Report: 85 Richest People Have as Much Wealth as Half the World

The 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as those in the bottom half of the wealth distribution, according to a new report published Monday by Oxfam highlighting the increasing wealth inequality around the world.

Among the report's other findings:

  • One percent of the world's population owns about $110 trillion, or about half of the world's wealth, which is 65 times the total wealth of those on the bottom half of the wealth distribution.
  • Seventy percent of the global population live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
  • The richest one percent increased their share of income between 1980 and 2012 in 24 out of the 26 countries where the data is available.
  • And during the Barack Obama presidency in the United States, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of the post-financial-crisis growth crisis while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

The authors of the report argue that economic inequality can be beneficial, but extreme economic inequality, like that found by the study, can be damaging.

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"Some economic inequality," the report says, "is essential to drive growth and progress, rewarding those with talent, hard earned skills, and the ambition to innovate and take entrepreneurial risks. However, the extreme levels of wealth concentration occurring today threaten to exclude hundreds of millions of people from realizing the benefits of their talents and hard work.

"Extreme economic inequality is damaging and worrying for many reasons: it is morally questionable; it can have negative impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction; and it can multiply social problems."

Liberals and conservatives generally disagree on the causes of inequality. Liberals tend to place the blame on weak regulation of the financial industry and prefer wealth redistribution policies. Conservatives generally point to lack of access to capital among the poor and place the blame on globalization, cronyism and government policies that shield certain businesses from competition.

While the Oxfam report does point to some types of cronyism, its recommendations tend to be more aligned with liberal thinking about income inequality. Oxfam recommends progressive taxation, living wage laws, stronger market regulation, wealth redistribution and universal health care.

James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, argues that the report is misleading because it ignores the dramatic decrease in global extreme poverty since the 1970s, and that decline is due to capitalism, especially in India and China.

"But Oxfam offers little on increasing economic freedom and promoting free enterprise as poverty-reduction measures," he wrote.

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