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World’s 85 richest people have wealth equal to that of half the population: report

The world's 85 wealthiest people are really, really rolling in the dough.

Just how rich are they? According to a new report by Oxfam, their total fortunes are equal to as much as half of that of the world's population.

The report, which analyzes a number of studies to highlight the world's growing economic inequality, was intended as a precursor to the World Economic Forum, which begins in Switzerland this week.

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As the report details, economic inequity is more than a dollar-in-the-pocket calculation – it has a significant impact on poverty rates, social mobility gender roles, and the direction of government policy. According to the paper, the wealth of the 1 per cent richest people in the world now totals $110-trillion (U.S.) – or, counted another way, 65 times the combined wealth of the bottom half of the world's population. (The 85 richest tycoons own the equal of the bottom half. For instance, Mexico's Carlos Sims, who moves in and out of first place for world's wealthiest, has a net worth estimated at $73-billion, most of it coming from a near-monopoly he holds on the mobile and communications networks in the country.)

And the wealth of the richest keeps growing, while the bottom 90 per cent (i.e. most of the rest of us) keeps shrinking. In the past year, the reports says, 210 people became billionaires – joining the existing ranks of 1,426 around the world. How much they are actually worth, is likely significantly more, Oxfam observes, saying that "an estimated $18.5-trillion is held unrecorded and offshore." Taxes are also helping things along: since the late 1970s, according to the report, a lower marginal tax rate for the richest citizens was reported in 29 of the 30 countries studied. (For a deeper analysis, you can check out online income statistics for countries around the world, including Canada, on the World Top Incomes database.)

Over all, the Oxfam report makes for bleak reading: "The massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people represents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems."

Even in Norway and Sweden, considered among the most egalitarian countries in the world, the gap widened – with the share of income that goes to the richest one per cent jumping 50 per cent since 1980. Latin America has made progress narrowing the income gap, but they started out with some of the widest gaps in the world. When it comes to income inequality, Canada sits about in the middle. But the gap has been steadily widening, as detailed in a recent Globe and Mail series. And that's a dollar amount, as the Oxfam report identified, worth worrying about it.

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