A research paper published by Oxfam, published to coincide with the World Economic Forum at Davos in late January 2015, shows that the richest 1 percent have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014, and at this rate will be more than 50 percent by 2016. Members of this global elite had an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014.
In my view, the issue is less that the disparity between the rich “elite”‘ is widening, and more to do with how that rich “elite” use their power and influence. Provided people have enough to eat, good sanitation, clean water, safe housing and peaceful living environments, the issue of disparate incomes becomes less an issue of need , and more of perception and unfairness. Why should I be poor when you are rich, and you clearly have no more r right to those riches than I do, and certainly don’t use those riches in a way that benefits anyone other than yourself and your immediate clique?
The concern about the majority of the wealth and power and control resting with a minority of the word’s population is therefore not so much an issue of how the world’s “wealth” is shared, but the quality of the decisions that are now being made about our future world as a result of the disenfranchisement of decision-making from those who are connected to their local environment. That wealthy elite make their decisions on the property they own based almost exclusively on how much profit can be accrued through its exploitation.
The history of absentee landlords in Scotland and Ireland in the late 18th and 19th centuries is unequivocally clear on this, and a lesson for today , where more than 50% of the world will soon be owned owned by absentee owners.. The welfare of Scottish and Irish rentees on the land was of absolutely no concern to the landlord in most instances. Neither was the environmental destruction of the land of any concern, unless it impacted on profit or pleasure.
Those who remain connected to the land, particularly inter-generationally, have a much greater driver to ensure it remains sustainable for the long-term. Bad short-term decisions can undoubtedly still be made that destroy natural habitats and species, by those connected to the land, but an algorithm of exploitation based purely on short-term monetary gain, does not make sense to those who will inherit that land in the future.
As just one of so many examples, in New Zealand, the rise of dairy absentee millionaires and conglomerates who buy up large tracts of pasture land (which was once dense bush with a myriad of species within it) and then proceed to destroy the land through unsustainable exploitation of the water resources available to them and the long-term contamination of the water table with dairy foecal and nitrate pollutants. Once the profits have gone from the “business” and the land destroyed, those absentee landlords will take their money and move on to another more profitable exploitation option.
The rapid erosion of local ownership to land and property therefore is not simply and issue of equity or even poverty; but more importantly, just one more ingredient in that lethal recipe for environmental global disaster.