Eight billionaires 'as rich as world's poorest half'

The world's eight richest individuals have as much wealth as the 3.6bn people who make up the poorest half of the world, according to Oxfam.

The charity said its figures, which critics have queried, came from improved data, and the gap between rich and poor was "far greater than feared".

The richest eight include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett.

Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said Oxfam should focus instead on ways to boost growth.

"As an 'anti-poverty' charity, Oxfam seems to be strangely preoccupied with the rich," said the director-general of the free market think tank.

For those concerned with "eradicating absolute poverty completely", the focus should be on measures that encourage economic growth, he added.

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said it was not the wealth of the world's rich that mattered, but the welfare of the world's poor, which was improving every year.

"Each year we are misled by Oxfam's wealth statistics. The data is fine - it comes from Credit Suisse - but the interpretation is not."

http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/640x360/p04pndnq.jpgEconomist Amartya Sen tells Radio 4's Today that economic inequality must be tackled

'Elite gathering'

Oxfam's report coincides with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos, a Swiss ski resort. The annual event attracts many of the world's top political and business leaders.

Katy Wright, Oxfam's head of global external affairs, said the report helped the charity to "challenge the political and economic elites".

"We're under no illusions that Davos is anything other than a talking shop for the world's elite, but we try and use that focus," she added.

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The world's eight richest billionaires

1. Bill Gates (US): co-founder of Microsoft (net worth $75bn)

2. Amancio Ortega (Spain): founder of Zara owner Inditex (net worth $67bn)

3. Warren Buffett (US): largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8bn)

4. Carlos Slim Helu (Mexico): owner of Grupo Carso (net worth $50bn)

5. Jeff Bezos (US): founder and chief executive of Amazon (net worth $45.2bn)

6. Mark Zuckerberg (US): co-founder and chief executive of Facebook (net worth $44.6bn)

7. Larry Ellison (US): co-founder and chief executive of Oracle (net worth $43.6bn)

8. Michael Bloomberg (US): owner of Bloomberg LP (net worth $40bn)

Source: Forbes billionaires' list, March 2016


UK economist Gerard Lyons said focusing on extreme wealth "does not always give the full picture" and attention should be paid to "making sure the economic cake is getting bigger".

However, he said Oxfam was right to single out companies that it believed fuelled inequality with business models that were "increasingly focused on delivering ever-higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives".

Oxfam's Ms Wright said economic inequality was fuelling a polarisation in politics, citing Donald Trump's election as US president and the Brexit vote as examples.

'Fair share'

"People are angry and calling out for alternatives. They're feeling left behind because however hard they work they can't share in their country's growth," she said.

The charity is calling for "a more human economy" and is urging governments to crack down on executive pay and tax evasion and impose higher taxes on the wealthy.

It also wants business leaders to pay a "fair share of tax" and has urged companies to pay staff the "living wage", which is higher than the government's National Living Wage.

Oxfam has produced similar reports for the past four years. In 2016 it calculated that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population.

The number had fallen to just eight this year because more accurate data was now available, Oxfam said.

It was still the case that the world's richest 1% had as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, Oxfam said.

http://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/B975/production/_93577474_gettyimages-512267506.jpgFacebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan / Getty Images

Some of the eight richest billionaires have given away tens of billions of dollars. In 2000 Bill Gates and his wife Melinda set up a private foundation that has an endowment of more than $44bn.

In 2015 Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan pledged to give away 99% of their net worth in their lifetimes, which equated to about $45bn based on the value of Facebook shares at the time.

It takes cash and assets worth $71,600 to get into the top 10%, and $744,396 to be in the top 1%.

Oxfam's report is based on data from Forbes and the annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth datebook, which gives the distribution of global wealth going back to 2000.

The survey uses the value of an individual's assets, mainly property and land, minus debts, to determine what he or she "owns". The data excludes wages or income.

The methodology has been criticised as it means that a student with high debts, but with high future earning potential, for example, would be considered poor under the criteria used.

 


My Last Words to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

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