We’re Living in a Golden Age of Plenty—for the Rich

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A few weeks ago, the world’s power brokers—politicians, CEOs, millionaires, billionaires—met in Davos, the mountainous Swiss resort town, for the 2023 World Economic Forum. In an annual ritual that reads ever more like Orwellian farce, the global elite gathered—their private jets lined up like gleaming sardines at a nearby private airport—to discuss the most pressing issues of our time, many of which they are chiefly responsible for creating.

The 2023 meeting was organized around the theme of “Cooperation in a Fragmented World” and the topics up for debate were all worthy choices: climate change, Covid-19, inflation, war, and the looming threat of recession. Glaringly missing, however, was any honest investigation of the deeper context behind such an epic set of crises—namely, the reality of worldwide poverty and the extreme inequality that separates the poor from the rich on this planet.

Every year, Oxfam, a global organization that fights inequality to end poverty and injustice, uses the occasion of Davos to release its latest rundown on global inequality. This year’s report, “Survival of the Richest,” offered a striking vision of global poverty from the trenches of the pandemic years. Imagine this as a start: In the last two of those years, the world’s richest 1 percent captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth, or twice that of the bottom 99 percent. Put another way, this planet’s billionaires have collectively “earned” (and yes, that’s in quotation marks for obvious reasons) $2.7 billion every one of the last 730 days. Meanwhile, in 2021 alone, at least 115 million people fell into “extreme poverty,” with billions more hanging on by a tenuous thread. By 2030, Oxfam reports, the world could be facing the “largest setback in addressing global poverty since World War II.”

The grim realities laid out in the report left me wondering: What kind of cooperation were they talking about at Davos? Did they mean a collaboration among all global communities? (Not likely!) Or did they mean the continued partnership of economic elites intent, above all else, on protecting their own wealth? And what of fragmentation? Amid increasing warfare and beneath the ongoing fracturing of democracies (including our own, thanks in part to a billionaire whose name I hardly need mention), nations, and long-held international arrangements, do they recognize the deepest fragmentation of all, that caused by so much needless suffering and inexcusable gluttony?

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