The apparently inexorable advance of the rich-get-richer economy has boiled down to this startling fact: just 8 men control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population, roughly 3.6 billion people.
That's the latest finding from the charity Oxfam, which presented its report at the latest annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. While the 8 billionaires don't appear to be attending the forum, it's typically an event where the world's wealthiest and connected citizens hobnob. This year's conference will be attended by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, and Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors.
While Oxfam has studied the global impact of widening inequality, it's also an inescapable U.S. trend during the past several decades, leading to half of Americans failing to share in the country's economic gains since the 1970s. The U.K.-based charity notes that despite pledges to close the gap between the world's wealthiest citizens and the rest of the planet, very little progress has been made.
The problem with widening inequality, the group argues, is that it destabilizes societies and creates insecurity in the lives of billions of adults and children.
"If we don't change that, we are basically starving the majority of the public of the benefits of the economy, and that's not sustainable over time," said Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America policy director. "The top 1 percent is pulling away from the rest of the world."
Oxfam argues that the economy and political systems need to be tweaked to ensure that they benefit the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution, instead of the world's richest people. Large corporations and the wealthy, however, often spend their resources to lobby for or influence public policy so that tax breaks and other rules are in their favor, the report notes.
The world's wealthiest eight men control net wealth of $426 billion, based on estimates from Forbes. Oxfam said it didn't name the men in its report because it's not trying to single out individuals, but rather draw attention to political and economic systems that aren't delivering benefits to much of the bottom 99 percent of the world's population.
Read on to learn about the 8 men who own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity.