When we were researching the data behind the global inequality video, we were shocked by how extreme the figures were. And judging by how fast the video spread, everyone else was just as surprised as we were. But that was in 2013, and things have changed a lot since then – sadly for the worse.
In 2016, Oxfam announced that the richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world’s population combined. That’s a shocking fact, and gives us a feel for the immense concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.
But even this doesn’t really show how extreme things have become. In the video, we estimated that the richest 300 people had more wealth than the poorest 3 billion. Oxfam picked this comparison up and ran with it, and has since updated the figures each year. In 2017, they calculated that inequality had become so bad that the richest 8 people had more wealth than the poorest half of the human population, or 3.6 billion. That’s the number of people it takes to fill single limousine. (Source)
What about inequality between countries? Well, there a couple of ways to look at it. One is to measure the gap between the poorest and richest countries in the world, in terms of income per capita. 200 years ago, the per capita income of the richest country was about 6 times higher than the poorest country. That’s a pretty big gap. Then, by the end of colonialism in the 1960s, it was 33 times higher. And it kept getting worse. Today, it is about 118 times higher. And that’s not including extreme outliers, like small oil-rich countries in the Middle East. (Source)
A second way is to look at inequality between regions of the world. The absolute gap between the per capita income of the United States – the world’s dominant power – and that of Africa, the Middle East, South America, Central America, and South Asia has roughly tripled since 1960.
This seems surprising to people, because we hear so much in the media about how rich countries give aid to poor countries. And indeed it is a lot of money – about $130 billion each year. But this narrative of aid obscures a somewhat more sinister reality. While rich countries do give a lot of aid to poor countries each year, they extract much more than they give (Source). For example, poor countries lose about $875 billion each year to illicit financial flows through “trade misinvoicing” – a practice that multinational companies use to evade taxes, secreting money into offshore havens. That’s nearly seven times more than the aid budget.
There are lots of other outward flows we might look at. Multinational companies repatriate profits worth $486 billion each year out of global South countries. And the South pays about $200 billion each year in interest payments on debts, mostly to big banks in New York and London, repayments which in many cases, are on debts repaid many times over. And then there are smaller outflows, like the $60 billion that global South countries have to pay each year to get access to basic technologies and medicines that are restricted by rigid intellectual property rules under the WTO.
In addition to these outward flows of money, there are also enormous costs and losses that poor countries suffer as a result of how the global economy is structured. For instance, because trade rules at the WTO are designed to favour the interests of rich countries, poor countries end up losing about $700 billion per year in lost export revenues. Then there are the structural adjustment programs that the World Bank and the IMF have been imposing on the South since the early 1980s, which cost poor countries about $480 billion per year in lost potential GDP. And then of course there is climate change, caused almost entirely by historical emissions from the North, which cause damages in the South up to $571 billion per year.
If we add these figures up, just for the sake of argument, we see that they outstrip the aid budget by a factor of 25. Rich governments like to say they’re helping poor countries develop, but who’s really developing whom?
We are hoping to be able to create an updated video soon to reflect these changes.