DAVOS • Just eight individuals own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population, Oxfam said in a report calling for action to curtail rewards for those at the top.
The combined wealth of the eight - Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Zara founder Amancio Ortega, veteran investor Warren Buffett, Mexico's business magnate Carlos Slim, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle chairman Larry Ellison and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg - amounted to US$427 billion (S$610 billion).
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 yesterday suggests the wealth gap is wider than ever.
Last year, Oxfam said the world's 62 richest billionaires were as wealthy as half the world's population or 3.6 billion people.
However, the number has dropped to eight this year because new information shows that poverty in China and India is worse than previously thought, making the bottom 50 per cent even worse off and widening the gap between rich and poor.
In 2010, the combined assets of the 43 richest people in the world equalled the wealth of the poorest 50 per cent, according to the latest calculations.
WHAT THEY’RE WORTH (ROUNDED OFF IN U.S. DOLLARS)
Microsoft founder Bill Gates
Zara founder Amancio Ortega
Veteran investor Warren Buffett
Business tycoon Carlos Slim
Amazon boss Jeff Bezos
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Oracle founder Larry Ellison
Ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg
- The combined wealth of the eight men amounts to U$427billion.
Inequality has moved up the agenda in recent years. 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.
"We see a lot of hand-wringing - and clearly Trump's victory and Brexit give that new impetus this year - but there is a lack of concrete alternatives to business as usual," said Mr Max Lawson, Oxfam's head of policy.
"There are different ways of running capitalism that could be much, much more beneficial to the majority of the people."
Oxfam called for a crackdown on tax dodging and a shift away from "super-charged" shareholder capitalism that pays out disproportionately to the rich.
While many struggle with stagnating incomes, the wealth of the super-rich has risen by an average of 11 per cent a year since 2009.
Mr Gates has seen his fortune rise by 50 per cent, or US$25 billion, since announcing plans to leave Microsoft in 2006, despite his efforts to give much of it away.
While he 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," said Mr Lawson.
Oxfam bases its calculations on data from Swiss bank Credit Suisse and Forbes.