It is estimated that by 2016, more than half of the world’s wealth will be owned by the top 1%. Is it bad? Depends on if you’re in that 1% or not *cough* Kritika *cough*. For the other 99%, it’s pretty unfair that the hardwork put in isn’t rewarded with fat paychecks, giving the rich more power and leaving the rest with voiceless and uncared for.
More detail can be drawn from the (poorly copied – couldn’t do much about that sorry) figures. The figures have % share of global wealth on the vertical axis, and the years as shown on the horizontal one. The top figure (to be referred to as figure 1) shows the projected changes in inequality (the black line represents the top 1% in both figures). The bottom figure (2) shows how the distribution of wealth has changed over the past recent years. What’s interesting to see is that inequality was generally falling up until The Great Recession. Why?
One possible reason could be through derived demand theory (world demand was falling, so this has a knock-on effect to labour). This impacted severely on households (not only did the income streams stop, but companies weren’t looking to hire). Workers had to be willing to accept lower wages in order to find a job (to pay bills), or, as most did, sacrifice your own home. So as a result disposable income, and thus income available to be invested in ways of increasing one’s wealth, fell. In contrast, the 1% flourished during this time (see my other article on hedge fund managers earning $1 billion+ in 2009). The tax reforms by governments didn’t help – in the UK and US taxes on the richest 1% actually fell, pushing them further away from the rest.
Other reasons include exploitation of monopsony power over labour in 3rd world countries, monetary policy, inflation, poor tax policies etc.
Can anything be done?
Oxfam, the publisher of this eye-opening report, called on governments to adopt a 7-point plan, including points such as:
- Clamp down on tax dodging e.g. transfer pricing
- Invest in free health care and education (yet the UK government is reducing this at the moment)
- Shifting tax from labour and consumption to capital and wealth
- Introduction of national minimum wages
- Introduce equal pay legislation and promote policies to give women a fair deal
- Safety nets for the poorest people e.g. minimum income guarantees
Whilst these policies look fair, they have major set-backs. E.g. tighter regulation on transfer pricing or changing the tax policies may see brain drains from countries. Minimum wages will reduce demand for labour. What if people getting these minimum income guarantees waste them? How can we be sure that legislation on equal pay and giving women a fair deal will implemented effectively? What about rising government debts – shouldn’t governments be cutting spending and adopting austerity measures first, before pursuing other objectives?
There are some major opportunity costs here – on one hand we can try and reduce inequality in the short-run, but it will come at a cost in the long-run as governments hit debt ceilings. If we adopt austerity measures in the short-run, it is likely that inequality will worsen, until debts are paid off.