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How Can We Bridge the Widening Global Inequality Gap?

How Can We Bridge the Widening Global Inequality Gap?

Published on
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It's as if inequality apologists can barely be bothered because they don't feel their cosy system is threatened enough that they need to.

"We are beginning to be left to trust that those at the top will rescue those below," writes Byanyima. "But the worst-case scenario is - they won't." (Photo: Credit Suisse Research Institute)

For the past five years, I have carried Oxfam's call to tackle global inequality to the rich and powerful people attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.

I don't sing alone there any more. I'm worried my message is almost mainstream, that I sound like I'm part of the choir. I bet nearly every politician and industry leader I meet in Davos this week will talk the talk about the evils of inequality and be very eloquent and believable, too.

"The unspoken contract between the elites and the 99 percent that unfettered market globalisation and liberalisation should benefit us all is broken."

I mean, how could they not? The evidence is overwhelming. Surely, no stable genius attending Davos could possibly try to deny, minimise or justify 2018 levels of global inequality? Now that would be a controversial sideshow!

Oxfam's report this year is as much about people's stories as it is about inequality's staggering statistics. These are the people around the world losing their lands and livelihoods as fast as ever. People forced to work for peanuts in ever-more exploitative and abusive jobs, like the women in US factory lines who have to wear nappies because aren't allowed toilet breaks.

Millions of children still denied schooling and poor people denied affordable healthcare. Stories of discrimination and exploitation, of activists and unions silenced, and of profits flowing as rivers of money into off-shore tax havens. All this and more to prop up a man-made system where another billionaire is created every other day because the top 1 percent are pocketing more than 80 percent of the wealth our world creates. The bottom half of humanity gets none of this new wealth at all.

Today's economy is designed near-perfectly to reward wealth ahead of work. This is Oxfam's story at Davos. And we're not even seriously attacked any more for saying it.

It's as if inequality apologists can barely be bothered because - and this does worry me - they don't feel their cosy system is threatened enough that they need to.

So this year, more than ever, I am wondering who really holds the answers here. Are some of us waiting for science to come up with some new technology that will magically solve the problem, as I suspect many people are anxiously hoping for a discovery that will stop climate change? Are we waiting for the enfranchised masses to vote for "change", for the next radical option presented to them? For a revolution?

Or do we think that corporate and political leaders will finally be moved towards enlightened collective interest all of a sudden?

I'm afraid the answer to the last one is that, beyond some notable exceptions, there is no appeal for capitalist elites to be nice. Business ethics are either imposed by regulation or else they exist off-balance-sheet, maybe on a voluntary basis - something that companies can pick up and pay lip service to when necessary.

Instead, we need to look to the business trailblazers like those leading innovative models based upon equity - worker-owned companies such as the multibillion-dollar Mondragon in Spain and Amul in India, for example.

Or those willing to consider a visionary idea. We are putting the case to business leaders that they should not pay a penny in shareholder dividends and executive bonuses until all their workers are getting a living wage and their producers a fair price.

We do not have the patience to wait or hope. We need to look to the law. And new laws must be pushed into existence by the collective power of people.

We will only close the gap between men and women's pay by legislating it closed. At the speed we're going now, it will take 217 years. Iceland has caught on.

We need to throw the book at irresponsible corporate tax behaviour which alone costs poor countries $100bn a year. That book needs to hit the corporate lobbyists while we're at it.

We need to be less worried about disruptive new technologies, but more proactive in understanding and harnessing them properly. The utility of every invention depends on how it is owned and controlled for the public good.

Law has the power to ensure that nobody should work on a level of pay that they cannot live a decent life.

This means governments getting back into the driving seat. In days gone by, governments would value the masses because they needed them for their factories and armies, and so they would feed, educate and keep them healthy. That's changed today.

Then we were sold the idea that trade-fuelled growth would spread around the world, carried by democracy, on a rising tide that would "lift up all boats". That's failed, too.

The unspoken contract between the elites and the 99 percent that unfettered market globalisation and liberalisation should benefit us all is broken.

Globalisation has lifted many people out of the most abject poverty and we celebrate that. But it has been even more successful in boosting an elite few into superyachts stuffed with stupendous wealth, while dumping hundreds of millions of people onto the flotsam and jetsam at the bottom.

We are beginning to be left to trust that those at the top will rescue those below.

But the worst-case scenario is - they won't. There will be no value in it. The masses will be left adrift to fend for themselves.

It's up to us all to make sure that doesn't come to pass.

© 2015 Al-Jazeera English

Winnie Byanyima

Winnie Byanyima

Winnie Byanyima is the executive director of Oxfam International. She is a leader on women’s rights, democratic governance and peace building. She served eleven years in the Ugandan Parliament, and has served at the African Union Commission and as Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Development Program.

The human imagination has been colonized, is being colonized and extracted from. Trump and the ‘base’ people who have been impoverished by the “system” actually believe that immorality and lies are dynamics from which they are excepted - the depth of exceptionalism is now psychotic - and that is not hyperbole - it is becoming increasingly clear that they are being used like toilet paper. The colonization point is that those who are subjected to THE GENOCIDAL realities are held at arms length. This is done geographically and by idea and image manipulation. The community police forces have been slowly transformed into shock troops and lined up very assiduously with the excess military supplies and the payout of terror from having funded ISIS. Conflate them all and well intentioned police officer can be browbeaten into rationalizations for excessive force and paranoia born from systemic obfuscation of the truth.

The human mind and heart, the integrity of community and local economies, the soundness of our basic education cannot be nurtured with the methodologies of power, dominance, scorn and profits.

With Citizens United the plantation manager with the whip dismounted and donned a uniform - be it military or 3-piece suit. Davos is the fetish parade. Nothing sharpens the fetish like a little ulta-violence that is counter posed to reinforce the image of “civilization”. You cannot make this $#!t up.

Anyone who thinks anything actually gets done there is deluded. This is one of the parades, the performances - and ‘the media’ will damn well stand up and salute! and make sure it is placed on the screens with the advertisers kowtowing at a premium.

Great methods to make knuckle dragging regression look slick -


Every political system is defined by unequal distribution of wealth and power, going back to Ur of the Chaldees.

Capitalism is not unique - any governmental system consists of two classes - the governors and the governed. Rarely is there overlap.

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“Capitalism: Nothing so mean could be right. Greed is the ugliest of the capital sins.” --Edward Abbey

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What you say sounds ugly, but it reminds me of an experience just a few years back.
I joined a commune. In this group, everyone was equal, everyone did what they wanted, everything like projects and chores and meetings were open to all and recommended, but nothing was mandatory. Green living was one of the few rules. It was touted as a utopia and a way for the dreamworld to be, and there were money making tourist events for people to visit Paradise.
A few of them would mention from time to time the old adage, “We are all equal, but some of us are more equal than others.” Security meetings were held secretly, not publicly and not everyone was invited. Rent was collected, some resources were sold and donations often came from the public, but no bookkeeping was ever shown to the group. People who were not planning to heavily invest were made uncomfortable in a short time. Quarrels were common.
You are right. Utopias don’t exist. But, heck we can try, and there is always better and worse. We need to move in that direction.

Winnie, one more thing. I want to add something about foreign do-gooders.
Lots of money actually goes to “help” reduce the difference between "us"and “them” for people around the world.

  1. We help a country do better by waging a war to depose a leader. There is much talk, for instance, about helping those poor starved people in NK by having another war to destroy all the buildings they managed to build up since the last war we had with them.
  2. We make the world respect sanctions to help a smaller country not become bigger and stronger until it understands who is in charge.
  3. We send unmarried priests to teach about our ways and values and forget theirs. And move them around if things don’t work out for them.
  4. We fund NGOs and send people to their country and help them with what we think they need.
  5. When minorities are unhappy in a country, as many always are, we offer to help them tear their country up and create their own space. Even when we are sure it won’t work, we give them hope.

See, we do a lot!!

Have a nice time in Davos.

Helen, thanks for sharing the story. A perfect illustration of the point. No matter how good the intentions, there are no Utopias.

Very excellent article! Good ideas presented as well. My idea, which I’ve written recently in another article is: Declare a global Jubilee…all debt forgiven. Then, press the reset button on global economies. Start at a fair wage, fair costs for commodities, redistribution of lands and wealth, end the power of Wall Street…and as an addition, I would say, criminalize lobbyists, and I love the idea of REGULATION by law! Yes, they really fooled us didn’t they? Saying over and over again (that Ronnie reagan the idiot), that “government” was the problem! Look what we got ourselves into…believing that lie! Time to put the punch back in to government. We need to enforce the rules with no option for bribery, loopholes, etc. AND…break all too big to fail CORPORATIONS!