DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 16, (Agencies): Just eight individuals, all men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, Oxfam said on Monday in a report calling for action to curtail rewards for those at the top. As decision makers and many of the super-rich gather for this week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, the charity’s report suggests the wealth gap is wider than ever, with new data for China and India indicating that the poorest half of the world owns less than previously estimated.
Oxfam, which described the gap as “obscene”, said if the new data had been available before, it would have shown that in 2016 nine people owned the same as the 3.6 billion who make up the poorest half of humanity, rather than 62 estimated at the time. In 2010, by comparison, it took the combined assets of the 43 richest people to equal the wealth of the poorest 50 percent, according to the latest calculations. Inequality has moved up the agenda in recent years, with the head of the International Monetary Fund and the Pope among those warning of its corrosive effects, while resentment of elites has helped fuel an upsurge in populist politics. Concern about the issue was highlighted again in the WEF’s own global risks report last week.
Bill Gates, the world’s richest man who is a regular at Davos, has seen his fortune rise by 50 percent or $25 billion since announcing plans to leave Microsoft in 2006, despite his efforts to give much of it away. While Gates exemplifies how outsized wealth can be recycled to help the poor, Oxfam believes such “big philanthropy” does not address the fundamental problem. “If billionaires choose to give their money away then that is a good thing. But inequality matters and you cannot have a system where billionaires are systematically paying lower rates of tax than their secretary or cleaner,” Lawson said. Oxfam bases its calculations on data from Swiss bank Credit Suisse and Forbes. The eight individuals named in the report are Gates, Inditex founder Amancio Ortega, veteran investor Warren Buffett, Mexico’s Carlos Slim, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
■ Bill Gates: $75 billion The man whose name is a byword for billionaire. He co-founded Microsoft in the mid-70s, growing it into the world’s biggest software company and helping to make computers a household item. He quit as CEO in 2000 and pledged to devote his fortune to his philanthropic activities in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has gradually reduced his ownership in Microsoft to less than 3 percent, with the bulk of his wealth in a private firm.
■ Amancio Ortega: $67 billion The richest person in Europe, Ortega opened the first Zara fashion shop in 1975. Now, the chain, part of Ortega’s Inditex group, has 7,000 shops globally. Its boom in popularity is largely due to a low cost model that competes with the likes of H&M. As Zara and Inditex grew in size, Ortega held on to a majority stake of 59 percent in the company, which has a market value of over 97 billion euros ($102 billion).
■ Warren Buffett: $60.8 billion The Oracle of Omaha, as he’s known for the way his every investment decision is followed by thousands. He began investing as a teenager in the ‘40s and gradually grew his firm, Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett, 86, is notoriously frugal personally and favors investing in companies with proven business models over new industries, such as in technology.
■ Carlos Slim Helu: $50 billion The Mexican tycoon owes his fortune to a major ownership in America Movil, a telecommunications multinational worth $42 billion. He personally owns about 7 percent in the company while his broader family retains a 37 percent stake. He was ranked as the richest person three years ago, but saw his net worth hit by a downturn in Latin American economies.
■ Jeff Bezos: $45.2 billion The founder and CEO of Amazon. com helped revolutionize the retail industry by popularizing online shopping. What was initially an online book shop now sells pretty much anything. Bezos has reached beyond Amazon, in which he holds a 17 percent stake, to try his hand in other industries. He’s bought the Washington Post and set up an aerospace company, Blue Origin, that aims to make space accessible to tourists and paying customers.
■ Mark Zuckerberg: $44.6 billion Founded Facebook in 2004 while a college student to connect Harvard students. The company went on to become popular globally and listed its shares publicly in 2012, making Zuckerberg, now 32, a multibillionaire. He’s managed to make Facebook profitable where rivals like Twitter have lagged, and expanded it with targeted acquisitions.
■ Larry Ellison: $43.6 billion As a young programmer in the ‘70s, his first big client was the CIA. The name of the project was “Oracle.” In 1977, Ellison and associates used the name of that product for their company, which creates software that helps manage databases and has since become an industry standard. Ellison has recently focused more on cloud computing, in which data is stored and managed across a network of computers. His fortune comes from the 27 percent stake he still owns in Oracle, currently worth $160 billion.
■ Michael Bloomberg: $40 billion Created the eponymous financial information provider in 1981 after getting laid off from an investment bank. Bloomberg made it a lucrative business in particular by selling data terminals to financial services firms. The multi-screen terminals became essential tools in the industry, incorporating real-time market information with a news service