On Monday, BuzzFeed headlined, “These 8 Men Own As Much Wealth As Half The World.” This vital bit of information came with this supporting fact, courtesy of BuzzFeed special correspondent James Ball and UK editorial developer Chris Applegate: “The world’s eight richest men are worth $426 billion. The world’s poorest 3.7 billion people together own $409 billion — $17 billion less.”
Those statistics come courtesy of Oxfam. BuzzFeed tut-tuts:
The finding sheds stark light on the scale of inequality across the world, with the figures also revealing that the wealthiest 1% of the population together own more than the remaining 99% combined….The eight men who own as much as half the world are: Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Zara founder Amancio Ortega; US investor Warren Buffett; Carlos Slim Helo, owner of Mexican conglomerate Grupo Carso; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison; and businessman and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Oxfam, which routinely stumps for global redistributionism, bewailed this wealth divide:
While 1 in 9 people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight, a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it. The fact that a super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us at home and overseas shows how warped our economy has become. Inequality is not only keeping millions of people trapped in poverty, it is fracturing our societies and poisoning our politics.
First off, there is no indicator anywhere in this report that the wealth of the world’s eight wealthiest men was ill-gotten. There is no record of them enslaving people or robbing banks or burning down rivals’ businesses. The reason these people are rich is because they have founded businesses that created better products and services and engaged in more consensual transactions than any other people on planet earth. Bill Gates’ Microsoft created a reputed 12,000 millionaires among his employees. Microsoft currently employs more than 100,000 people. Microsoft employees have given more than $1 billion to charity. Microsoft products have made millions of lives easier and better and millions of businesses cheaper to run. The same is true for Amazon (one of the world’s great companies — certainly as a consumer, I benefit from Amazon every single day), Zara, Facebook, and Oracle, among others. Where, exactly, is the great sin?
Oxfam’s implication seems to be that “wealth” belongs to the collective, and we must therefore reallocate it. Hence their language about a super-rich elite prospering at our expense. But these rich people aren’t prospering at the expense of others. Since 1981, the global extreme poverty rate has been sliced in half. Meanwhile, from 1979 to 2014, the upper middle class in America grew from 12 percent to 30 percent of the population. America’s poor are doing better than the middle class in most places on earth, thanks to the glories of free market economics. As Pew Research says:
The US stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world. More than half (56%) of Americans were high income by the global standard…Another 32% were upper-middle income. In other words, almost nine-in-ten Americans had a standard of living that was above the global middle-income standard. Only 7 percent of people in the US were middle income, 3% were low income, and 2% were poor.
The quest for income equality is a fool’s errand. That’s because the only way to rectify imbalances is to punish successful risk-taking. The reason investors make greater profits than those who do the actual work is because the investors take the risks necessary to create a profit margin with which to pay those people. Oxfam neglects to mention where the world’s poorest people live: according to the World Bank, two-thirds of the world’s poorest human beings live in India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Congo. The Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom ranks these countries thusly in terms of their participation in free markets and their governmental dedication to private property rights: India ranks 120th, Congo ranks 168th, China ranks 137th, Nigeria ranks 129th, and Bangladesh ranks 131st.
So Oxfam’s solution is to regulate markets more?
A richer world relies on freer markets both at home and abroad. But the foolish, inconsistent focus on income inequality merely provides cover for policies that enhance human suffering rather than mitigating it.