February 25, 2024

The world could have its first trillionaire within a decade, anti-poverty organization Oxfam International said this week in its annual assessment of global inequalities timed to the gathering of political and business elites at the Swiss ski resort of Davos. Oxfam, which for years has been trying to highlight the growing disparities between the super-rich and the bulk of the global population during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, reckons the gap has been “supercharged” since the coronavirus pandemic The group said the fortunes of the five richest men — Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault and his family of luxury company LVMH, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Oracle founder Larry Ellison and investment guru Warren Buffett — have spiked by 114% in real terms since 2020, when the world was reeling from the pandemic. Oxfam’s interim executive director said the report showed that the world is entering a “decade of division.” “We have the top five billionaires, they have doubled their wealth. On the other hand, almost 5 billion people have become poorer,” Amitabh Behar said in an interview in Davos, Switzerland, where the forum’s annual meeting takes place.

“Very soon, Oxfam predicts that we will have a trillionaire within a decade,” Behar said, referring to a person who has a thousand billion dollars. “Whereas to fight poverty, we need more than 200 years.” If someone does reach that trillion-dollar milestone — and it could be someone not even on any list of richest people right now — he or she would have the same value as oil-rich Saudi Arabia. John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil fame is widely considered to have become the world’s first billionaire in 1916. Currently, Musk is the richest man on the planet, with a personal fortune of just under $250 billion, according to Oxfam, which used figures from Forbes. By contrast, the organization said nearly 5 billion people have been made poorer since the pandemic, with many of the world’s developing nations unable to provide the financial support that richer nations could during lockdowns. In addition, Oxfam said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which sent energy and food costs soaring, disproportionately hit the poorest nations.

With Brazil hosting this year’s Group of 20 summit of leading industrial and developing nations, it was a “good time for Oxfam to raise awareness” about inequalities, said Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of inequality policy. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has put issues that concern the developing world at the heart of the G20 agenda. Oxfam said measures that should be considered in an “inequality-busting” agenda include the permanent taxation of the wealthiest in every country, more effective taxation of big corporations and a renewed drive against tax avoidance. To calculate the top five richest billionaires, Oxfam used figures from Forbes as of November 2023. Their total wealth then was $869 billion, up from $340 billion in March 2020, a nominal increase of 155%. For the bottom 60% of the global population, Oxfam used figures from the UBS Global Wealth Report 2023 and from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2019. Both used the same methodology.

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