Extreme Wealth and Extreme Poverty

goldThe net income of the top 100 billionaires in the world is enough to end extreme poverty four times over! This is according to a report by the charity Oxfam entitled “The Cost Of Inequality: How Wealth And Income Extremes Hurt Us All,”. The report states that efforts to address the issue of global poverty were being hindered by what it terms an “explosion in extreme wealth.”

  • The total income of the world’s richest had a income of $240 billion (£150 billion) or a average of $2.4 billion each
  • Around a billion people live in extreme poverty which is defined as an income of $1.25 per day, or $450 (£300) a year. This represents 0.000002% of the top ‘earners’ income.
  • Jeff Sachs has estimated that it would cost $175 billion a year for 2 years to end extreme poverty.


  • Over the last thirty years inequality has grown dramatically in many countries. In the US the share of national income going to the top 1% has doubled since 1980 from 10 to 20%. For the top 0.01% it has quadrupled to levels never seen before.
  • In the UK inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens.
  • In China the top 10% now take home nearly 60% of the income. Chinese inequality levels are now similar to those in South Africa, which are now the most unequal country on earth and significantly more unequal than at the end of apartheid.
  • Even in many of the poorest countries, inequality has rapidly grown.
  • At a global level, the incomes of the top 1% have increased 60% in twenty years. For the select few in the top 0.01% (600,000 individuals), the growth in income has been even greater.
English: Differences in national income equali...
English: Differences in national income equality around the world as measured by the national Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds with perfect equality (where everyone has the same income) and 1 corresponds with perfect inequality (where one person has all the income, and everyone else has zero income). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ‘have-nots’ and the ‘have-lots’

In an  Al Jazeera report Ben Phillips, a campaign director at Oxfam, said,

“We sometimes talk about the ‘have-nots’ and the ‘haves’ – well, we’re talking about the ‘have-lots’. […] We are an anti-poverty agency. We focus on poverty, we work with the poorest people around the world. You don’t normally hear us talking about wealth. But it’s gotten so out of control between rich and poor that one of the obstacles to solving extreme poverty is now extreme wealth.”

“We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true. Concentration of resources in the hands of the top one per cent depresses economic activity and makes life harder for everyone else – particularly those at the bottom of the economic ladder.”

In a world where even basic resources such as land and water are increasingly scarce, we cannot afford to concentrate assets in the hands of a few and leave the many to struggle over what’s left.”

The oxfam report

I would recommend reading the full report from Oxfam. It makes the following points about extreme wealth:

  • Extreme wealth and inequality is economically inefficient
  • Extreme Wealth and Inequality is Politically Corrosive
  • Extreme Wealth and Inequality is Socially Divisive
  • Extreme Wealth and Inequality is Environmentally Destructive
  • Extreme Wealth and Inequality is not ethical
  • Extreme wealth and inequality is not inevitable

Personal Conclusion

I am not against personal wealth as such. I believe that someone who works hard, or an entrepreneur who creates wealth, is entitled to enjoy fruits from their labour; but is a wealthy billionaire really worth 8,000,000 times as much as a poor landless mother struggling for the survival of her family.

I am not an anti-capitalist; but unless there are restrictions stopping the excesses of capitalism, then inequalities will get worse and worse, to the detriment of us all, let alone the extremely poor. In theory the wealth of the whole world could end up in the hands of a single person, leaving the rest of us struggling for survival.

We cannot wait until the top 100 earners voluntarily give up their income to secure an end of extreme poverty. It isn’t going to happen! But as citizens we can put pressure on governments to control rampart capitalism and minimise inequalities of income and resources.

Extreme wealth has become a threat to the enormous amount of work being done to eliminate the worst aspects of global poverty. But that doesn’t let us ‘off the hook’. If we have more than we need to live relatively comfortable lives, free from the desperation of extreme poverty, then we have a part to play.

We can all give of our resources to those in need. The ‘have-lots’ may or may not be doing their part, but the ‘have-enoughs’ have it in their power to bring relief to the ‘have-nots’.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

4 thoughts on “Extreme Wealth and Extreme Poverty”

  1. Thanks George. I find myself having fairly strong feelings about this. If seems inequality is rife in all places, even in the church. A friend of mine once asked me what I thought was most dangerous to the life of the Body of Christ; Islam or Mammon. A very provoking question. Not long after I read the following… verse 14 points to a real mandate from the Word of God to aim for equality: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Corinthians%208:%201-15&version=NLT


  2. Agreeing with you George and Ben. It’s easy for me to see that differing points of view, most of which will have a verse or two to support their argument, will come into this kind of debate due to personal circumstances.
    If, as has been mantioned, “the wealth of the sinner is laid down for the righteous”, it just to see the sinner remain impoverished? I think not as Jesus came and dies, and rose againt for all man kind. “Even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) would suggest that He treated all man kind as equal. And when He said “Love your neighbour as yourself”< I see Him saying to treat each other as equal too. So, share the love, share the burden, share the wealth.

    Now, even though we are well below the poverty line, according to our culture, I feel guilty for having what I do.

    Loving this stuff Brother, it's keeping my view in perspective, and keeping me thankful for what I have. Rather than sulking over what I dont have.

    Thank you and God bless. x


  3. Hi George
    Always read what you have to say with great interest. Thought I would reply this time with some comments: The Bible says many things about what you have written. However the Bible actually says that the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous – Proverbs 13:22, Proverbs 28:8 and that the sinner is given the task of working hard and storing up his ‘stuff ‘ to only be given to the man who pleases God! This is confirmed in the New Testament – James 5:1-5 and Luke 12:16-21, I like the question in verse 20 directed at the ‘Rich Fool’ which says “then who will get all the treasure that you have hoarded for yourself ?” Answer ? The man who pleases God – the believer in Him! Don’t you just love it!!!
    All this is and more is written in a little book I wrote some time ago that I hope (with some help from someone who knows what he is doing) to convert it into a Kindle and ebook format.
    Anyway, well done George and keep them coming.
    Be blessed

    Ben Benson


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