In January 2015, Oxfam, an international nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate poverty, published a report stating that 1 percent of the global population will own more wealth than the rest of the 99 percent combined by 2016. The Oxfam report provided evidence that extreme inequality is not inevitable, but is, in fact, the result of political choices and economic policies established and maintained by the power elite, wealthy individuals whose strong influence keeps the status quo rigged in their own favor. In addition to reporting the latest figures on global economic inequality and its consequences, the Oxfam study outlined a nine-point plan that governments could adopt in creating new policies to address poverty and economic inequality.
According to the Oxfam report, the proportion of global wealth owned by the 1 percent has increased from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014 and is projected to reach 50 percent in 2016. In October 2014, a prior Oxfam report, “Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Poverty,” revealed that the number of billionaires worldwide had more than doubled since the 2009 financial crisis, showing that, although those at the top have recovered quickly, the vast majority of the world’s population are far from reaping the benefits of any recent economic recovery. Even more staggering, the world’s richest eighty-five people now hold the same amount of wealth as half the world’s poorest population. “Failure to tackle inequality will leave hundreds of millions trapped in poverty unnecessarily,” the report’s authors warned.
Through its reports and the “Even It Up” campaign, Oxfam described how to address economic inequality, identifying nine specific actions:
1. Make governments work for citizens and tackle extreme inequality.
2. Promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights.
3. Pay workers a living wage and close the gap created by skyrocketing executive rewards.
4. Share the tax burden fairly to level the playing field.
5. Close international tax loopholes and fill holes in tax governance.
6. Achieve universal free public services by 2020.
7. Change the global system for research and development and pricing of medicines so everyone has access to appropriate and affordable medicines.
8. Implement a universal social protection floor.
9. Target development finance at reducing inequality and poverty, and strengthening the compact between citizens and their government.
Oxfam calculated that taxing billionaires just 1.5 percent of their wealth “could raise $74 billion a year, enough to fill the annual gaps in funding needed to get every child into school and to deliver health services in the world’s poorest countries.”
Corporate coverage of the two Oxfam reports has been minimal in quantity and problematic in quality. A few corporate television networks, including CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, FOX, and C-SPAN covered Oxfam’s January report, according to the TV News Archive. CNN had the most coverage with approximately seven broadcast segments from January 19 to 25, 2015. However, these stories aired between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., far from primetime. Other coverage focused on Obama’s push for tax reform. CBS and MSNBC ran segments with this focus four times between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m., January 20–21, 2015, with the exception of one MSNBC story, broadcast on February 2, 2015, at 12:00 p.m. ABC covered the story once on January 19, 2015. FOX also covered the story once on January 19, 2015, questioning Oxfam’s motives for releasing the report just before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Forbes was consistently critical in its coverage of the two Oxfam reports. For instance, Forbes columnist Tim Worstall summarized his response to the October 2014 Oxfam report in these terms: “The last 40 years of market fundamentalism have led to the largest reduction in absolute poverty in the history of the human race. Oxfam, a charity that claims to be concerned about absolute poverty, therefore insists that we must reverse market fundamentalism.” Subsequent Forbes coverage of the January report was, if anything, more dismissive. USA Today covered the January Oxfam report, but mentioned none of the organization’s proposed solutions to spiraling inequality.
In sum, much of the corporate news coverage was brief, broadcast at odd hours (either late at night or early in the morning when not that many people were watching), questioned the report, and/or focused on Obama’s tax reforms rather than the Oxfam reports’ contents. In contrast with independent news coverage, none of the televised stories addressed details of the Oxfam reports, such as the organization’s nine-point plan. The Oxfam studies received better coverage in the international press.
Larry Elliott and Ed Pilkington, “New Oxfam Report Says Half of Global Wealth Held by the 1%,” Guardian, January 19, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/19/global-wealth-oxfam-inequality-davos-economic-summit-switzerland.
Sarah Dransfield, “Number of Billionaires Doubled Since Financial Crisis as Inequality Spirals Out of Control–Oxfam,” Oxfam, October 29, 2014, http://www.oxfam.org.uk/blogs/2014/10/number-of-billionaires-doubled-since-financial-crisis-as-inequality-spirals-out-of-control.
Samantha Cowan, “Every Kid on Earth Could Go to School If the World’s 1,646 Richest People Gave 1.5 Percent,” TakePart, November 3, 2014, http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/11/03/worlds-wealthiest.
Student Researchers: Izzy Michaelson (Pitzer College) and Inna Tounkel (Scripps College)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)