Oxfam Report: Two Irish billionaires own more than 50% of population

By Cathal Curran

Just two Irish billionaires own more wealth than 50% of the population combined. This obscene but unfortunately not surprising statistic was published by Oxfam Ireland in a new report on inequality. It is a further demonstration of growing wealth inequality caused by a capitalist system that actually promotes such billionaires as god-like figures, rather than the parasitic egomaniacs they are.

The report also revealed that 35.4% of financial wealth in Ireland is held by just 1% of the population. This 1% includes capitalists such as the beef baron Larry Goodman, whose operations are destroying our climate, as well as those such as Pat McDonagh, owner of Supermac’s, whose company’s degrading working conditions, including wage theft and overworking, are key to making profits for this poor Irish imitation of the worst American junk food chains.

Systemic problem

Continuously worsening inequality is inherent to capitalist society. Virtueless bosses are given carte blanche to wring and squeeze their employees – to get more value from their work than it costs to pay them. 

They can do this because in a capitalist economy workers are forced to sell their ability to work in order to get the money they need to live. But workers get back in wages or salaries far less than the value they have created for the capitalist. This difference between the value workers add to a company and the lower wages they are paid is what profits are made of. So profits are the essential ingredient in the wealth of big businesses and billionaires, and in the relative poverty of billions of workers.

Capitalists have every incentive, not least competition from capitalist rivals, to widen this gap to increase profits and dividends for shareholders. This is then reflected in statistics like those from the Oxfam report, such as that the world’s five richest men have more than doubled their fortunes since 2020 – from $405 billion to $869 billion, while five billion people have been made poorer!

Taxes alone not enough

While calls for wealth taxes, which Oxfam highlights in its report, are welcome as a means of tackling this inequality, the truth is taxes alone, no matter how heavy, are not enough. We need to dismantle the very system that produces such vast inequality, otherwise the problem will only be partially dealt with, before it eventually returns in a worse form. Rather than merely attempt to claw back some of the one percent’s vast wealth after they have grifted it off the workers they employ, we need to reappropriate the means to produce that wealth – through nationalisation and democratic planning of the key sections of the economy under workers’ control and management.

A society that produces such wealth disparity is a deeply depraved one. The majority of people are seeing their lives get more difficult, as wages fail to keep pace with inflation. Those at the very top of the income scale however are seeing their riches expand to levels never before seen in history. Severe wealth inequality is a ticking social time bomb. The effects of its explosion could hardly make things worse. But to make things better once and for all, that explosion needs to be controlled by a working-class and youth movement for a socialist alternative. 

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