Oxfam's whining on about wealth inequality again


We think it rather sad to see the decline of an organisation. This is true whether we're talking about the steel works at Port Talbot or the frantic scrabbling around that Oxfam is indulging in:

The vast and growing gap between rich and poor has been laid bare in a new Oxfam report showing that the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.

Timed to coincide with this week’s gathering of many of the super-rich at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, the report calls for urgent action to deal with a trend showing that 1% of people own more wealth than the other 99% combined.

As we mentioned last year when they proffered the same numbers there's almost certainly more of the 1% working for Oxfam than there are billionaires in the world. However, to that point about tempus mutandis, eheu fugaces. We do not glory in the jobs that are being lost as a result of technological change in the steel industry, nor do we cackle with glee at the sight of Oxfam's thrashing around for a new mission. But we will describe the situation as being exactly the same: the problems that brought each organisation into being have largely been solved, or at least we now know how to solve them. Therefore said organisations are attempting to find some new mission to keep the show on the road: Oxfam more successfully than Tata Steel.

Blast furnaces, now that we recycle much more old iron and steel, well, we simply need fewer of them. So, thus, some of those blast furnaces are closing. Very sad, the people working in them deserve and will get our help in reorganising their lives. Oxfam faces a different problem. It was originally set up to provide emergency famine relief and then morphed into being more about general development work in the poorest parts of the world. A worthy cause, both in fact, no doubt about it.

And yet that alleviation of poverty, that aid in development, we now know more about how to do it. It is, as Madsen Pirie here continually describes it, a matter of us all buying things made by poor people in poor countries. Let that free market, globalised in tooth and claw, rip and almost miraculously development proceeds and poverty recedes. As has in fact been happening over this past generation. We've seen the largest reduction in human poverty in the entire history of our species as we've simply allowed market forces to take effect. The World Bank announced in the autumn that, by the end of 2015, we would have less than 10% of humanity still stuck in that utter destitution of abject peasant poverty, for the first time ever as either a species or a civilisation.

We know now how to achieve Oxfam's task: and it doesn't require Oxfam to achieve it. Thus their thrashing around to find something else to do: for as C. Northcote Parkinson pointed out the only purpose of any organisation or bureaucracy is to perpetuate the existence of that organisation or bureaucracy. Which is why Oxfam is protesting that wealth inequality, the result of the very process that it was originally set up to achieve. As the world is becoming richer, as global income inequality is falling, it's entirely unsurprising to see wealth inequality rising. Oxfam was set up to achieve the first: now that it's working and we don't need them any more they struggle to find something else to do and thus the switch.

All rather sad really but there it is: technological change in poverty reduction leaves some marginalised just as much as technological change in the steel industry does. And our reaction should be the same too: aid those affected in making the necessary changes, don't prop up the organisations that are no longer needed.