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Expert comment on global inequality - Dr Marta Guerriero

Oxfam has calculated that last year 26 extremely wealthy individuals owned more than the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.

Dr Marta Guerriero, Senior Teaching Fellow and Deputy Head of School, Global Sustainable Development, comments on the issues raised in the development charity's report:-

"Striking changes in economic inequality have taken place globally in recent years. These have been highlighted as fundamental and urgent concerns in the public debate. Only a few years ago, President Barack Obama described increased inequality as a “defining issue of our time”. At the same time, the international community decided to place inequalities in a central position in the Sustainable Development Agenda. A highly debated phenomenon is the recent polarisation of incomes and wealth, as the very top groups of the society experience increases in their shares compared to the rest of the population. This is highlighted in the recent Oxfam Inequality Report.

"Oxfam’s calculations may be criticised for suffering from measurement problems. However, they send us a worrying message on recent trends in the world’s wealth gap. They are also supported by the results of recent studies on global income inequality, such as the 2018 World Inequality Report which found that, since 1980, the top 1% richest people in the world gained twice as much income growth as the bottom 50%.

"Rising economic inequality is relevant to us because of several reasons:

  • it may threaten our progress towards eliminating extreme poverty;
  • it may be a source of unequal opportunities for future generations; and
  • it may be harmful to social cohesion and socio-political stability.

Although some may consider high levels of economic inequality to be inevitable, a lot can be done to address it. However, social protection responses to tackle inequality may require ambitious new approaches: ‘redistributive’ strategies to ensure a more equitable society (for example, Thomas Piketty’s global wealth tax, or Sir Tony Atkinson’s capital endowment) and ‘transformative’ strategies to guarantee broad access to opportunities (such as the ILO’s global socio-economic floors).

"Action will have to start from the international community recognising the above inequality-reducing strategies as morally and socially just, as well as economically and politically viable."

22 January 2019