Tag Archives: World Economic Forum

85 People Have As Much Wealth as 3.5 Billion People

Just think about that headline for a second… 85 people have as much wealth as 3.5 billion people. Eighty-five vs. Three and a half billion. Maybe looking at the words isn’t enough, let’s look at it in numbers. 85 vs. 3,500,000,000. If I were graphically inclined, I’d make a quick “infographic” showing 85 people on one side and 3,500,000,00 on the other side. That’s an astronomical difference.

The article in The Guardian where I first read it had a good analogy:

The world’s wealthiest people aren’t known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe could squeeze onto a single double-decker.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about wealth inequality and it probably won’t be the last. There are two posts that come immediately to mind. The first is the one from a couple of years ago where I shared a graphic that came from a paper by two researchers studying the wealth distribution in the US. Most notably from the graphic was that the perception of American was way off from reality. Americans thought that the top 20% had approximately 60% of the wealth and they wanted the distribution to be that the top 20% was closer to 30%. In actuality, the top 20% (at the time) had close to 90% of all wealth in the US.

The second post was just under a year ago and it took a deeper look at the graphic that I shared in the first post. Someone animated the chart, that is to say, they made a video of the information to make it more accessible to people and it was shared heartily across the internet — it’s currently over 14,000,000 views.

So what does all of that have to do with today’s information? Well, as is pointed out in the article in The Guardian, the World Economic Forum is starting in a few days, so talking about these kinds of issues are important. That is, reminding folks that the people in attendance at Davos will make up well over half of the wealth in the entire world

The image I’ve used for this post comes from that same article and it’s how I’d like to finish today’s post. Take a look at the United States. In 1980, the top 1%’s share of the national income was 10%. In 20 years, that’s doubled to 20% (of the national income). There’s been movement in other countries, but none as great as the US. I’m not picking on the US, but it’s quite clear that if you’re interested in being part of the wealthiest sect of the world, the US is a good place to do just that.

My point in sharing this image is to forward the conversation on this matter. People have very different opinions on how money should be spent, especially when that money is tax dollars. I’m not necessarily trying to trumpet one opinion more than the other, but I think it’s important to highlight this massive disparity and question whether this is how we want to live in the world.

Ethics: A Jagged Line

Earlier this calendar year, I had an ethics class. It was only a half-semester course, but I rather liked it. That’s probably because I really enjoy morality and ethics. In fact, some of the research I worked on during my undergraduate degree required me to read one of George Lakoff‘s books, Moral Politics. Even now, I really enjoy reading the work of researchers like Dan Ariely, who often write about ethics. Anyway, back to the ethics class from earlier this year.

Towards the end of the course, the class was having a discussion about something that I don’t remember. In the course of the discussion, it was clear that there were valid reasons (on both sides) of the dilemma. As the discussion was wrapping up, the professor drew a jagged line on the white board (much like the jagged line in the picture at the beginning of this post). I don’t quite remember the “exact” phrase that the professor said, but that’s not important. The important thing is that I remember the takeaway — ethics are not black and white.

Conveniently, the jagged line picture also has ‘black and white,’ but the metaphor I like to think of is the straight line (vs. the jagged line). Some might think that there’s a clear right and a clear wrong — in every situation (a straight line, if you will). However, I think that life is much more nuanced, much more complex than that — a jagged line. Sometimes doing “x” in a situation will be ethical, and sometimes doing “x” in a situation will be unethical. It’s important to understand the context to understand the ethicality of a situation. That’s certainly an important takeaway, if you watch Professor Sandel’s Justice course.

Before I end this post, I wanted to touch share something from the current President of George Mason University, Angel Cabrera. He’s only the 6th President in the school’s history and his most recent position was as the President of the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona. He recently wrote a post for the World Economic Forum. An excerpt:

No matter how high the legal penalties may be, an opportunistic, self-interested manager within a large corporation can always find a way to make the pay-off of a bribe a no-brainer. This is so because the personal benefits of earning a contract can be significant and the probability of getting caught can be easily minimized. The very same factors that make the modern corporation so productive – specialization and localization of knowledge – also make it extremely difficult to control the decisions of each individual manager. The delegation of authority to managers with specialized knowledge makes the corporation vulnerable to decisions by those managers because they are often the only ones who understand the full complexity of a given contract (technical details of the products being sold, personal circumstances of the individuals involved in the transaction, dynamics of the social and institutional context in which the transaction takes place, etc).

When the golden opportunity presents itself to bribe, benefit from it and not get caught, the only thing that can stop him or her is a deeply engrained belief that the action is morally wrong.