British charity attacks billionaires ahead of Davos forum
As the world's richest and most powerful men and women prepare to meet in the Swiss resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum on Wednesday (22 January), the British development charity, Oxfam, has issued a new report on global inequality.
According to its findings, the wealth of the world's 85 richest people - €81.2 trillion - amounts to that of the poorest half of the world population, or 3.5 billion people.
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Polls for Oxfam in six countries (Brazil, India, South Africa, Spain, the UK and US) show that most people questioned believe that laws are skewed in favour of the rich.
Oxfam also estimated that €15.5 trillion of the wealth is hidden from the taxman in offshore accounts, at a time when governments are cutting public spending.
"In Europe, austerity has been imposed on the poor and middle classes under huge pressure from financial markets whose wealthy investors have benefited from state bailouts of financial institutions," the charity said.
Financial deregulation in the US has contributed to the situation, in which the richest one percent of the population has more money than ever since 1933.
Billionaires in India are also 10 times more numerous than in 2004, helped by tax breaks and political connections, while spending on the country's poorest remains low.
Meanwhile, tax avoidance by EU and US corporations in Africa is depriving its governments from resources which could be used to fight poverty.
The charity said Davos participants should reverse the trend and pledge to support higher taxes for the rich, while refraining from using their wealth to seek political favours.
Davos organisers have a slightly different take on the world's most pressing issues, however.
The official topic of this year's World Economic Forum, which often attracts criticism for its pompous language, is "the reshaping of the world."
"Profound political, economic, social and, above all, technological forces are transforming our lives, communities and institutions," its agenda says.
A power shift from "traditional hierarchies" to "networked heterarchies" is taking place, it adds: "Yet the international community remains focused on crisis rather than [being] strategically driven in the face of the trends, drivers and opportunities pushing global, regional and industrial transformation."
Among listed speakers are the Crown Prince of Saudia Arabia, the vice-chairman of Google and Bono, the lead singer of Irish music band U2.