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This week's annual Davos jamboree feels ever more disconnected from the real world. It's a shame, because corporate types are often more alive to the dangers of inequality than many political leaders.
Every year, Oxfam puts out a report during Davos week, to call attention to the growing scale of global inequality. This year’s report leads with the eye-gouging stat that “the richest 1 per cent grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth… created since 2020, almost twice as much money as the bottom 99 per cent of the world’s population”. It also notes that, according to the World Bank, extreme poverty at the global level increased in 2020 for the first time in 25 years.
This newsletter is about Britain, not Colombia. But there’s an interesting passage in the report’s foreword, written by Colombia’s finance minister, José Antonio Ocampo:
Taxing the wealthiest is no longer an option – it’s a must. Global inequality has exploded, and there is no better way to tackle inequality than by redistributing wealth… Fairness is at the heart of Colombia’s tax reforms. Concretely, this means a new wealth tax, higher taxes for high-income earners and large corporations reaping extraordinary profits in international markets, and ending tax incentives that exist without clear social or environmental justification.
As Politico noted this morning, the chances of the World Economic Forum endorsing Oxfam’s calls for wealth taxes are “a snowball’s chance in hell”. Leaving aside their views on the policy substance, they won’t have time: the 600 CEOs and 150-odd politicians in attendance will be rushing around between about 400 sessions covering everything from trade policy to Ukraine to cryptocurrency.
To give them their credit, at least they’re talking about inequality. The topic has been a major theme of the gathering for several years, and is on this year’s agenda, as well as popping up in red lights at the top of their annual global risks reports (societal risks such as the cost-of-living crisis and the “erosion of social cohesion” figure prominently in this year’s report). We wrote a few weeks ago about how inequality is a strategic risk for the UK - so why isn’t our government taking it more seriously?
Mapping the apocalypse
Maybe that’s a tad negative. Anyway, the Office for National Statistics is gradually releasing some interesting titbits from the 2021 Census. In the last week it has published data on housing, sexual orientation and education. You can browse all of the data through some lovely maps. For example:
Some of the data is unsurprising. For example, London has the highest proportion in England of households with fewer bedrooms than required (11.1%, 380,000). Some if it is eye-opening. For example, 20.3% of households (5.0 million households) lived in private rented accommodation in 2021, up from 16.7% (3.9 million) in 2011.
We’re looking forward to the publication of some of the multivariate data (broken down by more than one variable, such as housing and income and ethnicity) in the spring, which will make it possible to do some interesting intersectional analysis.
We’re on Substack
Existing subscribers will have noticed that this week’s Fair Comment looks a bit different from usual. We’ve moved across to Substack, because a) who doesn’t love jumping on a bandwagon, b) it makes it possible for us to engage with our audience in new and more interactive ways (including comments and potentially a chat function), and c) it allows current or potential subscribers to find, browse and search our back catalogue more easily. But fear not - we have no plans to charge a subscription fee!
Poll: should we use Substack’s chat function? It’s like a private social network for subscribers to Fair Comment, a space (currently only available on the Substack mobile app, coming soon to the web) where subscribers can interact with us and with each other. We haven’t turned it on yet, but will do if there is enough interest.
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