Things are not getting better for the extreme poor | 


Bill Gates rightly said that things are getting better around the world. It is the case for the majority, but not for the extreme poor.

Inequality has become a sort of international topic du jour. President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union, the Pope brought up the issue at the end of 2013 and Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is concerned by inequality.

Oxfam made the point by citing that the world’s 85 richest people have the same amount of money as the poorest ~3.5 billion in the world, in a recent report. It called for immediate action to halt the progress of inequality.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director for Oxfam International.

“We cannot hope to win the fight against poverty without tackling inequality. Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.” Continue reading

If the global elites at Davos see inequality as the problem, what’s their solution? | 

Davos, World Economic Forum
World Economic Forum

This week, the advocacy group Oxfam released a report that generated some stunning headlines, mostly around one shocking statistic: “85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world” was typical.

The Oxfam report Working for the Few quoted former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.”

Everyone knows the richest today are fabulously wealthy and even Oxfam accepts that some level of inequality is necessary – and good, as a reward for innovation and initiative. But… Continue reading

Martin Luther King Jr., inequality and Davos | 

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an American national holiday in which we celebrate a man who fought and died for the cause of equality.

It’s a chilling last speech, in that King seems to be foretelling his assassination – which took place the next day. That was April 1968. It’s now 2014 and we’ve still not made it to King’s fabled “mountain top” or “promised land” where everyone is treated the same and everyone has equal opportunity to succeed. That’s not true in the U.S., it’s not true globally and it’s arguably a dream even less likely to come true if current trends persist.

That’s because, in the U.S. and worldwide, inequality is on the rise and has been for quite a while. Continue reading

Lies, damned lies, statistics and inequality metrics | 

As Mark Twain once said (though he attributed the phrase to Benjamin Disraeli): “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics.”

One of the more interesting debates out there right now is not so much about telling lies as it is about which statistics to use for measuring if we’re making the world a better place. Metrics on poverty tell us we’re making progress, yet wealth inequality is increasing in most parts of the world. Metrics tell us we’re producing more food on the planet than ever before, yet more than a billion will go to bed tonight hungry.

The point is that what, or how, you measure these inequities and problems can provide factually correct assessments and still be misleading.

Max Fisher of the Washington Post has written (a few days ago) and excellent report on different ways of measuring income inequality. As Fisher notes, the US is one of wealthiest and also most unequal countries in the world – the worst (if you think inequality is bad) among all wealthy nations.

Income Inequality map

Says Fisher:

“The United States doesn’t come out of this comparison looking great. It’s ranked 44th out of 86 countries, well below every other developed society measured. It’s one spot below Nigeria, which has some of the worst political corruption in the world and in 2012 saw nationwide protests over perceived income inequality. The United States’ Palma ratio ranks it just beneath Nigeria but above Russia and Turkey — all countries that have experienced heavy political unrest in recent years.”

Did anything that matters (to the rest of us) happen in Davos? | 

Davos, World Economic Forum
World Economic Forum

Somehow, I was not invited to the prestigious and exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos this year.

Many other members of the media were there along with the corporate executives, politicians, celebrities, cautiously happy bankers, an anxious Shimon Peres complaining that the world is becoming ungovernable and some topless Ukrainian women protesters who were there but not invited. Among the missing (besides me) were top officials from the Obama Administration and a strong sense of moral purpose, or much purpose at all. To wit:

The Economist said Pretty Much No One Believes in Davos anymore, adding in a different column this observation:

“Ordinary folk trust Davos Man no more than they would a lobbyist for the Worldwide Federation of Weasels.Continue reading