The 85 richest people in the world have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion

Throughout the world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and people still don’t really want to talk about income inequality. Especially here in America where suggesting that the very rich did not virtuously earn every penny through blood, sweat and tears is tantamount to treason. However, a new study from Oxfam aims to show just how bad it’s gotten, and provide some solutions for the problem.

The study, titled “Working For the Few” showed:

• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.

• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.

• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.

• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.

• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.

• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

That—all of that—is absolutely freaking insane.

As much as we like to think that the wealthy earn their money with hard work, is it really possible that 85 people worked harder than 3.5 billion? I’m pretty sure that if they did, they’d be dead.

To have that much money is, in my estimation, an act of violence. Just because you’re not standing there pulling the trigger, doesn’t mean you’re not killing anyone. As for any “what if they worked really hard for it?” argument, I am going to tell you flat out that there is no amount of work one can do that makes them deserving of that kind of wealth. I’m sorry, there just isn’t. There’s no amount of working hard you can do that warrants you having that amount of money while any child, any person, anywhere, is starving to death. It’s grotesque, and I don’t know how you could do it in good conscience.

Can this problem be solved by dividing all the world’s wealth up equally? Sadly, not so much. If all the world’s wealth were divided equally we’d all only have about $9,000 each. Which should give you a good idea of how much of the world lives in abject poverty.

What we need to do is work on solving the problems that cause this severe inequality. In the U.S.–the country with the most severe income gap–the reason this inequality exists is because rich people have politicians doing them too many favors. The income gap isn’t growing because the 1% is working harder, it’s growing because they get tax cuts, because they’re allowed to use tax havens (which cost the American people $150 billion a year), because they don’t have to pay their employees very much.

Working for the Few - Oxfam report

Choices do not live in a vacuum. This is the way things are right now because we chose it.

Do you know what it means when corporations protest against regulations? It means that they don’t want to have to make their businesses safer for the people that work there or live in that area. “Leave us alone, government! We can regulate ourselves!” they say. And then when something happens, like a major chemical spill, it’s the taxpayers that have to foot the bill.

They have zero problem with the government “interfering” when it comes to cleaning up their messes.

Do you know what it means when the rich get tax cuts or get to keep their money in tax havens? It means we don’t have the money to help those on the bottom get a leg up. It means we have less money for schools. It means we are bickering over whether poor children should get subsidized lunches so they can eat during the day. It means we have less money for after-school programs. We have less money for things that give other people a chance. We have less money for equal opportunity.

You want equal opportunity? You want freedom and economic mobility? Make the rich pay their fair share. Make public universities free. Make school districts wider so there aren’t “rich” public schools and “poor” public schools.

Do you know what we are saying when we weaken labor laws, when we refuse to expect billion-dollar corporations to pay their employees a living wage? We are saying that the comfort of the rich and their ability to just do whatever they want–because “freedom”–is more important than other people eating and having a home and not having to rely on the government for assistance. We are saying to them “Oh, don’t worry! You don’t have to pay your employees enough to live on! We’ll foot the bill!” We are footing the bill for low wages, and we don’t get to see any of the profits! No wonder we’re broke. We’re idiots.

You want freedom to pay your employees whatever low wages you want? Well, I want the freedom to not have to subsidize that. It is a privilege to do business in this country, and our citizens deserve more than this. Our citizens deserve enough money to live on. They deserve decent hours so they can have a reasonable work/life balance. They deserve to work in safe environments.

Do you know what we’re saying with rulings like Citizens United? Or what we’re saying by allowing the rich to use their money to influence politicians? We are saying we don’t give a shit about “Democracy” and are totally fine–for all intents and purposes–to allow the very rich to choose our political representatives for us, and to then have those representatives in their pockets when a vote on tax cuts or financial regulations rolls around.

It’s not just about the money, it’s about power. If they were only using their money to buy golden toilet seats, it would be one thing. They’re using it to buy power. They’re using it to keep the rest of us down.

Oxfam has provided several recommendations for countries seeking to improve upon their income inequality:

• Cracking down on financial secrecy and tax dodging;
• Redistributive transfers; and strengthening of social protection schemes;
• Investment in universal access to healthcare and education;
• Progressive taxation;
• Strengthening wage floors and worker rights;
• Removing the barriers to equal rights and opportunities for women.

These would be a great step in the right direction. However, given that we are not the owners of our elected representatives, they’re all highly unlikely to occur in these here United States.