With the new all-party National Unity Government giving top priority to poverty alleviation through social justice, our leaders and economic advisors would need to reflect on some shocking and staggering disclosures as billionaires and politicians hold the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos in Switzerland.
According to the latest report by one of the world’s most respected social justice movements Oxfam, by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%.
Demanding urgent action to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, Oxfam said the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%. Oxfam, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief said that on current trends the richest 1% would own more than 50% of the world’s wealth the next year.
Oxfam International’s executive director Winnie Byanyima one of the six co-chairs of this year’s WEF, said the increased concentration of wealth seen since the deep recession of 2008-2009 was dangerous and needed to be reversed.
In an interview with the British newspaper, the Guardian, Ms. Byanyima said: “We want to bring a message from the people in the poorest countries in the world to the forum of the most powerful business and political leaders. The message is that rising inequality is dangerous. It’s bad for growth and it’s bad for governance. We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for.”
The Oxfam report also made other stunning revelations which are a disgrace to humanity if not a crime against humanity. It said just 80 multi-billionaires were now owning the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people.
Ms. Byanyima said: “Do we really want to live in a world where the 1% own more than the rest of us combined? The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.”
Pope Francis- whose spectacular visit to Sri Lanka from January 13 to 15 captured the hearts of millions--and the International Monitory Fund’s (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde are among those warning that rising inequality will destroy the world economy if left unchecked, while the theme of Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book Capital is the drift back towards late 19th century levels of wealth concentration. United States President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday also pledged effective steps to reduce the inequitable distribution of wealth and resources in the world’s most powerful country, though the orthodox rightwing Republican-controlled Congress is likely to block his moves.
In Sri Lanka the New Democratic Front (NDF) administration led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday took a major step towards reducing the cost of living to bring about poverty alleviation. The new Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka announced that from yesterday the price of petrol was being slashed by Rs. 33 a litre, diesel by Rs. 16 and kerosene by Rs. 16. He said these reductions were made by slashing taxes and promised there would be further reductions when a formula based on world market prices was worked out. At present, the world market price is less than 50 US dollars a barrel while last year it was more than 100 US dollars a barrel. Further substantial relief including salary increases for all workers, other facilities and subsidies are likely to be announced when the new Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake presents an interim Budget next Thursday.
We hope government leaders and economic advisors would consider the reality that the structure of the globalised capitalist market economy has collapsed. The world’s richest countries are desperately looking an alternative models and Sri Lanka also needs to find one on the middle path. The answer to poverty is not more wealth—but justice.