30 January 2014

Wealth gap—the greatest ever?

A couple of items I encountered recently demonstrated perfectly the extremes of the now much talked about wealth gap. First, was a report by Oxfam entitled "Working for the Few" which revealed that the world's richest 85 people own as much wealth as the poorest 3.5-billion, a staggering statistic.

At the other end of the scale, a recent Guardian article nicely illustrated the title of the Oxfam report. It discussed the living conditions of the migrant construction workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Last year, at least 185 Nepalese men alone died, over half from some kind of heart failure, which may seem odd for healthy young men but not when you consider they work 12-hours days in temperatures that can top 40C. Figures for the death rates of Indian, Pakistani Sri Lankan and other workers have yet to emerge. In addition to the appalling working conditions, the men live in squalid, overcrowded accommodation.

There is nothing new about a tiny group of the filthy rich living off the sweat of the masses. This is the story of human civilization. Nonetheless, it seems hard to believe that in these advanced times, the gap between rich and poor may be the widest ever. It is hard to imagine workers ever toiling in such lowly conditions as the labourers in Qatar while the richest man who ever lived is with us today—Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire.

Slim's fortune relies heavily on his monopoly over Mexico's telecommunications market, a stranglehold that neatly allows him to transfer money from the poor and middle class to himself. According to the OECD his monopoly, which he obtained largely through political connections, costs Mexican consumers over $13-billion a year excess for phone and internet services.

The rich live opulently while the poor die miserably, building our sports palaces—a story that stains the modern era.

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