Oxfam: rich versus poor

Yesterday in New Zealand media ran a story from Oxfam that tried to compare a few rich people with a lot of poor people.

RNZ: Top 1% of NZers own 20% of wealth

The country’s two wealthiest people own the same amount as the poorest 30 percent in New Zealand.

And the richest 1 percent of New Zealanders own 20 percent of wealth, while 90 percent of the population owns less than half of the nation’s wealth.

Oxfam New Zealand executive director Rachael Le Mesurier said it was shocked to discover the wealth inequity in this country, saying it was trapping huge numbers of people in poverty and fracturing societies, citing the drop in home ownership rates as one example.

“New Zealanders love fairness, not inequality. The government should be tackling inequality here and globally, by cracking down on tax avoidance wherever it is, and using that money to make our country, and the global economy, a fairer place. This wouldn’t just be the right thing to do, a more fair economy would also be simple common sense and enormously popular with New Zealanders,” she said.

The Oxfam research highlighted the gap between the wealth of individuals, rather than disposable incomes.

There is an issue of concern about growing income and wealth disparities, and Oxfam succeeded in getting headlines, but they are making comparisons that are vague, and the solutions are more vague.

It is dog whistle type politics, trying to denegrate people with higher levels of wealth and higher earnings – ‘ rich peoeple bad’ sort of thing.

What do they propose? Taking all the wealth off the wealthy – and with the two they named here much of that wealth is probably not in New Zealand – and distribute it to all the poor babies who deserve it?

I have no idea whether Oxfam are comparing the wealth of fifty years olds to fifteen year olds or five year olds. Who are the poorest 30% here?

New Zealand should strive to improve life and opportunities for poorer people for sure, but I don’t know that Oxfam’s approach is going to help.

Oxfam said New Zealand’s findings were consistent with other countries where the gap between rich and poor was greater than previously thought.

It blamed big business and the extremely wealthy for the growing discrepancy, saying they fuelled the inequality crisis by avoiding taxes, driving down wages for their workers and the prices paid to producers and investing less in their businesses.

This sounds very much like big business bad – yes, there are issues that need addressing, but demonising all wealthy people and businesses makes no sense apart from populist appealing and squealing.

If businesses didn’t make profits they wouldn’t employ and pay people. Is that what Oxfam want?

As a charity Oxfam doesn’t pay tax, in New Zealand at least. Do they pay equal wages to all their employees?

This is a world wide campaign by Oxfam time to coincide with the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Times: Eight men are richer than half the globe

Only eight billionaires have as much combined wealth as the poorest half of the world, according to Oxfam.

Six Americans, a Mexican telecoms entrepreneur and the Spanish founder of the Zara clothing chain are between them worth more than the 3.6 billion people who form the poorest half of the world’s population.

Oxfam released its latest report into the scale of global inequality to coincide with the start tomorrow of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where about 3,000 of the global business and political elite, including Theresa May and Philip Hammond, will gather for the annual meeting.

The forum has put inclusive growth and inequality on the agenda, but Oxfam has latched on to the backlash against the status quo.

I presume that a significant proportion of donations to Oxfam comes from people with higher wealth and incomes.

I used to donate regularly (automatic payments) to Oxfam, but stopped when they became more political.

I think there are real issues with income and wealth disparities, and with international tax avoidance.

I don’t think that trying to shame the rich with apples and oranges wealth comparisons will achieve much.


  1. David

     /  January 17, 2017

    That report is also one which claims the poorest people in the world are mostly in the United States.

  2. Haven’t delved very deeply into this yet. I have the full Oxfam pdf report to read yet. [Its surely available somewhere from Oxfam]

    What I gather they are talking about is the development of a ‘human economy’. I can see some sense in this, since the ‘money economy’ is failing so many humans, so much of humanity … and all the money economy is or ever has been is humanity …


    Of course what everyone including Oxfam is doing is playing the Clik Bait ‘Grab Media Attention’ game – “us and them”, conflict, polarisation et al (which ellicits “them and us” conflict polarisation et al) … and obscures the real issues and any discussion of real solutions. This suits the power elite to a Tee … Let’s postpone doing anything about it and make a *shitload* of money for each minute we do …

    Anyway, I wanna play too: When a person is poor its always their own fault: When a person is rich its always no fault of their own.

  3. Gezza

     /  January 17, 2017

    Just a small point (not to distract from your other comments) : et al, an abbreviation of et alia, means ‘and others’, but only in reference to other people I understand.

  4. PDB

     /  January 17, 2017

    “The hijacking of Oxfam by the politicised left is nothing short of a tragedy. It’s heartbreaking to see a charity that has built up so much goodwill from so many people being used by activists as a vehicle for global class war. As a result, Oxfam is switching its focus away from global poverty towards something very different: wealth inequality”.

    “you have to ask: isn’t the charity supposed to be worried about the poor, rather than obsessing about the rich? Its adverts want to you believe that age-old (and laughably incorrect) trope that the poor are poor because the rich are rich: that wealth is a pie, and the powerful are helping themselves to an ever-larger slice. In fact wealth is something that people generate, and on a global basis more of it is being generated than ever before. This ought to be celebrated, because the pie is bigger than ever before – this is translating into fewer hungry people than ever before”.


    • David

       /  January 17, 2017

      Well said PDB, Oxfam used to be hugely respected. According to their report if you are an Oxford graduate with a 50k student loan you are poorer than someone on the bread line in India. The same graduate skews the wealth disparity so the report is bloody useless except for getting headlines.

    • Gezza

       /  January 17, 2017

      Not in the US. They’re getting fat as.

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  January 17, 2017

    Spot on, PDB.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  January 17, 2017

      I would just add that uncritical publication of this kind of crap just adds to the public contempt for MSM journalism.

  6. “Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in recent decades, an
    achievement of which the world should be proud. Yet one in nine people still go to bed

    Had growth been pro-poor between 1990 and 2010, 700 million more people, most of them women, would have escaped poverty over this period.78 The global economy has more than doubled in GDP terms in the last 30 years, with all income levels seeing an
    increase, resulting in a corresponding decline in extreme poverty rates around the world …

    The difference between the absolute growth in income of the different deciles is, however,
    highly unequal – far more than the simple rates of growth would suggest – even after taking
    into account the economic shock to incomes post-2008, as shown by the blue line on Figure
    1. The incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by $65 between 1988 and 2011,
    equivalent to less than $3 extra a year, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182
    times as much, by $11,800.” – Oxfam Report

    I suspect our adaptation to a ‘human economy’ will involve going even further than Oxfam recommends in very general terms. It may involve reform and improvement of both the financial and democratic governance systems ….


    • PDB

       /  January 17, 2017

      The ‘human economy’ is a nonsense, based purely on ‘feel good’ mantra’s and no idea on how to achieve them without the current system they wish to overthrow.

  7. I think the following proposition has more than a bit of merit in terms of distribution of wealth. I will give you the reference to the author later, to avoid any prejudices for or against the author. It has made me think!

    IN 1516, ENGLISH nobleman Sir Thomas More completed his fictional work Utopia. Written in Latin and published in Belgium that year, the book was a brilliant satire containing some intriguing ideas that would ensure its posterity for the next 500 years.

    The piece is an imaginary dialogue between More and a traveller returning from newly discovered land Utopia. More, the Lord Chancellor of England, used the story to chastise European high society for its avarice, apathy and injustice, contrasting it with the ideal state.

    It was the first major work that explored and articulated the idea of communism – in its purest utopian form. The traveller in the story tells More: “I’m quite convinced that you’ll never get a fair distribution of goods, or a satisfactory organisation of human life, until you abolish private property altogether. So long as it exists, the vast majority of the human race, and the vastly superior part of it, will inevitably go on labouring under a burden of poverty, hardship, and worry.”

    More provided his own antidote to the argument: “I don’t believe you’d ever have a reasonable standard of living under a communist system. There’d always tend to be shortages, because nobody would work hard enough.”

    Why Marxism is so important in the new China

    A portrait of Sir Thomas More (1477- 1535), humanist and statesman who was put to death for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. (Portrait omitted) .Friend of Dutch Humanist Eramus, in 1516 More published his great speculative political book, Utopia.
    A portrait of Sir Thomas More (1477- 1535), humanist and statesman who was put to death for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. Friend of Dutch Humanist Eramus, in 1516 More published his great speculative political book, Utopia.

    Centuries before communism became a political reality, More had captured its essence and flaws in one little book. To put it in the simplest way, communism concerns itself about fairness in wealth distribution, but it falls short on answering how to raise efficiency in wealth production when you remove the incentive for competition. The contradiction would dominate political debates for 500 years. Various people in Europe and America tried to set up their own utopian communes following the publication of this book. But it was in the hands of Karl Marx during the 19th century that communism developed into a full-blown political theory. The collaboration between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels culminated in the formidable work, Das Kapital.

    Today many people react strongly whenever Marx’s name is mentioned, but few have actually read his work. Marx was an original and insightful thinker who showed an impressive command of philosophical thinking and was thorough in his research. Marx spent most of his time combing through British parliamentary and statistical reports in the reading room of the British Museum. Few could accuse him of being sloppy.

    Despite his obvious talent, he did have a propensity for making sweeping and hasty pronouncements. At times, he even showed a tendency towards utopianism, which he scorned in others. Marx was also a polemicist who refused to compromise. For all his brilliant critiques of capitalism, he never addressed the question of what political and legal institutions should be formed after the proletariat revolution. He did not explain how to protect individual liberty in face of an omnipresent centralised power.

    The method in Xi Jinping’s Marxism: What’s behind the president’s push for the economic theory?

    Anarchist thinker Mikhail Bakunin, provided the sharpest critique of Marx’s work. Bakunin questioned how a centralised economic power could exist without political coercion. When Marx claimed that only a proletariat dictatorship could bring people freedom, the Russian replied: “A dictatorship can have no other aim than to perpetuate itself, and that it can engender nothing but slavery in the people subjected to it. Freedom can be created only by freedom, that is by a rising of the whole people and by the free organisation of the working masses from below.”

    Marx’s idea was further radicalised by Vladimir Lenin. Following the Russian Red October revolution 99 years ago, communism quickly spread across the world. For a while it did look like this is going to be the future of mankind. But as Bakunin predicted, absolute power only bred corruption and stagnation.

    Today, only four countries nominally still practise communism and three of them are in Asia. Incidentally, all three share the same cultural roots. So, is Marx still relevant today?

    Following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet world, it looked like Marxism and communism were destined for the dustbin of history. In his book The End of History and The Last Man published in 1992, Francis Fukuyama declared not only the death of Marxism but the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy. In its elegant balance of liberty and equality, mankind seems to have found the key to eternal happiness. Only boredom with peace and prosperity could threaten the brilliant future of liberal democracy, Fukuyama claimed.

    Francis Fukuyama, Professor of Public Policy at the George Mason University, poses for the photographer 21 October 2002 in Paris. (Picture omitted). Fukuyama’s book “The End of History and the Last Man” was published in 1992 and has appeared in over twenty foreign editions. Fukuyama has written widely on issues relating to questions concerning democratization and international political economy. He was born in 1952 in Chicago.

    The following 24 years were anything but boring. The rosy outlook of liberal democracy started to fade after a golden decade. While the world economy had been expanding at an enviable speed, growth was lopsided. Wealth is now increasingly concentrated in the hands of the top 1 per cent. The financial crisis in 2008 triggered a worldwide backlash against liberal economies. Many realised that a free market is only free for elites.

    This has been a year of the rise of populist movements around the world and the trend will continue in 2017. History, it seems, is on the march again. This wave of populism can no longer be defined in the traditional ideological sense of right, left or centre. It is a rebellion against the establishment and political norms. Its candidates deliberately attack political correctness and sometimes resort to crude language to do so in order to differentiate themselves against the intransigent elite.

    As a political theorist, Marx has perhaps reached his historical limits. His work, for all its brilliant insights, is a product of the Industrial Age. Yet, Marx is still relevant today as a moralist thinker, though he would have hated to be called a moralist. He thought he had uncovered the “scientific truth of history,” which would move forward regardless of the petty moral standards of society. Ironically, he discovered nothing of that sort, but his value as a moralist may outlive his theory.

    Xi Jinping, the champion of Marxism, may find unlikely comrades in critics of Western capitalism

    Born into a rich German-Jewish family and married to a prominent Prussian aristocrat, Marx could have led a comfortable gentleman’s life and picked up a respectable position at a university or in the government. Instead, he railed against the injustice and cruelty he saw in the early days of capitalism and chose to be a champion for the underdogs. Marx spent his life looking for a solution to address the question of fair distribution of wealth. One of his fiercest critics, Karl Popper, rejected his formula but nevertheless paid tribute to the moral basis of his philosophy. Marx’s “burning protest against these crimes,” Popper wrote in The Open Society and Its Enemies, “will secure him forever a place among the liberators of mankind.”

    Thinkers like More and Marx come from an elite class, but their intellectual agitation is based on a moral concern for the poor. With the world in its current turmoil, we need more thinkers like them.”■

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  January 17, 2017

      Quite a tour de force, BJ. However it is not true that a free market is only free for the elite. In fact it has been responsible for the greatest climb out of poverty in the world’s history. But with that has come a rebalancing between the rich and poor nations which has left many in the rich nations feeling hard done by. The pace of change has also worked to the disadvantage of those less able to take advantage of it or adversely impacted by it. And global competition has increased the rewards for those who succeed at the same time. It is a fair question to ask whether those attracting huge salaries are exploiting monopoly powers rather than earning on merit in a free market. That seems to me a question economists should be studying.

  8. David

     /  January 17, 2017
    • PDB

       /  January 17, 2017

      Pretty much sums it up.

      To add – the ‘big lie’ from anybody proposing a ‘universal income’, ‘human economy’ and the like is that their sharing of the ‘pie’ is based on a pie made under free market conditions as if those economic conditions would ‘magically’ remain the same if work was optional, everybody earns the same, people would risk the same amount of money in business start-ups and company shares, companies would still remain competitive and keep prices low etc

  9. “What we should care about is the welfare of the poor, not the wealth of the rich.”

    Where is this “welfare of the poor” going to come from …?

    • PDB

       /  January 17, 2017

      Hopefully with encouragement, training and motivation from their own work and achievements, otherwise the welfare system is there for those in need & assistance.

      • @ PDB – If the poor all ‘make it’ and welfare sparingly takes care of the rest, where will the rich get their ‘wage slave’ labour from?

  10. In recent times, one has become used to a rater breathless claim from OXFAM scolding us all for being so greedy and ignoring the plight of the don’t haves. Usually this is followed by or actually contains and appeal for the purses to be opened to permit OXFAM to carry on its good works. Quite frankly it is boring, and ever since OXFAM entered into political rhetoric, the haven’t and won’t get another cent from me.
    All this talk about the one percenters obscures the main point and that is society should ensure equality of opportunity for all regardless of background and status. Equality of opportunity does not imply equality of income because rewards such as income depend on the value of the individual’s contribution to society as a whole. Humans are not created equal in intellect, physical strength, commonsense and motivation, though some of these areas can be improved on by education, training and dedication, but it has to start with the individual and be supported by hiser environment.

  11. I did mean “rather” but dropped another “h”! Dang!

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  January 18, 2017

      hiser is an interesting word too, BJ.

      • Yes, I wondered if my coining would be noted. Using “hiser” is significantly easier than writing “his/her”.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  January 18, 2017

          Definitely a useful addition to the language.

        • Gezza

           /  January 18, 2017

          PZ is up to new word #80. This one barely registers on the scale by comparison.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  January 18, 2017

            Not sure that any of PZ’s are actually useful unless you are philosophising on stuff at a meta level so far above the planet you have lost sight of the ground.

            • Corporeal philosophising from so far underground that you’ve lost sight of the planet is better, is it Alan?

              Or expedient, confirmation bias philosophising so far above the mediocre multitude that you’ve lost sight of your own humanity …?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  January 18, 2017

              Feet firmly planted in the soil here, PZ. Though this week buried in the bureaucratic paper war unfortunately.

        • Gezza

           /  January 18, 2017

          Sorry Bj. Didn’t mean to disparage your new word. Definitely a good effort & looking forward to seeing more of them.

  12. if your looking for a replacement charity to donate to, MCANZ is available 🙂