Debate of the Day: Is inequality destroying planet earth?
THE NEWS: The world’s most powerful people were gathered in Switzerland. Some hoped to persuade them to clamp down on the top 1%.
It is thought that Mansa Musa, emperor of Mali, was the richest man in history. In 1324, on a pilgrimage to Mecca, he brought so much gold with him that the value of the precious metal collapsed across the whole of North Africa, devastating ordinary people’s savings.
Similarly, the modern super-rich own car manufacturers and media companies, not kingdoms — but their critics say they are still harming ordinary people.
Among them is the charity Oxfam. This week, the global elite is gathering at Davos in Switzerland for an annual conference, and Oxfam is hoping to persuade them to crack down on billionaires.
The gap between the world’s rich and poor is getting wider: Oxfam estimates that 63% of all new wealth produced between 2020 and 2021 went to the top 1% of the world population.
The problem, according to Oxfam, is not simply that billionaires are rich; it is that they are using their wealth to undermine democracy and destroy the planet.
The average US billionaire spends $500,000 (£408,000) every year on political contributions. That, some say, gives them an outsized influence on politics. Many billionaires have used their wealth to set up right-wing media outlets, like Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.
And billionaires are also driving the climate crisis, according to Oxfam. Their figures state that one billionaire emits as much carbon as one million average people.
That is why Oxfam is calling for governments to introduce special taxes on billionaires, so that it can be redistributed to poorer people, end world hunger and fight climate breakdown.
Others think Oxfam has got it wrong. Everyone, they claim, benefits from the wealth of these billionaires when they put their money to good use, either by funding new technology or by giving it to charity.
What’s your opinion?
Billionaires contribute more than anyone else to pollution and carbon emissions. It is a moral outrage and a political failure. If we take away their wealth, we will solve the problem.
Wealth disparities have their drawbacks, but they drive technological innovation. If we let billionaires be, they will use their money to come up with a fix that will solve the climate crisis for us.
Billionaires are destroying the planet, but the answer is not as simple as taking away their money: they have far too much political power for this to work. We need a different approach.
Mansa Musa- The ruler of the kingdom of Mali from 1312 to 1337. He is known for his huge wealth. Mali- A landlocked country in west Africa, with a very young population of 22 million. Mecca Islam’s holiest city and the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. Only Muslims are allowed into the city, and millions make pilgrimages there. Oxfam- An international charity, originally British, that works to alleviate global poverty. Rupert Murdoch- An Australian businessman who has amassed a vast media empire since the 1970s. He has been accused of using the media outlets he controls to further his own business interests.