Deborah Hardoon, Senior Researcher, OXFAM GB

Yesterday, one of my housemates told me about this report from Ofxam. Interested in the issue of inequalities and wealth distribution (one of my readings of the moment is “The Price of Inequality” from J. Stiglitz), I decided to look into it this morning. I was really flustered when I read this:

In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet. Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years

The book from Stiglitz kind of made me aware of the horror of inequality in the world. This simply makes me angry. I still do not understand how we can allow this to be. I am not saying that we should all be equal, because this is not possible. There is room for merit and hard word. But there is also a need for fairness and rationality. “By 2014, the 80 people who top the Forbes rich list had a collective wealth of $1.9tn.” Tell how this can be acceptable?
I had a discussion with another housemate, about wages. “It’s normal that some people earn more. They are worth that money.” But for me, it is not because a person is smarter than another and invested more in education that we can justify that one person earns a thousand times more than another person. I hate putting a value on human life, but it’s like saying that one person is worth a thousand times more than another person. This makes no sense. Moreover, people are born in a certain environment that partially defines their future path. Being born the son of Bill Gates gives you different perspectives in life than being born in a Muslim family in Gaza. Maybe that baby in Gaza would have a very high IQ, but who will know? While Bill Gates’ baby could be average, but be educated by la crème de la crème in America, making him become someone very smart and cultivated. And so, is he worth a thousand times what the kid in Gaza is? I don’t think so.

But then, I have to be honest. I made some research about this report. And I really quickly found articles explaining that the use of the data makes no sense. Since they decided to measure people’s assets minus their debts, people who have huge debts are the poorest. So it means that Jérôme Kerviel (ex-trader at Société Générale), with the 5 billion euros he owes to his ex-company, is the poorest person in the world, and that someone who has no assets in Syria is much better off than a Harvard graduate who has not paid back his student loan yet. Also, their projections for 2016 are questionable. They made their projections with a graph starting in 2010, but if you take the same graph starting in 2000, it looks quite different… (Here, in French, the analysis of Alexandre Delaigue)

I do believe that we have to talk about inequalities. The gap between rich and poor people is widening and we cannot ignore a certain number of figures. But at the same time, people like me have to be careful when they find data that goes in the way of their beliefs; Sometimes, data are analyzed in a dangerous way.


Listening to: Jung Yong Hwa – 어느 멋진 날 (One Fine Day)


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