The hijacking of Oxfam by the politicised left is nothing short of a tragedy. It’s heartbreaking to see a charity that has built up so much goodwill from so many people being used by activists as a vehicle for global class war. As a result, Oxfam is switching its focus away from global poverty towards something very different: wealth inequality.
It has today come up with some questionable figures suggesting that the richest 1 per cent will soon own over 50 per cent of the wealth. Here is Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, with a message she intends to give before she heads off to Davos:
'We see a concentration of wealth capturing power and leaving ordinary people voiceless and their interests uncared for… The scale of global inequality is quite simply staggering and despite the issues shooting up the global agenda, the gap between the richest and the rest is widening fast.'
She didn’t have space, it seems, in her Guardian interview or in the Oxfam research to point out that right now global poverty has been declining faster than at any point in human history.
Even if Oxfam's forecast came true, you have to ask: isn’t the charity supposed to be worried about the poor, rather than obsessing about the rich? Its adverts want to you believe that age-old (and laughably incorrect) trope that the poor are poor because the rich are rich: that wealth is a pie, and the powerful are helping themselves to an ever-larger slice. In fact wealth is something that people generate, and on a global basis more of it is being generated than ever before. This ought to be celebrated, because the pie is bigger than ever before - this is translating into fewer hungry people than ever before.
BBC Radio earlier had someone on from Oxfam saying that the shocking wealth of the 1pc stood alongside the fact that 'one in nine' go to bed hungry. Oxfam wants you to believe that the two are somehow linked. There is a link between wealth and global poverty - the more of the former, the less of the latter.
It's true that one in nine (about 12 per cent) of the world is undernourished. But what Oxfam does not say is that this rate has plummeted since global capitalism really took (i.e., off after the fall of the Berlin Wall). The United Nations has been keeping tabs on this - below (link: pdf).
Of course, hunger is only one of the killers of the world's poor. How is all of this inequality that Oxfam complains about affecting the others? Answer: global prosperity is being converted into better medicine and healthcare for those who need it the most. Chinese investment in Africa is now a major factor in helping Africans do things for themselves.
The Oxfam report is stuffed with the usual leftist cliches. It wants to review
existing public subsidies for health and education provision by private for-profit companies
private being evil, of course. Oxfam says it's time to "redistribute money and power from the few to the many". In fact, global poverty is falling because people are doing it for themselves - with the helping hand of free trade. Oxfam prefers to think of people as helpless, waiting for its handouts. Its posters reinforce damaging stereotype images (see above), which damage the dignity of Africans as well as belittle their own achivements.
Here is another graph that you'll never see in an Oxfam report, published in last month's edition of The Lancet:
We are, right now, living through the golden age of poverty reduction. Anyone serious about tackling global poverty (and I’m afraid we have to exclude Oxfam from this category) has to accept that whatever we’re doing now, it’s working – so we should keep doing it. We are on the road to an incredible goal: the abolition of poverty as we know it, within our lifetime.
Those who care more about helping the poor than hurting the rich will celebrate the fact - and urge leaders to make sure that free trade and global capitalism keep spreading. It's the only true way to make poverty history.
PS And Oxfam is also wrong to scream about an "inequality explosion" - things may have been getting worse for the last two or three years but the longer view is of global inequality falling. (hat tip: John Rentoul).