According to the US census, the richest billionaire is Warren Buffett, who owns the largest number of shares worldwide. The US has around three million millionaires including more than 300,000 US citizens. Another billionaire is Sir Richard Branson, who has more than $11bn in the bank.
It’s not just billionaires with financial means, but there are billions of people around the world living at less than $2.50 a day. Half of the world’s poorest people live in Asia, most of them in Indonesia, Cambodia and China who are at the bottom of the world’s economies.
“For the poorest people, the only thing they have of value is their skin – that thin line that separates them from the land. So, at some level, all the wealth has to come from somewhere. It is not enough, like it is for the rich. I have never seen the poorest people as happy with poverty that is so severe that they will not accept the fact that they have to live with it,” says Prof Robert D. Putnam, president of the University of Maryland and the author of Bowling Alone.
Prof Putnam’s book Bowling Alone: The State of Economic Stress in the American Community details some of the main causes of poverty in America which we now take for granted. In terms of the distribution of wealth globally, the rich have become richer, not poorer – or so says Professor Putnam, but the poor have done worse. More than half of the world’s poor live in Asia and South America. Over half of the world’s poorest 10%.
The rich have moved to countries that reward them for trading and investing more than those who trade and consume less. A new way of doing business has become the norm in the last 30 years or so, as corporate profits move up the value chain to generate more profit and more returns.
And so, as Prof Putnam points out, the people who are the poorest are doing worse now. Prof Putnam says many of them are “fated to live on the margins” without any of their “basic things”, like adequate education, healthcare and housing.
We live in a more unequal world now, he predicts, because we have forgotten how inequality is a symptom of social failure. Poor people have been told that if they can just get their head above water, they can escape poverty and live in a world of freedom and equality. But they are not getting a fair shake.
“We have become so comfortable with the idea of economic growth