Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) - Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world's population, worldwide development organisation Oxfam said in a report published Monday.
The report, 'Working for the Few', published ahead of this week's World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, details the pernicious impact that widening inequality is having in both developed and developing countries, helping the richest undermine democratic processes and drive policies that promote their interests at the expense of everyone else.
According to the report, there is a growing global public awareness of this power-grab.
Polls done for Oxfam in six countries -- Brazil, India, South Africa, Spain, the UK and US -- showed that most people questioned in all those countries believed that laws were skewed in favour of the rich.
Inequality has shot up the global agenda in recent years: US President Obama has made it a key priority for 2014 and the WEF has identified widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the next 12-18 months.
Oxfam said it wants governments to take urgent action to reverse the trend and asked those attending the WEF to make a six-point personal pledge to tackle the problem.
Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam Executive Director who will attend the Davos meetings, said: "It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world's population own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all sit comfortably in a single train carriage.
"We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.
"In developed and developing countries alike, we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.
"Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a 'winner takes all' windfall for the richest."
Policies successfully imposed by the rich in recent decades include financial deregulation, tax havens and secrecy, anti-competitive business practice, lower tax rates on high incomes and investments and cuts or under-investment in public services for the majority.
Oxfam's report has shown that since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 of the 30 countries for which data were available, meaning that in many places, the rich not only get more money but also pay less tax on it.
The report said that globally, the richest individuals and companies hide trillions of dollars away from the tax man in a web of tax havens around the world.
It is estimated that US$21 trillion is held unrecorded and off-shore.
In Africa, global corporations - particularly those in extractive industries - exploit their influence to avoid taxes and royalties, reducing the resources available to governments to fight poverty.
In the US, years of financial deregulation directly correlated to the increase in the income share of the top one per cent, which is now at its highest level since the eve of the Great Depression.
In Europe, austerity has been imposed on the poor and middle classes under huge pressure from financial markets whose wealthy investors have benefited from state bailouts of financial institutions.
Oxfam has called on those gathered at WEF to pledge to support progressive taxation and not to dodge their own taxes; to refrain from using their wealth to seek political favours that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens; and to make public all the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners.
In addition, the organisation has challenged governments to use tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection for citizens.
"Oxfam is calling on governments to tackle inequality by cracking down on financial secrecy and tax dodging, including through the G20; investing in universal education and healthcare; and agreeing a global goal to end extreme inequality in every country as part of the post 2015 negotiations," it said.
-0- PANA AR/SEG 20Jan2014
20 january 2014 11:09:41
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Original headline: Tanzania: Oxfam says half of world's population work for tiny elite
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