Charity organisation Oxfam launched on Monday a new campaign that highlights the problem of inequality around the world.
The charity said it’s “beyond grotesque” that the world’s eight richest men are worth £350 billion, which it says is equivalent to the wealth owned by 3.6 billion people, the poorer half of humanity.
Oxfam is, of course, entirely correct to point out that global inequality is a significant problem. And data published late last year suggests that the gulf between the rich and poor is getting worse, not better.
But Oxfam unfairly demonises the eight richest people in the world with barely a mention of the considerable good they do.
Oxfam’s press release for its campaign names the eight people whose wealth Oxfam described as “beyond grotesque”. At the top of the list is Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, but the press release makes no mention whatsoever of his considerable philanthropic work.
Since Oxfam hasn’t bothered to tell you about Bill Gates’ charity work, I will. Gates and his wife Melinda have given away over $28 billion (£23 billion) of his money to charity, with over $8 billion (£6 billion) going towards health efforts around the world. In 2014 Gates was America’s biggest philanthropist. The main focus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is trying to eradicate polio. Thanks to the charity’s work, that may become a possibility.
It’s only once you download Oxfam’s full 48-page report that you find any mention of Gates’ considerable philanthropic work. The report twice praises Gates’s “commendable efforts” to give away his fortune, but it’s buried away in a PDF document. Most people simply won’t notice it.
And what about the other seven richest people named by Oxfam? Sure enough, they are making considerable charitable efforts as well. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to give 99% of his wealth to charity. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has donated countless millions to charity, and funds a charity that’s run by his parents. Michael Bloomberg is the most generous living donor to any education institution in the United States.
Oxfam doesn’t mention any of those men’s charity work in its report, despite naming them in its press release as the faces of a “beyond grotesque” problem.
I’m not alone in finding Oxfam’s latest campaign misguided. Mark Littlewood, the director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said “once again Oxfam have come out with a report that demonises capitalism, conveniently skimming over the fact that free markets have helped over 100 million people rise out of poverty in the last year alone.”
And Mail on Sunday columnist Dan Hodges also found Oxfam’s attack on Gates to be wrongheaded. “Charity sector is intensely competitive,” he tweeted on Monday. “So there’s now an arms race going on over who can say the most ludicrous, and ‘newsworthy’ things.”
So what, you might ask, who cares about Oxfam naming and shaming the rich? Inequality is a big problem, and Oxfam is just pointing it out, right? I’m not sure it’s so simple.
By naming the eight richest men in the world and skirting around the good work they do, Oxfam is sending a dangerous message: Wealth is bad. If you’re a billionaire, you’re part of the problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re eradicating disease or giving away all but 1% of your fortune to charity.
Oxfam’s message, whilst important, is missing an important point: Just because you’re the public face of a “grotesque” wealth gap, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Indeed, it’s possible that Bill Gates may become the world’s greatest philanthropist. Let’s not demonise him for his success.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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