Source: The Guardian Unlimited
How do we measure inequality? From some angles, things appear to be improving, but from others the situation is getting worse and worse
It’s familiar news by now. Oxfam’s figures have gone viral: the richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world’s population combined. Global inequality is worse than at any time since the 19th century.
For most people, this is all they know about global inequality. But Oxfam’s wealth figures don’t quite tell the whole story. What about income inequality? And – more importantly – what about inequalities between countries? If we expand our view beyond the usual metrics, we can learn a lot more about how unequal our world has become.
The first thing to say about Oxfam’s numbers is that they present a very conservative picture. Given that the rich hide so much of their wealth in tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, it is impossible to know how much they really have. Recent estimates suggest that up to $32tn is stored away in tax havens – around one sixth of the world’s total private wealth. If we were to add that to Oxfam’s metrics, inequality would look much, much worse.
But that’s wealth. Many analysts object that we shouldn’t be measuring wealth inequality, but rather income inequality. This has been a major criticism of Oxfam’s numbers. And when you look at income inequality, it doesn’t seem so bad. At least not according to the dominant narrative. Branko Milanovic, one of the world’s leading experts in global income inequality, argues that while inequality is getting worse within countries, on a global scale it is actually getting better.