World’s five richest men doubled wealth since 2020, Oxfam says

Collective fortunes of the super-rich jumped to $869 billion during the period as nearly five billion people globally grew poorer

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The world’s five richest people have more than doubled their collective wealth to $869 billion, from $405 billion, since 2020, as almost five billion people globally – 60 per cent of the world's population – have grown poorer, according to charity Oxfam International.

If each of the planet's five wealthiest men were to spend $1 million daily, they would take 476 years to exhaust their combined wealth, Oxfam said in its annual Inequality Inc report on Monday.

The world’s top five richest people are: Elon Musk with a net worth of $206 billion, Jeff Bezos ($179 billion), Bernard Arnault ($162 billion), Bill Gates ($149 billion) and Mark Zuckerberg ($135 billion), according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index.

At the current rate, it would take 230 years to end poverty – but the world could have its first trillionaire in 10 years' time, Oxfam said.

The report was released during the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.

“As we enter 2024, the very real danger is that these extraordinary extremes are becoming the new normal,” Oxfam said.

“We are living through what appears to be the start of a decade of division: in just three years, we have experienced a global pandemic, war, a cost-of-living crisis and climate breakdown.

“Each crisis has widened the gulf – not so much between the rich and people living in poverty, but between an oligarchic few and the vast majority.”

The number of billionaires rose by 7 per cent globally last year to 2,544 from 2,376, while their collective wealth recovered by 9 per cent to $12 trillion from $11 trillion, according to a report by Swiss banking group UBS.

The world’s richest 1 per cent own 43 per cent of all global financial assets, according to the Oxfam report.

Globally, men own $105 trillion more wealth than women – the difference in wealth is equivalent to more than four times the size of the US economy, Oxfam said.

It would take 1,200 years for a female worker in the health and social sector to earn what a chief executive in the biggest Fortune 100 companies earns on average in one year, it added.

“Billionaires are now $3.3 trillion or 34 per cent richer than they were at the beginning of this decade of crisis, with their wealth growing three times as fast as the rate of inflation,” Oxfam said.

“The other big winners in this period of crisis are global corporations. The biggest firms experienced an 89 per cent leap in profits in 2021 and 2022.

“New data shows that 2023 is set to shatter all records as the most profitable yet. Eighty-two per cent of these profits are used to benefit shareholders, who are overwhelmingly among the richest people in every society.”

Seven out of 10 of the world’s biggest and publicly listed corporates have either a billionaire chief executive or a billionaire as their principal shareholder, the Oxfam report found.

Just 0.4 per cent of more than 1,600 of the world’s largest and most influential companies are publicly committed to paying their workers a living wage and support payment of a living wage in their value chains, the research showed.

Globally, 791 million workers have seen their wages fail to keep up with inflation and, as a result, have lost $1.5 trillion over the past two years, equivalent to nearly a month (25 days) of lost wages for each worker, it revealed.

“Women are vastly over-represented in the poorest-paid and least secure jobs, and in 2019, earned just 51 cents for every $1 in labour income earned by men,” the non-profit said.

To end extreme inequality, governments must radically redistribute the power of billionaires and corporations back to ordinary people, it recommended.

One way this could be achieved is through taxes. In October, research by the EU Tax Observatory research laboratory found that billionaires globally paid tax rates equivalent to zero per cent to 0.5 per cent of their wealth and are proportionally taxed far less than ordinary citizens due to their use of shell companies.

The observatory's Global Tax Evasion Report 2024 recommended a global minimum tax on billionaires, equal to 2 per cent of their wealth.

“We provide a first estimation of the revenue potential of this measure, showing that it would raise close to $250 billion (from less than 3,000 individuals) annually,” the report said.

“A strengthened global minimum tax on multinational companies, free of loopholes, would raise an additional $250 billion per year.”

Oxfam said it supports the idea proposed by US economist Joseph Stiglitz, who contributed to the Global Tax Evasion Report, that every nation should aim to reduce inequality to the point where the bottom 40 per cent of the population has around the same income as the richest 10 per cent.

Top 5 richest people in the world

  1. Elon Musk: $206 billion
  2. Jeff Bezos: $179 billion
  3. Bernard Arnault: $162 billion
  4. Bill Gates: $149 billion
  5. Mark Zuckerberg: $135 billion

Source: Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index

Updated: January 15, 2024, 9:16 AM