What 1% privilege looks like in a time of unrestrained global inequality

Oxfam says global inequality increased in 2015. With the World Economic Forum due to take off we explore this trend through images from the book 1% Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality.

The wealthiest 1% of people hold more riches than the rest of the world combined, according to a report released by aid and development NGO Oxfam. The announcement comes ahead of the 46th annual World Economic Forum, which will take place in Davos, Switzerland, between 20-23 January, bringing together top business and political leaders to discuss the world’s most urgent challenges, including income disparity. This issue is also the subject of 1% Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality, a book curated by Myles Little, photo editor at Time Magazine. It features images from over a dozen countries taken by some of today’s best photographers, examining the incongruities of extreme wealth gaps and using the language of privilege to critique inequality.

The richest 62 people (of which only 9 are women) have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Using Credit Suisse data collected in October 2015, the Oxfam report highlights the worrying pace at which wealth concentration is growing: last year the richest 80 individuals owned as much as the bottom 50% and in 2010 this number was 388. Whilst global inequality decreased between 2000 and 2009 it has increased every year since. 2015 is the first year in which the richest 1% owns more than the other 99%, ahead of Oxfam’s prediction that this would occur in 2016. A sad achievement in stark contrast to the halving of the proportion of people living on less that $1.25 a day between 1990 and 2015 under the banner of Millennium Development Goal 1, part of the global agenda that guided the work of the United Nations for the past fifteen years.


The poorest half has lost a trillion dollars (imagine twelve zeros) in the last five years. In contrast, the top 62 are over half a trillion dollars richer than in 2010. Growing inequality is attributed to the widening pay gap between richest and poorest, which affects women in particular given that they make up most of the world’s lowest paid workers, and tax dodging. The latter has cost developing countries $100 billion in taxes every year according to Oxfam. In his contribution to 1% Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out how “for the past few decades, the economic elite, who have the greatest political clout, have pushed for a framework that benefits them at the expense of the rest”.


marina bay sands singapore
The 57th-floor swimming pool of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel against the backdrop of the Singapore financial district © Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti/Institute (2013)


Closing the wealth gap “happens in one of three ways: either through revolution, higher taxes, or wars”. These the words of billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II expressing the imperative to tackle global inequality which, according to Stiglitz, “stifles economic growth by rendering the economic system less stable and less efficient” and “threatens the vibrancy of a country’s democracy as power becomes concentrated in the hands of a select few”. Oxfam points to the need for governments to increase wages, narrow pay gaps including gender ones, tax wealth rather than consumption, limit lobbying and fight tax dodging. The ostentatiousness of excess and struggle of deprivation highlighted by Little’s selection of photographs confront us with the injustice inherent in a system based on an increasingly unbalanced distribution of resources. Stopping this trend will require nothing less than contrasting this system.


1% Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality is published in English by Hatje Cantz (2016) and can be purchased here.


Featured image: Shanghai falling (Fuxing Lu demolition), photo taken when the Chinese city was being demolished to make space for the new Shanghai © Greg Girard (2002)

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