Solving Oxfam’s problem

Oxfam has told us all that 8 people have as much wealth as the bottom 50% of humanity and this is an outrage, Something Must Be Done. OK, so, let us think about what must be done then. The most obvious point being that we should reverse the outrage. Take all the money off the rich people and give it to the poor people. At which point that 50% of humanity would each get $100 or so.

This is not actually a solution to anything at all, is it? Thus the original problem being complained of is not a problem, is not an outrage and does not require that something be done.

12 comments on “Solving Oxfam’s problem

  1. If someone is a billionaire it is because they have added value to people’s lives worth much more than a billion dollars. I might think Facebook is puerile, but its users do not. Nor do its advertisers. They are willing to pay for it and hence Zuckerberg is a very rich man.

    Taking all the money from the richest eight people just means destroying some value to their customers larger than their billions. Impoverishing everyone.

  2. And how much of the wealth of those 8 people is paper wealth supported only by all the other wealthy people and that, thus, would disappear in a whiff if someone started confiscating it and giving it out to the impoverished?

    I mean, sure, shares in AT&T won’t run out of buyers around current valuations, but art collections and penthouses are a bit different.

    Paper wealth is fuck all use to the poorest 50% of people. They want food and shelter. The richest 8 people are not in possession of 50% of those things. Nor could they cash out and procure anywhere near enough of those things to help.

    They *could* think about slowly liquidating big chunks of their wealth and trying to do neat stuff like build roads in poor countries and eradicate malaria or whatever.. someone should ring Bill Gates and suggest it.

  3. I guess most of this wealth is because these people own and run businesses. So WTF do people expect? Tear down some offices and factories and distribute the bricks to the poor?

  4. Take all the money off the rich people and give it to the poor people. At which point that 50% of humanity would each get $100 or so.

    You can do that, but you can only do that once.

  5. Is it worth pointing out that the notional wealth of the rich, expressed in cash terms, is illusory. The rich, more than most, have very little cash. Their wealth is all tied up in assets. And the cash value of assets, whether you’re rich or poor, can only be established at the point where they’re sold by one person to another.
    Liquidating the assets of the eight richest men on the planet wouldn’t provide $100 a head for the bottom 50%. There’s a very limited market for $100m yachts, for a start. Even smaller for $10b social networking companies.or operating system suppliers.

  6. Of course the ‘poorest’ people in terms of wealth are not sharecroppers in Africa or Bangladesh, but twenty something students in the US, who thanks to their student loans have liabilities far in excess of their (measured) assets. What they do have however are intangible assets (ok a liberal arts degree is a stretch) that will enable them to generate future income. The fact that you can’t really measure the assets is what distorts this measure of wealth, but then we know this is all politicised BS anyway.

  7. TTG – quite. You can’t liquidate most of that wealth, and assuming the whole thing doesn’t come crashing down, the hyper-productive people will just offer to buy up everyone’s half-hardy and square inches of loft apartment for 30% of face value or something, with their next paycheck.
    Oxfam are probably dense/desperate enough to incomes next, but you can do the same division and probably end up with a lower figure. And then you can point out that that wouldn’t allow anyone to rent loft apartments, or even buy smartphones etc, putting most of the developed world out of business. Hooray.

    Tim, i think your phrasing undermines your point that Oxfam are hyping up a problem to make it look as if they are in a position to help solve it. You’re dismissing the hyper-rich as a problem, but it’ll be read as dismissing the absolute poor.

  8. Mark T – “Of course the ‘poorest’ people in terms of wealth are not sharecroppers in Africa or Bangladesh, but twenty something students in the US, who thanks to their student loans have liabilities far in excess of their (measured) assets.”

    The poorest person in the world was probably Trump at one point. His daughter has a story of driving along and Trump pointing out a homeless person and saying “That guy has four billion dollars more than me”.

    The Guardian ought to be happy to see one of the truly poor make good.

  9. As Henry Crun says, there will be no second hundred dollars. Ever. No one will accumulate wealth if it will just be taken.

    MSFT is trading at about $62. Should Bill Gates announce he’s selling his millions of shares, the price will collapse. His wealth is shares X current trading value. Current trading value is not fixed, and subject to radical change. Gate’s wealth is nominal only.

  10. I suspect the problem is the assumption that they want to do something _for_ the bottom 50% rather than _to_ those top 8 (you’ve got to start somewhere, right?).

    Using the latter motivation, the issues re: per capita share & nominal value vs. what you get after the sell-off become irrelevant.

  11. Oxfam’s problem is that there are not enough humanitarian tragedies. As I wrote on one of the Oxfam threads yesterday, governments supply roughly half of Oxfam’s income but humanitarian disasters make up 33 % of what they spend. Donations and their untaxed trading income are sufficient to cover that. So the question is why are governments giving them so much money? Why are governments paying them to write claptrap reports?

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