Oxfam: The wealthiest 8 men on earth possess wealth exceeding the poorest 50% of humanity

The wealthiest 8 men on earth (and yes, they are all men) possess wealth exceeding the poorest 50% of humanity.

That’s about 3,700,000,000 people.

My students are stunned by this simple statistic from Oxfam’s new report on economic inequality. The report is readable for secondary students and filled with prescriptions for change. For educators interested in solutions-based curriculum, it’s a terrific new resource, especially as a guide for suggesting areas for student research.

Look at this image:


Somehow, Apple feels it is acceptable to pay subsistence wages while, “in 2010 almost three-quarters of revenue from its iPhone went to profits.” Similarly, citing the website, Make Chocolate Fair, the briefing  notes that “Cocoa farmers in the 1980s received 16% of value of a chocolate bar; today they get 6%.”

How could such inequality possibly come about? Because of globalization, the world’s great consumers have to dig (and care to look) to learn these alarming facts. But this sickening inequality is not natural: it’s due to policy and to a learned mindset in the wealthy nations that savage inequality is somehow natural.

The Oxfam report was reported to be on the agenda for the World Economic Forum in Davos: we’ll see what that leads to. Given the interest of the for-profit media in obscuring the reality of income and wealth inequality, it falls on educators to pull these facts into the light for our students to see.

After laying out the economic myths that support the current, unsustainable system, “An Economy for 99%” offers a number of specific paths to take:

  • “accountable government”;
  • a “new global consensus and a virtuous cycle to
    ensure corporations and rich people pay fair taxes, the environment is protected, and workers are paid well”;
  • a system in which “proceeds of business activity should go to those who enabled and created them – society, workers, and local communities”;
  • an end to “the extreme concentration of wealth to end extreme poverty”;
  • “a human economy [that] will work equally for men and women”;
  • governmental intervention “to ensure that technology contributes to reducing
    inequality, not increases it”;
  • pursuit and adoption of “sustainable renewable energy” sources;
  • And, finally, “Moving beyond GDP, we need to measure human progress using the many alternative measures available.”

The report is neither exhaustive or perfect. But it is a great launching pad for discussion and, I hope, better choices by students and schools. We owe it to our students and our children to show them the economy as it actually is.

Download the report (as a pdf) here.


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