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Oxfam report: Growing inequality could see world's first trillionaire

World
 A person walks inside the venue, on the first day of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Jan 15, 2024. [Reuters]

As hundreds of world leaders and chief executives headed to the Swiss ski resort of Davos Monday for this year’s five-day annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Oxfam is warning of a growing gulf of inequality fueled by corporate power.

“The world’s richest five men have more than doubled their fortunes this decade since 2020 … while nearly 5 billion people have been made poorer. At current rates, the world will see its first trillionaire within a decade, while it will take over two centuries to end poverty,” said Nabil Ahmed of Oxfam America.

Decade of division

The report by Oxfam says the global economy has entered a new era of widening inequality.

“We are living through what appears to be the start of a decade of division: In just three years, we have experienced a global pandemic, war, a cost-of-living crisis and climate breakdown. Each crisis has widened the gulf — not so much between the rich and people living in poverty, but between an oligarchic few and the vast majority,” the report says.

The charity argues that the ultra-rich are using their corporate power to increase the wealth of the few.

“Corporations are driving inequality through squeezing workers, for example, dodging taxes — corporations aren’t paying the rates that smaller businesses are, that ordinary folks are; through privatizing the state — really we’ve seen in so many countries the sell-off of what is public to the state; and also plundering the planet,” Oxfam’s Ahmed told VOA.

Many of the world’s richest executives argue that their companies generate taxes and jobs.

Conflict

The Davos summit is being overshadowed by wars in the Middle East and in Ukraine.

A group of artists from Kyiv have created an exhibition in the center of Davos that showcases everyday life in Ukraine, including videos and images of the suffering caused by Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

“We want the world to understand that the war in Ukraine is ongoing,” said exhibition curator Bjorn Geldhof. “Ukraine needs help, Ukraine needs all [the] support and all [the] weapons it can get to be victorious, not just because this is defense of Europe’s freedom, because it is defense of life itself. And this is one of the things you can see in this exhibition,” he told Reuters news agency.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is due to address the summit later in the week amid speculation that he could meet China’s Prime Minister Li Qiang, a key ally of Moscow.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani are also at Davos and are expected to discuss Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza.U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French President Emmanuel Macron are among other world leaders heading to Davos.

Economy

The summit meeting will address core economic issues including high global debt and interest rates, along with new challenges and opportunities — especially artificial intelligence, or AI.

“[AI] has huge transformative potential, akin to what the steam engine did for physical labor: It took loads off the backs of humans, off the backs of the animals that we used to have plow our fields and put it onto machinery. I think that's a good analogy to what these large language models are going to do to intellectual labor,” said Aiden Gomez, CEO of the C

"I do want to emphasize that we may be over-indexing on fear at the moment, which is very natural for humanity. I think it's important to think about the opportunities for good. And it's not spoken about enough,” Gomez told The Associated Press.

Critics argue the Davos summit is an undemocratic get-together for the global elite. Hundreds of protesters, many dressed in clown outfits, staged a demonstration outside the summit venue Sunday, ahead of the WEF meeting.

“We here are the voice for so many people who can't be here today. It's really important we stand here for so many people who are suffering from the decisions of these people," said Gianna Catrina, a spokesperson for the “Strike WEF” protest group.

Supporters of the Davos summit say that dialogue among the world’s political and business leaders is vital in an increasingly fractious and uncertain world.

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