with talent, hard earned skills, and the ambition to innovate and take entrepreneurial risks. However, the extreme levels of wealth concentration occurring today threaten to exclude hundreds of millions of people from realizing the benefits of their talents and hard work.

Extreme economic inequality is damaging and worrying for many reasons: it is morally questionable; it can have negative impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction; and it can multiply social problems. It compounds other inequalities, such as those between women and men. In many countries, extreme economic inequality is worrying because of the pernicious impact that wealth concentrations can have on equal political representation.


When wealth captures government policymaking, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else.


The consequences include the erosion of democratic governance, the pulling apart of social cohesion, and the vanishing of equal opportunities for all.


Unless bold political solutions are instituted to curb the influence of wealth on politics, governments will work for the interests of the rich, while economic and political inequalities continue to rise.


As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said,

'We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.'

Oxfam is concerned that, left unchecked, the effects are potentially immutable, and will lead to 'opportunity capture' - in which the lowest tax rates, the best education, and the best healthcare are claimed by the children of the rich.


This creates dynamic and mutually reinforcing cycles of advantage that are transmitted across generations.

Given the scale of rising wealth concentrations, opportunity capture and unequal political representation are a serious and worrying trend.


For instance:

  • Almost half of the world's wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.2

  • The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.

  • That's 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world's population.3

  • The bottom half of the world's population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.4

  • Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.5

  • The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.6

  • In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.7

This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems.


Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.

Oxfam's polling from across the world captures the belief of many that laws and regulations are now designed to benefit the rich. A survey in six countries (Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the UK and the US) showed that a majority of people believe that laws are skewed in favor of the rich - in Spain eight out of 10 people agreed with this statement.


Another recent Oxfam poll of low-wage earners in the US reveals that 65 percent believe that Congress passes laws that predominantly benefit the wealthy.

The impact of political capture is striking. Rich and poor countries alike are affected. Financial deregulation, skewed tax systems and rules facilitating evasion, austerity economics, policies that disproportionately harm women, and captured oil and mineral revenues are all examples given in this paper.


The short cases included are each intended to offer a sense of how political capture produces ill-gotten wealth, which perpetuates economic inequality.

This dangerous trend can be reversed.


The good news is that there are clear examples of success, both historical and current. The US and Europe in the three decades after World War II reduced inequality while growing prosperous.


Latin America has significantly reduced inequality in the last decade - through more progressive taxation, public services, social protection and decent work. Central to this progress has been popular politics that represent the majority, instead of being captured by a tiny minority.


This has benefited all, both rich and poor.



Those gathered at Davos for the World Economic Forum have the power to turn around the rapid increase in inequality.


Oxfam is calling on them to pledge that they will:

  • Not dodge taxes in their own countries or in countries where they invest and operate, by using tax havens;

  • Not use their economic wealth to seek political favors that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens;

  • Make public all the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners;

  • Support progressive taxation on wealth and income;

  • Challenge governments to use their tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection for citizens;

  • Demand a living wage in all the companies they own or control;

  • Challenge other economic elites to join them in these pledges.

Oxfam has recommended policies in multiple contexts to strengthen the political representation of the poor and middle classes to achieve greater equity.


These policies include:

  • A global goal to end extreme economic inequality in every country. This should be a major element of the post-2015 framework, including consistent monitoring in every country of the share of wealth going to the richest one percent.

  • Stronger regulation of markets to promote sustainable and equitable growth; and

  • Curbing the power of the rich to influence political processes and policies that best suit their interests.

The particular combination of policies required to reverse rising economic inequalities should be tailored to each national context.


But developing and developed countries that have successfully reduced economic inequality provide some suggested starting points, notably:

  • Cracking down on financial secrecy and tax dodging

  • Redistributive transfers; and strengthening of social protection schemes

  • Investment in universal access to healthcare and education

  • Progressive taxation

  • Strengthening wage floors and worker rights

  • Removing the barriers to equal rights and opportunities for women


Figure 1: The rich get richer
Source: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, (2013)

'The World Top Incomes Database'



  1. World Economic Forum (2013) 'Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014', Geneva: World Economic Forum,

  2. Credit Suisse (2013) 'Global Wealth Report 2013', Zurich: Credit Suisse., and Forbes' The World's Billionaires (accessed on December 16, 2013)

  3. Calculated based on information from Credit Suisse, op. cit. Total wealth amounts to $240.8 trillion. Share of wealth for the bottom half of the population is 0.71 percent. That for the richest one percent is 46 percent (amounting to $110 trillion).

  4. Credit Suisse, op. cit.

  5. The World Top Incomes Database,

  6. Ibid.

  7. E. Saez (2013) 'Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (updated with 2012 preliminary estimates)', Berkeley: University of California, Department of Economics. and The World Top Incomes Database


Oxfam GB, Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Cowley, Oxford, OX4 2JY, UK.

Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations networked together in more than 90 countries, as part of a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty: