Increasingly, the main benefits of economic growth are being captured by a tiny elite. Despite global economic stagnation for almost a decade, the number of billionaires in the world has increased to a record 2,199. The richest 1% of the world’s population now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined. The world’s eight richest people have as much wealth as the poorer half.
In India, the number of billionaires has increased at least tenfold in the past decade. India now has 111 billionaires, third in the world by country. The largest number of the world’s abject poor also live in India — over 425 million, a third of the world’s poor, and well over a third of the country’s population.
Africa had a resource boom for a decade until 2014, but most people there still struggle daily for food, clean water and healthcare. Meanwhile, the number of people living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, has grown substantially to at least 330 million from 280 million in 1990.
In Europe, poor people bore the brunt of draconian austerity policies, while bank bailouts mainly benefited the moneyed. Some 122.3 million people, or 24.4% of the population in the 28 member states of the European Union, are at risk of poverty. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of Europeans without enough money to heat their homes or cope with unforeseen expenses, that is, living with “severe material deprivation”, rose by 7.5 million to 50 million people, while the continent is home to 342 billionaires!
In the US, the income share of the top 1% is at its highest level since the eve of the Great Depression, almost nine decades ago. The top 0.01%, or 14,000 American families, own 22.2% of its wealth, while the bottom 90%, over 133 million families, own a meagre 4% of the nation’s wealth. The top 5% of households increased their share of US wealth, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, the richest 1% tripled their share of US income within a generation.