What Would You Do If Your Wealth Were $28 Billion?

The latest Oxfam report on poverty and inequality in our dysfunctional world makes a depressing read. It shows that the chasm between the richest 1% and the rest of humanity has considerably widened in the last few years. One statistic that is truly shocking is the number of people whose wealth is equal to that of the poorest half of the world’s population (3.6 billion people); this number has gone down from 388 in 2010 to 62 in 2015.

These 62 people have a combined wealth of a staggering $1,760 billion, averaging $28.387 billion per individual. What is the point of owning so much wealth? If these individuals were to use 95% of their wealth to lift billions of people from grinding, oppressive poverty they would still be billionaires.

Their material life style need hardly change, but will be enhanced by having the inner contentment and happiness that comes from knowing that you have made such a positive difference to the lives of so many. I would like to think this is what I would do if I were in their position. But, wait; is there something in our psyche that makes us behave differently once we start accumulating wealth? Does our love of wealth dull our compassion and empathy with our fellow human beings? The answer to these questions is likely to be yes, and in that case do we need psychiatric help once we acquire such wealth?

These people have become members of the super-rich club, competing with one another on who has gone up and who has gone down in the table of the ultra-wealthy. This causes many of them anxiety and neuroses. This self-obsession renders them blind to the needs and suffering of fellow human beings in their own countries and beyond.

Imagine the contentment and happiness you feel when greeted by the smiles of adults and children as you visit places, knowing that your money has brought them such happiness and joy: children going to school instead of working to support a family simply to have enough to eat, health clinics to treat simple conditions to relieve pain and suffering, clean water to drink thus preventing disease and death that result from drinking contaminated water , shelter to protect families from heat, flooding and cold. The need is great, and the remedies are in our grasp if only the resources are made available.

Another issue highlighted by Oxfam is the use of tax havens. It states:

As a priority, it is calling [Oxfam] for an end to the era of tax havens which has seen increasing use of offshore centres by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying their fair share to society. This has denied governments valuable resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality. It is three years since David Cameron told Davos that he would lead a global effort against aggressive avoidance in the UK and in poor countries, yet promised measures to increase transparency in British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, such as the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands, have not yet been implemented.

I really find it difficult to understand how democratic governments can tolerate the existence of tax havens. They serve no purpose other than to help the powerful, be it individuals or corporations, to hide their wealth, thus avoiding making contributions to their societies whose resources they used to create their wealth. Tax havens also help assorted despots, royals and the corrupted elite in the developing world to hide the wealth they pillage from their own countries. Oxfam reports that: “30 percent of all African financial wealth is estimated to be held offshore, costing an estimated $14billion in lost tax revenues every year.” Let us shut down these relics from a bygone age that steal wealth from the impoverished to the benefit of the already bloated few.

We are having a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union; here is a suggestion for another one: Should Britain continue to allow the existence of tax havens in its overseas territories and crown dependencies? Let the people decide.

What sort of system have we created that relentlessly siphons wealth from the poor to the richest 1%, and in the process deprives humanity of the resources that could bring happiness, contentment and joy to billions of people? When, oh when, will world leaders take concrete steps to remedy this injustice and unfairness?

Adnan Al-Daini (PhD, Birmingham University, UK) is a retired University Engineering lecturer. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. He writes regularly on issues of social justice and the Middle East. Read other articles by Adnan.