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'Survival of the Richest' report reveals chasm in wealth distribution

17 January, 2023

By Casper McGuire, adapted by Stella Huggins

Listen to the full interview here

A recent report by Oxfam titled ‘Survival of the Richest’ shows that the rich have indeed continued to get richer over the course of the pandemic. Disparities in wealth have continued to grow, and the chasm doesn’t appear to be coming to a close without interventions, according to the report.

Speaking to Casper on The Wire, Jason Myers, the executive director of Oxfam Aotearoa, said that “extreme wealth and extreme inequality has increased simultaneously, for the first time in 25 years.” 

The report has been released ahead of the World Economic Forum at Davos. The theme for this year’s gathering of world and business leaders is “cooperation in a fragmented world”.

‘Survival of the Richest’ highlights an absence of progressive taxation in a climate of a “flood of public money pumped into the economy by rich countries, which was necessary to support their populations,” has led to the top 1% making enormous gains. 

 63% of new wealth gained in the 2021-22 period was gained by the richest 1%, leaving the other 99% with 37% to share amongst themselves. Furthermore, the bottom 90% gained just 10% of new wealth generated in the period.

Myers says “[the report shows]  the system is rigged almost exclusively in the favour of the super rich and in the favour of corporations. And that's what needs to change.”

Jason Myers distinguishes the difference between mitigating measures; windfall and wealth taxes. “A wealth tax is simply a tax on those who are incredibly wealthy. A windfall tax, [is] essentially a tax that we might apply to, for example, companies or corporations, who have come into significant profit, essentially through no design of their own.”

Whilst the report itself doesn’t break down the numbers of Aotearoa’s wealth specifically, Myers stresses that we aren’t exempt from the discourse and need for action. “We do have a number of billionaires… there are some incredibly wealthy people in New Zealand. And if you add those to the nearly 3,000 billionaires around the world… the potential take if we were to increase taxes on these individuals, is significant.“

Myers also highlights that dealing with wealth disparities can prevent the occurrence of ‘brain drain’ (the phenomena in which highly skilled or educated professionals leave a country, economic sector, or field in search of better conditions). “The need for global solidarity and leadership” in the face of this issue is paramount. 

And precedents for such action have already begun internationally. India, Chile, Italy, and the UK are a few examples of countries that are implementing windfall taxes.  “Our government is starting to show leadership, but what will be required is global solidarity and global leadership if we are to tackle the scale of the challenge that is before us.”

The report itself highlights the need for governments to address the ways in which our economic systems are rigged in favour of the already wealthy. It also comments on the demographic that tends to benefit from said systems, and reach such economic heights; “predominantly rich, white men based in the global north.” The solution, from the point of view of Oxfam, is plain; “taxing the rich.”

Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air