The 85 richest people in the world own the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion. That’s half of the world’s population.

These are the shocking numbers included in Working for a Few, a report Oxfam gave to the annual gathering of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest elite at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The WEF itself identified widening inequality and persistent unemployment as two of the top three global threats for this coming year.

According to the report, “Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.”

It seems crazy that economists pay little attention to the distribution of capital and wealth in a system called capitalism, but tragically that’s often the norm. And statistics related to wealth inequality are only collected every few years in Canada. The stats we do have show growing concentrations of wealth. Results from the 2012 Survey of Financial Security also show disturbingly high concentrations of wealth in Canada.

The Oxfam report emphasizes that growing inequalities are undermining political institutions and preventing measures to both improve economic growth and reduce poverty around the world.

To address the issue, Oxfam suggests progressive taxes on incomes and wealth; a crackdown on financial secrecy and tax dodging; providing a living wage for all workers; expanding public services; and removing barriers to equal rights and opportunities for women, among other measures.

Read the report at