The richer get richer—the rest, not so much. That, in short, is the picture of income growth since the Great Recession. And the trend is set to hit an unfortunate milestone in 2016, according to Oxfam International. That’s when Oxfam predicts the collective wealth of the “one per cent” will finally eclipse that of everyone else.
“Do we really want to live in a world where the one per cent own more than the rest of us combined?” asked Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima, in a statement earlier this year that warned about the negative effects of wealth concentration on the battle against global poverty. “The scale of global inequality is simply quite staggering. The gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.”
There is, of course, a significant debate about whether a “wealth gap” is necessarily a bad thing. The wealthy are often touted as job creators and therefore an important driver of economic growth. Some have also quibbled with the way Oxfam crunches its data to overestimate poverty. Vox editor Ezra Klein wrote that because Oxfam relies on measures of net worth—assets minus debts—a farmer in China with little money but no debt would appear to be doing better than a medical student who just graduated in the U.S. with a massive student loan.
Even so, there’s little disputing that the wealth of the ultra-rich is growing faster than the economies of most countries—an outcome that could have destabilizing long-term effects. To avoid such an outcome, economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty have recommended overhauls to tax regimes in many countries that overwhelming favour millionaires and billionaires. But that could be an uphill battle. When it comes to politics, as everyone knows, money talks.