The Poor at the World Economic Forum in Davos

Oxfam is an international organization that tries to find solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world. Today it issued the press release “Rigged rules mean economic growth increasingly ‘winner takes all’ for rich elites all over world” that explained some startling facts.

The 85 richest people of the world own as much as the poorest half of the world, about 3.5 billion people. A related statistic says that the top 1% of the world’s population owns 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world. (Just in case you are a computer owner in the USA you may not be aware of it but you probably belong to this 1%.)

Oxfam published this press release days before the World Economic Forum is held in Davos Switzerland, where it is likely that each of those 85 richest people will be either present themselves or represented by a delegate. They will have to deal with the risks the organizers of the World Economic Forum have identified.

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The World Economic Forum listed “Widening Income Disparities” as its second most important trend in 2014, but income inequality is conspicuously absent from its list of “Global Risks 2014” (published in conjunction with the upcoming meeting). The world’s movers and shakers are meeting in an upscale Swiss ski resort, and don’t see income inequality as a global risk first hand, so I do not expect that this problem will be addressed in a constructive way. The poor are represented mainly by numbers in dry statistics. Not one visitor to Davos will have to look a poor person in the eye. “Out of sight, out of mind” will take over the minds of the busy movers and shakers all too fast.

Another indication that inequality will likely remain unaddressed was apparent in the US, where politicians among others commemorated the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” recently. Democrats tend to highlight the successes of poverty fighting policies, and were publicly wondering how much worse poverty would be today without the policies that began with Johnson’s “War”. Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio, on the other hand, asked whether it wasn’t “time to declare big government’s war on poverty a failure?” Neither group was terribly vocal about solutions for today’s working poor.

It is rather curious to talk about “big government” in the US, where the tax intake in 2012 as a percentage of GDP stood at 24.3%, second lowest among OECD nations (ahead only of Chile’s 20.8%) and lower than the 27 other OECD countries. The fact that such comments are taken as fact and not fiction, and the fact stands without further comment, goes to show once again that the public discourse is driven by the interests of the people at the top of the pecking order. Very few question Senator Rubio’s big-government claim in the first place, and even fewer have a public platform to disseminate the truth about the relatively tiny size of the US government as widely as Senator Rubio can disseminate his own implied claim that “big government has failed”.

So, who’d bet on the chances that anyone from any country of this world will bring up in the World Economic Forum constructive ways to solve the problem of income and wealth inequality? How about the chances that someone will offer actual policies to remedy inequality? Who will lead the charge? How will they lead? And when?

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