Wealth of five richest men doubles since 2020 as five billion people made poorer in “decade of division,” says Oxfam
January 15, 2024 (Ottawa) — Oxfam today released their Inequality Inc. report showing that people worldwide are working harder and longer hours, often for poverty wages in precarious and unsafe jobs. The wages of nearly 800 million workers have failed to keep up with inflation and they have lost $1.5 trillion over the last two years, equivalent to nearly a month (25 days) of lost wages for each worker. It would take 1,200 years for a woman working in the health and social sector to earn what the average CEO in the biggest 100 Fortune companies earns in a year.
Meanwhile, the world’s five richest men have more than doubled their fortunes from $405 billion to $869 billion since 2020 — at a rate of $14 million per hour — while nearly five billion people have been made poorer. If current trends continue, the world will have its first trillionaire in 10 years but poverty won’t be eradicated for another 230 years.
Four of the five richest Canadians (David Thomson and family, David Cheriton, Jim Pattison and Anthony von Mandl) have increased their wealth by two-thirds since 2020, according to Forbes. Additionally, the richest 0.02% of Canadians have more wealth than the bottom 80% (source: UBS Global Wealth Report 2023 and Wealth X). The richest 1% hold almost two-fifths (38%) of the total financial wealth in Canada (source: Wealth X).
Inequality Inc., published today as business elites gather in the Swiss resort town of Davos, reveals that seven out of ten of the world’s biggest corporations have a billionaire as CEO or principal shareholder. These corporations are worth $10.2 trillion, which is equivalent to more than the combined GDPs of all countries in Africa and Latin America.
“We’re witnessing a decade of division, with billions of people shouldering the economic shockwaves of pandemic, inflation and war, while billionaires’ fortunes boom. This inequality is no accident; the billionaire class is ensuring corporations deliver more wealth to them at the expense of everyone else,” said Oxfam Canada Executive Director Lauren Ravon.
Mirroring the fortunes of the super-rich, large firms are set to smash their annual profit records over the past year. 148 of the world’s biggest corporations together raked in $1.8 trillion in total net profits in the year to June 2023, a 52 percent jump compared to average net profits in 2018-2021. Their windfall profits surged to nearly $700 billion. The report finds that for every $100 of profit made by 96 major corporations between July 2022 and June 2023, $82 was paid out to rich shareholders.
“Runaway corporate and monopoly power is an inequality-generating machine: through squeezing workers, dodging tax, privatizing the state, and spurring climate breakdown, corporations are funneling endless wealth to their ultra-rich owners,” said Ravon. “Canadians are tired of corporate oligopolies in the banking and telecommunications industries, and lack of regulation to manage spiking grocery prices.”
Oxfam’s report also shows how a “war on taxation” by corporations has seen the effective corporate tax rate fall by roughly a third in recent decades, while corporations have relentlessly privatized the public sector and essential services.
82% of Canadians believe now is the time to tackle wealth and income inequality by increasing taxes on wealthy Canadians and large, profitable corporations. Additionally, 89% of people in Canada support a wealth tax that would be paid by the richest Canadians every year. (Source: Abacus Data, August 2021)
Oxfam is calling on governments to rapidly and radically reduce the gap between the super-rich and the rest of society by:
Ensuring government institutions are dynamic and effective. Governments should ensure universal provision of healthcare and education, and explore publicly-delivered goods and public options in sectors from energy to transportation.
Reining in corporate power, including by breaking up monopolies, empowering workers and democratizing patent rules. This also means legislating for living wages, capping CEO pay, and imposing new taxes on the super-rich and corporations, including permanent wealth and excess profit taxes. Oxfam estimates that a wealth tax on the world’s millionaires and billionaires could generate $1.8 trillion a year. Public power can rein in runaway corporate power and inequality — shaping the market to be fairer and free from billionaire control.
Reinventing business. Competitive and profitable businesses don’t have to be shackled by shareholder greed. Democratically-owned businesses better equalize the proceeds of business.
There is action that lawmakers can learn from, from Canada introducing new taxes on the digital multinational giants starting this month, and US anti-monopoly government enforcers suing Amazon in a landmark case, to the European Commission wanting Google to break up its online advertising business, and Africa’s historic fight to reshape international tax rules.
Notes to editors
- Download Oxfam’s report “Inequality Inc.” and the methodology note.
- It will take 229 (almost 230) years to ensure the number of people living under the World Bank poverty line of $6.85 was reduced to zero.
- According to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Database, the combined GDP of economies in Africa in 2023 is $2,867 billion, while that of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean is $6,517 billion, for a total of $9.4 trillion.
- Oxfam defines windfall profits as those exceeding the 2018-2021 average by more than 20 percent.
- All amounts are US dollars.