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.
8. Michael Bloomberg: $40 billion
Michael Bloomberg may be best known to the public as the former mayor of New York, but he made his fortune through Bloomberg LP, a financial data and news company whose premium-priced service is used by many of the top Wall Street firms.
Since leaving City Hall, he's returned to Bloomberg LP, of which he owns 88 percent. The company had $9 billion in revenue in 2014, according to Forbes stimates. Bloomberg considered running for president in the early part of the most recent presidential campaign, but opted against it because of his concern that it would inadvertently help elect then-GOP candidate Donald Trump.
In an editorial for Bloomberg News, he acknowledged the economic reality facing many Americans.
"Wage stagnation at home and our declining influence abroad have left Americans angry and frustrated," he noted. "And yet Washington, D.C., offers nothing but gridlock and partisan finger-pointing ... Extremism is on the march, and unless we stop it, our problems at home and abroad will grow worse."
7. Larry Ellison: $43.6 billion
Larry Ellison owes his wealth to Oracle, the software giant he founded in 1977. Along with his database company, Ellison is known for his lavish lifestyle: in 2012, he bought an entire Hawaiian island for $300 million. He's also a dedicated fan of yachting and sponsors his own America's Cup racing team.
Ellison hasn't stinted when it comes to philanthropy. He's one of the billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge, which is a commitment some of the world's richest people have made to donate most of their wealth to charity before their deaths.
"I have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, and I will give billions more over time," he wrote in his pledge. "Until now, I have done this quietly because I have long believed that charitable giving is a personal and private matter" but he added that he was persuaded by fellow billionaire Warren Buffett to make it public in the hope of influencing others to open their wallets.
6. Mark Zuckerberg: $44.6 billion
Mark Zuckerberg famously dropped out of Harvard after co-founding the social network that counts nearly 1.2 billion active daily users. Soon after moving to California in 2004 to grow the new service, Zuckerberg and his partners attracted venture capital and turned down a $1 billion buyout offer from Yahoo. The company went public in 2012, instantly making Zuckerberg a multi-billionaire.
Like Ellison, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged to give the bulk of their wealth away through The Giving Pledge. In a letter about their pledge, they said they had "benefited from good health, great education and support from committed families and communities." They added, "We believe that in the next generation, all of our children should grow up living even better lives and striving for even more than we think is possible today."
5. Jeff Bezos: $45.2 billion
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, a Princeton grad, worked on Wall Street after college, including the quantitative-focused investment firm D.E. Shaw. After coming up with the idea of an Internet retailer while driving across the country, he left his financial job to start Amazon.com.
Known as a demanding manager -- Amazon's motto begins with the words "work hard" -- Bezos took issue with a portrayal of his company as embracing "shockingly callous management practices" by The New York Times. Whatever the reality of working at Amazon is, the company continues to grow under Bezos' stewardship, announcing plans to hire 100,000 workers over the next 18 months.
Bezos is described as a "relatively quiet" philanthropist by the publication Inside Philanthropy, which noted that he's been considered stingy on the charitable front by some who chronicle the giving practices of the ultra-wealthy.
4. Carlos Slim Helu: $50 billion
Mexico's Carlos Slim Helu is still one of the world's richest men, but he "hit major headwinds" with the election of Donald Trump, according to Forbes. His net worth fell by $5 billion after the election, partly due to the decline in Mexico's currency and volatility in Mexico's stocks.
Slim Helu owes his fortune to his stakes in Mexican companies through Grupo Carso, his conglomerate. Many of his investments are in telecom, media, real estate and health care.
3. Warren Buffett: $60.8 billion
Known as the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett built his fortune through Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company of which he's the largest shareholder. Buffett is known for his value investing approach, which involves searching for businesses that are trading for less than their intrinsic value.
Among the companies Berkshire Hathaway owns are Benjamin Moore, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Dairy Queen, Duracell, Fruit of the Loom, Geico, NetJets and See's Candies. It also owns major stakes in American Express, Coca Cola, John Deere, IBM, Kraft Heinz, Goldman Sachs, Phillips 66 and Wells Fargo.
Buffett was one of the creators of the Giving Pledge, and has sought to convince other billionaires to join. He once said, "I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing."
2. Amancio Ortega: $67 billion
Americans might not know Amancio Ortega Gaona by name, but many know the company that created his fortune: Zara, the Spanish clothing chain that's gained a following in Europe and the U.S. for its stylish, moderately-priced clothing. He retired last year as chairman of Inditex, the parent company of Zara whose shares in recent years have jumped roughly 25 percent.
Ortega has been investing in real estate in major cities including Madrid, London and New York, according to Forbes, which values his real estate holdings alone at $8 billion.
1. Bill Gates: $75 billion
Bill Gates has maintained his status as America's wealthiest person for 23 years in a row, according to Forbes. Gates owes his fortune to co-founding Microsoft in 1975, although he now owns just 2.5 percent of the company's stock.
Since stepping down as Microsoft's chairman in 2014, he has increasingly devoted his time to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on eradicating illnesses in the developing world.
"Our animating principle is that all lives have equal value," the Bill and Melinda Gates wrote in a letter on the Giving Pledge's website. "Put another way, it means that we believe every child deserves the chance to grow up, to dream and do big things."