A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Is Half of All Global Wealth Really Owned by 62 People?

from Michael Kruse at Kruse Kronicle:
Once again, Oxfam is circulating their statistic that 62 people have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world's population. Think about that for a moment. When you read that, what do you think that means? Particularly, what is wealth?

Many people will interpret "wealth" as financial assets. Many others realize wealth includes the value of our non-financial possessions. Therefore, Oxfam is saying that if you add up the value of all our possessions, 62 people own half. Right? Wrong! Though that is the message they want you to hear.

Terminology lesson. The sum of your financial assets and your non-financial possessions is your total assets. Wealth is your total assets minus your debt. Wealth is your net worth. Oxfam misconstrues wealth as total assets. (And as this has been thoroughly documented in the press for years now, we can only assume the misrepresentation is intentional.)

Oxfam builds a narrative that the increasing concentration of wealth at the top has the corresponding negative effect of making people poorer at the bottom. Their misrepresentation of wealth as total assets gives us no insight into this claim. I will suggest that for the poorest people in the world, income is a more critical issue than wealth or total assets. One must have an income that at least meets basic needs before she can begin to save, invest, and buy capital goods.

Extreme poverty, measured by income, is rapidly disappearing. The percentage of people living on less than $1.90 per day has shrunk from almost 40% in 1990, to less than 10% today (and we have added an extra 2 billion people.)

Furthermore, the global distribution of income has been progressively moving toward a bell curve distribution and away from a bi-modal distribution, with wealthy people clustered at the top and very low income people clustered at the bottom.

In short, Oxfam wants to promote a narrative that casts global capitalism primarily as an exploitative enterprise, a zero-sum game where the growth of wealth at the top necessarily means the reduction of wealth at the bottom. The narrative intuitively makes sense. Some version of this thinking is common but it is virtual gospel on the left where the moral compass is directed predominately by equalization rather a robust conceptualization of justice. But it is wrong. It is every bit as ideologically myopic as the "free markets and democracy fixes everything" mantra on the right.

Finally, let me be clear about what I did not say. I did not say I thought that the growing concentration of wealth at the top was good, that there are not masses of people who need substantial improvement in their economic well-being, that global capitalism is an unqualified good, or that there are not profound economic injustices in the world. I did not speak to any of Oxfam's proposed policy solutions. Discernment on economic issues is complex and requires our best efforts at sound analysis if we want to be bring lasting and just change. Oxfam's misuse of the data to support ideologically predetermined policy's does not help. They are telling the truth about the numbers they use, knowing the numbers they use will lead most of us. That is what I'm addressing.
The entire post is well worth your time and can be read here.

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