September 21, 2023

What should rich people do to help the world?

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director, Oxfam International, Kenya, 
Vahagn Khachaturyan, President of Armenia, 
Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), New York, 
Amit Stibbe, Founder and Director, Vital Capital Environment, Cyprus, 
Madeleine von Holzen, Editor-in-Chief, Temps, Switzerland, speaking in the A Cost of Living Crisis session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 24 May, 2022. Studio. Copyright: World Economic Forum / Boris Baldinger

It’s Davos week, so I just checked… and I qualify for writing a global “we are the 99 percent” blog! Indeed, my household is actually all the way toward the bottom end of the 99th income percentile worldwide (the lower cutoff is around $200,000 for a family of four). So, what do I think the 1 percenters should do? Here are five things to be going on with:

  1. Be humble. Do you know the chance you’d be in the top 1 percent globally as an adult today if you’d been born in a household living on less than $2 per day per person in one of the world’s poorest countries—especially if you were born a girl, from a minority group, perhaps with disabilities? Nor do I, but I do know it would round to zero. The considerable majority of your income is down to luck, especially over where, when, and to whom you were born.
  2. Pay more taxes—because inequality is probably pretty bad for everyone, and government taxes and transfers can reduce inequality (not just at home—across borders too). But also, because if you really want something big done, you need a government to do it. Last I calculated, even Jeff Bezos was only worth about the same as how much the US government spends every couple of weeks.
  3. Try to avoid living off welfare. While safety nets really help poorer people and countries get better off, you are rich already. And yet if you own a (bit of a) company you may well be taking billions in over-priced no-bid contracts, government subsidies, and tax benefits, for example (nonprofits and individuals are not immune either).
  4. Help make sure everyone benefits from globalization the way you benefit from globalization. For example, how many of the billionaires attending Davos had trouble getting a visa, do you think? Rich people can comparatively easily attain the right to move almost anywhere (you can buy it or you can get in for having skills you were privileged to acquire). Poorer people should have that right, too –it can make them a lot richer.
  5. Don’t be a hypocrite. You know who is more responsible for climate change than a person who uses less electricity each year than consumed by the average US fridge (which is above the average in the poorest countries)? You are! By orders of magnitude. Don’t say “overpopulation is the problem,” don’t claim “they can’t afford to use fossil fuels.” This isn’t about them, this is about you.

And of course, all of the above also applies to me… and to most of you reading this blog, because on any reasonable global definition, you are probably rich, too.

This opinion article was written by Charles Kenny, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development

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