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85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world

Published: Friday, Jan. 24 2014 8:30 p.m. MST

British Prime Minister David Cameron listens to a question of a participant during a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Leaders gathered in the Swiss ski resort of Davos have made it a top priority to push to reshape the global economy and cut global warming by shifting to cleaner energy sources.

Michel Euler, Associated Press

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The 85 richest people in the world own more wealth than the 3 billion poorest people combined, according to an Oxfam report on global inequality.

That means that less than 100 individuals hold more wealth than the bottom half of the entire world population. The rich are getting richer in 24 out of the 26 countries in the study, but nowhere more so than the United States. The wealthiest 1 percent in the U.S. captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, according to the report. The bottom 90 percent actually lost wealth.

"It is staggering that in the 21st century, half of the world's population own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all sit comfortably in a single train carriage," Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam's executive director, told the L.A. Times.

Falling taxes for the rich and an increased use of tax havens have widened the gap, says Oxfam. But much of he difference comes from investment opportunities.

Derek Thompson of the Atlantic notes that the numbers are for wealth, not income — and wealth is built from investments like real estate, stocks, and equity in a business.

“Since poor people spend more of their income immediately, and rich people save/invest more of their income immediately, it's predictable that wealth inequality be much worse than income inequality,” writes Thompson.

The meteoric rise of the 1 percent is more than just an issue of fairness, Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project told the L.A. Times.

“Income inequality is also socially destabilizing," Owens said. "It's a question of how do we preserve a functioning democracy, and it's difficult to do that if we don't have broadly shared prosperity."

Byanyima has called on business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to end tax dodging, invest in education, and pay better wages to reverse the trend.

The fact that wealth disparity is deepening does not necessarily mean that poor countries are doomed to stay that way, however. The Oxfam report coincides with the Gates Foundation annual letter, that claims that “the world is better than it has ever been,” that many countries that were dependent on aid are now self-sufficient, and poverty-stricken places like Shanghai and Nairobi now have booming markets.

“The fact is, incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa," the report says.

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