The doughnut chart below is a very simple illustration of how many people we’re talking about when we describe ‘the richest 1% of the world’.
That thin, golden slice at the top of the doughnut has grabbed two-thirds of the new wealth that’s been generated since 2020. The chart below shows you what that looks like in visual terms.
The chart below shows you how much wealth billionaires have added to their ever-growing piles for every dollar that was made by the bottom 90% of the global population per day since 2020. In total, the fortunes of billionaires across the board increased by around $2.7 billion per day.
A key thread that was constantly present throughout the negotiations of COP28 was the fact that humanity’s capacity to put up a united front in the fight against the existential threat of climate change is going to remain splintered until we admit to ourselves that the wealthiest of the world must become poorer for the rest to be able to catch a breather and be on equal terms at the negotiating table.
Simply explained, the world’s wealthiest countries, which benefited the most from the industrial activity which fuels climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, do not want to pay reparations to the world’s poorest countries i.e.: the countries which benefited the least from global industrial activity and are set to suffer the most from the impact of climate change. And that’s just a part of the problem.
In November, I published an article about the latest Global Tax Evasion Report compiled by the EU’s Tax Observatory. The article outlines how, besides the fact that Malta serves as one of the world’s most sought after tax havens for the world’s ultra-wealthy, tax evasion fuels inequality across the world. The fact that the rich are able to shift around their wealth across the globe with impunity means that, unless those hidden profits are targeted directly, this divide will keep growing, exacerbating all the economic instability we see on a daily basis.
To give you one example, the Oxfam report which I cited in the infographics accompanying this article describes how Elon Musk paid just over 3% in taxes from 2014 to 2018.
How much of your income have you paid in taxes this year?
I’m guessing it’s a safe bet that pretty much every reader of this website paid much more than 3%. It’s also a safe bet that my reader demographics don’t intersect with billionaires, either, so none of us came even close to making a fraction of that kind of money. And here we all were, paying taxes to a corrupt government that then uses that very same taxpayer money to make its corrupt, rich friends even richer.
When one looks at the data outlined above, the only logical conclusion is that the imbalance of wealth has become so great that its accumulation at the top is a direct threat to humanity’s future. In fact, the situation is so bad that there are individuals who form part of the top 1% cohort who have actually called on governments across the globe to tax them to address this very same issue.
The real issue here is that within the framework of capitalist societies, money buys access to power, which by extension means that those who can’t afford to buy access to power must resort to other methods to coerce power into listening to their demands. Hence the increasing relevance and importance of civil society’s ability to leverage widespread discontent to its advantage by using it to directly threaten the interests of the wealthy and the powerful.
One must also point out that there is no such thing as ‘self-made men’. It is disingenuous to suggest that anyone, even if they are the highest paragon of diligent work ethic, could ever possibly work hard enough to justify being worth more than most of the rest of the world. It is even more disingenuous to suggest that someone at the top of the hierarchy of a global corporation could generate enough economic activity on their own without the workers who are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the labour that is the lifeline of that economic activity.
Just because there are documents which state that Musk owns Tesla does not mean that Musk could ever do any of the things he claims all the credit for without the legions of engineers, designers, technicians, assembly line crew members, shop floor supervisors, and so on. The same concept applies to Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg and Meta, and every other ultra-wealthy asshole you can think of.
The vast, complicated machinery that these kinds of individuals deploy to shield their wealth and condition society to venerate their parasitic existence must be dismantled if humanity is to have a future.