An Economy for the 99%: It’s time to build a human economy that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few

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New estimates show that just eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world. As growth benefits the richest, the rest of society – especially the poorest – suffers. The very design of our economies and the principles of our economics have taken us to this extreme, unsustainable and unjust point. Our economy must stop excessively rewarding those at the top and start working for all people. Accountable and visionary governments, businesses that work in the interests of workers and producers, a valued environment, women’s rights and a strong system of fair taxation, are central to this more human economy. The sources and methodology behind the headline facts in this paper are explained in the separate methodology note.

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  OXFAM BRIEFING PAPER JANUARY 2017 www.oxfam.org Members of the Shining Mothers group, a community-based women's group helping to teach business skills and raise awareness of their rights. The Shining Mothers discuss issues which affect them in their community and raise these at public meetings to ensure their voice is being heard by local government. Kawangware, Nairobi, Kenya. 2016. Photo: Allan Gichigi/Oxfam AN ECONOMY FOR THE 99% It‟ s time to build a human economy that benefits everyone, not ust the privileged few New estimates show that just eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world. As growth benefits the richest, the rest of society  –  especially the poorest  –  suffers. The very design of our economies and the principles of our economics have taken us to this extreme, unsustainable and unjust point. Our economy must stop excessively rewarding those at the top and start working for all people. Accountable and visionary governments, businesses that work in the interests of workers and producers, a valued environment, women’ s rights and a strong system of fair taxation, are central to this more human economy.  2  AN ECONOMY FOR THE 99% It is four years since the World Economic Forum identified rising economic inequality as a major threat to social stability, 1  and three years since the World Bank twinned its goal for ending poverty with the need for shared prosperity. 2  Since then, and despite world leaders signing up to a global goal to reduce inequality, the gap between the rich and the rest has widened. This cannot continue. As President Obama told the UN General Assembly in his departing speech in September 2016: „A world where 1% of humanity controls as much wealth as the bottom 99% will never be stable .‟  Yet the global inequality crisis continues unabated: ã  Since 2015, the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. 3   ã  Eight men now own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world. 4   ã  Over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs  –  a sum larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people. 5   ã  The incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182 times as much. 6   ã  A FTSE-100 CEO earns as much in a year as 10,000 people in working in garment factories in Bangladesh. 7   ã  In the US, new research by economist Thomas Piketty shows that over the last 30 years the growth in the incomes of the bottom 50% has been zero, whereas incomes of the top 1% have grown 300%. 8   ã   In Vietnam, the country‟s richest man earns more in a day than the poorest person earns in 10 years. 9  Left unchecked, growing inequality threatens to pull our societies apart. It increases crime and insecurity, and undermines the fight to end poverty. 10  It leaves more people living in fear and fewer in hope. From Brexit to the success of Donald Trump ‟s presidential campaign , a worrying rise in racism and the widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics, there are increasing signs that more and more people in rich countries are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo. Why would they, when experience suggests that what it delivers is wage stagnation, insecure jobs and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots? The challenge is to build a positive alternative  –  not one that increases divisions. The picture in poor countries is equally complex and no less concerning. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in recent decades, an achievement of which the world should be proud. Yet one in nine people still go to bed hungry. 11  Had growth been pro-poor between 1990 and 2010, 700 million more people, most of them women, would not be living in poverty today. 12  Research finds that three-quarters of extreme poverty could in fact be eliminated now using existing resources, by increasing taxation and cutting down on military and other regressive spending. 13  The World Bank is clear that without redoubling their efforts to tackle inequality, world leaders will miss their goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. 14   It doesn‟t have to be this wa y. The popular responses to inequality do not have to increase divisions.  An Economy for the 99%  looks at how large corporations and the super-rich are driving the inequality crisis and what can be done to change this. It considers the false „The gap between  poor and rich  people in Kenya is sometimes very humiliating. To see that it is just a wall that defines these rich people from the lower class. You find that some of their children drive cars and when you are  passing around the roads you get covered in dust, or if it is raining you are splashed with water.‟    Jane Muthoni, member of Shining Mothers, an Oxfam-supported community group   3 assumptions that have led us down this path, and shows how we can create a fairer world based on a more human economy  –  one in which people, not profit, are the bottom line and which prioritizes the most vulnerable. THE CAUSES OF INEQUALITY There is no getting away from the fact that the biggest winners in our global economy are those at the top. Oxfam‟s research has revealed that over the last 25 years, the top 1% have gained more income than the bottom 50% put together. 15  Far from trickling down, income and wealth are being sucked upwards at an alarming rate. What is causing this? Corporations and super-rich individuals both play a key role. Corporations, working for those at the top Big businesses did well in 2015/16: profits are high and t he world‟s 10 biggest corporations together have revenue greater than that of the government revenue of 180 countries combined. 16  Businesses are the lifeblood of a market economy, and when they work to the benefit of everyone they are vital to building fair and prosperous societies. But when corporations increasingly work for the rich, the benefits of economic growth are denied to those who need them most. In pursuit of delivering high returns to those at the top, corporations are driven to squeeze their workers and producers ever harder  –  and to avoid paying taxes which would benefit everyone, and the poorest people in particular. Squeezing workers and producers While many chief executives, who are often paid in shares, have seen their incomes skyrocket, wages for ordinary workers and producers have barely increased, and in some cases have got worse. The CEO of India‟s top inform ation firm earns 416 times the salary of a typical employee in his company. 17  In the 1980s, cocoa farmers received 18% of the value of a chocolate bar  –  today they get just 6%. 18  In extreme cases, forced labour or slavery can be used to keep corporate costs down. The International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million people are forced labourers, generating an estimated $150bn in profits each year. 19   The world‟ s largest garment companies have all been linked to cotton-spinning mills in India, which routinely use the forced labour of girls. 20  The lowest-paid workers in the most precarious conditions are predominantly women and girls. 21  Across the world, corporations are relentlessly squeezing down the costs of labour  –  and ensuring that workers and producers in their supply chains get less and less of the economic pie. This increases inequality and suppresses demand. Dodging tax Corporations maximize profit in part by paying as little tax as possible. They do this by using tax havens or by making countries compete to provide tax breaks, exemptions and lower rates. Corporate tax rates are falling all over the world, and this  –  together with widespread tax dodging  –  ensures that many corporations are paying minimal tax. Apple allegedly paid 0.005% of tax on its European profits in 2014. 22  Developing countries lose $100bn every year to tax dodging. 23  Countries lose billions more through providing tax holidays and exemptions. It is the poorest people who lose out the most, as they are most reliant on the public services that these forgone billions could have provided. Kenya is losing $1.1bn every year in tax exemptions for corporations, nearly twice its budget for health  –  this in a country where women have a 1 in 40  4 chance of dying in childbirth. 24  What is driving this behaviour by corporates? Two things: the focus on short- term returns to shareholders and the increase in „crony capitalism‟. Super-charged shareholder capitalism In many parts of the world, corporations are increasingly driven by a single goal: to maximize returns to their shareholders. This means not only maximizing short-term profits, but paying out an ever-greater share of these profits to the people who own them. In the UK, 10% of profits were returned to shareholders in 1970; this figure is now 70%. 26  In India, the figure is lower but is growing rapidly, and for many corporations it is now higher than 50%. 27  This has been criticized by many, including Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock (the world‟s lar  gest asset manager) 28  and Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England. 29  The increased return to shareholders works for the rich, because the majority of shareholders are among the richest in society, increasing inequality. Institutional investors, like pension funds, own ever-smaller shares in corporations. Thirty years ago, pension funds owned 30% of shares in the UK; now they own only 3%. 30  Every dollar of profit given to the shareholders of corporations is a dollar that could have been spent paying producers or workers more, paying more tax, or investing in infrastructure or innovation. Crony capitalism  As documented by Oxfam in  An Economy for the 1%, 31  corporations from many sectors  –  finance, extractives, garment manufacturers, pharmaceuticals and others  –  use their huge power and influence to ensure that regulations and national and international policies are shaped in ways that enable continued profitability. For example, oil corporations in Nigeria have managed to secure generous tax breaks. 32  Even the technology sector, once seen as a sector that is relatively above board, is increasingly linked to charges of cronyism. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has become one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington and is in constant negotiations in Europe over anti-trust rules and tax. 33  Crony capitalism benefits the rich, the people who own and run these corporations, at the expense of the common good and of poverty reduction. It means that smaller businesses struggle to compete and ordinary people end up paying more for goods and services as they face cartels and monopoly power of corporations and those with close connections with government. The world‟s third richest man, Carlos Slim, contr  ols approximately 70% of all mobile phone services and 65% of fixed lines in Mexico, costing 2% of GDP. 34   The role of the super-rich in the inequality crisis By any measure, we are living in the age of the super- rich, a second „gilded age‟ in which a glittering surface masks social problems and corruption. Oxfam‟s analysis of the super  -rich includes all those individuals with a net worth of at least $1bn. The 1,810 dollar billionaires on the 2016 Forbes list, 89% of whom are men, own $6.5 trillion  –  as much wealth as the bottom 70% of humanity. 35  While some billionaires owe their fortunes predominantly to hard work and talent, Oxfam‟s analysis of this group finds that one-third of the world‟s billionaire wealth is derived from inherited wealth, while 43% can be linked to cronyism. 36   „[M]ore and more corporate leaders have responded with actions that can deliver immediate returns to shareholders, such as buybacks or dividend increases, while under-investing in innovation, skilled workforces or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth.‟  25   Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock
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