World wealth disparity
[Representational Image]Reuters

New data on global wealth distribution suggest that the gap between the rich and the poor is far greater than had been feared previously. In India, the richest 1% hold a huge 58% of the country's total wealth — much higher than the global average of about 50%, a new report by Oxfam has revealed this shocking reality. 

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"Over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs — a sum larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people," Oxfam said. 

Of the total Indian wealth of $3.1 trillion in the country, just 57 billionaires in India have $216 billion, which is equal to what 70% population of the country at the bottom hold. According to the study, there are 84 billionaires in India, with a collective wealth of $248 billion, led by Mukesh Ambani ($19.3 billion), Dilip Shanghvi ($16.7 billion) and Azim Premji ($15 billion).

Globally, just eight men – six Americans, one Mexican and one Spanish – own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world's population. 

The report titled 'An Economy for the 99 percent' says that incomes of the poorest 10 percent of people increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while those of the richest 1 percent increased 182 times as much. And since 2015, the richest 1 percent has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. 

The world's eight richest people, in order of net worth, are (according to Oxfam):

  • Bill Gates: American; founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
  • Amancio Ortega: Spanish; founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
  • Warren Buffett: American; CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
  • Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican; owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
  • Jeff Bezos: American; founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
  • Mark Zuckerberg: American; chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
  • Larry Ellison: American; co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)
  • Michael Bloomberg: American; founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

'It's obscene and fracturing societies, democracy'

Commenting on the wealth gap, Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, said: "It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy." 

The report was released just hours before global political and business leaders gather at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, which is set to kick off on Tuesday (January 17) in the Swiss Alps.

The report says in details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics. 

Highlighting the role of inequality in global wealth, the report says seven out of 10 people live in a country that has seen a rise in inequality in the last 30 years. Women, often employed in low-pay sectors, still face high levels of discrimination at the workplace and as per current trends, it will take another 170 years for women to be paid the same as men. 

Oxfam said it interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, six days a week and still struggle to make $1 an hour even as they produce clothes for some of the world's biggest fashion brands. On the contrary, CEOs of these companies are some of the highest-paid people in the world, the report adds. 

The report also notes how the super-rich are using tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes and big businesses influencing government policies across the world are costing poor countries billions of dollars that could have been used to provide quality education and healthcare services to millions of children.

Showing how over half of the world's billionaires either inherited their wealth or accumulated it through industries that are prone to corruption and cronyism, the Oxfam report called on business leaders to play their part in building a human economy.