The Oxfam Report is Important, But There’s More to the Story
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
Prior to the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam International made waves with its latest report on global inequality. In particular, one “shock value” finding made headlines: eight men now combine to have the same wealth as half of the world’s population, or 3.6 billion people.
Today’s chart breaks down who these men are and how much they own in terms of assets. But, it also serves as a springboard to dive into a few other thoughts on the Oxfam report, inequality, philanthropy, and eradicating poverty.
The Giving Pledge
When I saw the headline from the Oxfam report, one of my first thoughts was: how many of these billionaires have signed The Giving Pledge?
The Giving Pledge was launched in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. It’s stated goal is to “help address society’s most pressing problems” by inviting “the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy”. So far, it’s been signed by 139 individuals with commitments of $732 billion.
Of the eight people at the top of the wealth pyramid, the majority has signed The Giving Pledge including: Bill Gates (co-founder), Warren Buffett (co-founder), Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and Michael Bloomberg.
Three of the eight billionaires haven’t signed the pledge. Jeff Bezos is included in that mix, and he has faced some criticism over the fact. The other two that have not signed yet are Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega and Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helú.
At the end of the day, signing the Giving Pledge is not yet equivalent to “walking the walk” in helping to solve pressing problems like poverty or inequality. However, people like Gates and Buffett have already made a huge difference to charitable causes.
Here’s what Warren Buffett recently said about his fortune:
In my entire lifetime, everything that I’ve spent will be quite a bit less than 1 percent of everything I make. The other 99 percent plus will go to others because it has no utility to me. So it’s silly for me to not transfer that utility to people who can use it.
Buffett is one of the world’s best investors – and if he continues to invest his money wisely into philanthropy, the result will likely be something that even Oxfam can be proud of.
The Poor Are Actually Getting Richer
While the sensational fact that headlined the Oxfam report is certainly alarming and important, it also misses some noteworthy context.
People in many of the world’s poorest nations aren’t getting poorer – they are actually getting much richer. The number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990.
Here’s another way to show it – and perhaps this is where the emotional pain points arise:
The poorest and richest cohorts of the global population, along with the Asian middle class, all got much richer over the last two decades.
The American middle class, however, was not so lucky. Median income for 81% of U.S. counties actually peaked back in 1999, and other Western countries are facing similar inequality challenges.
One Last Chart
The final chart here is courtesy of Swedish author and historian Johan Norberg, who wrote a sarcastic response to the Oxfam report:
If we don't end neoliberalism we'll see more of what happened in the last 25 years, warns Oxfam. pic.twitter.com/i1CH3dswFY
— Johan Norberg (@johanknorberg) January 17, 2017
Oxfam and many others are rightly concerned about inequality. But, for the people that need it most, things continue to get better. Such a narrative is not sexy enough for a click-driven media that thrives on sensational or emotional soundbites.
Here’s one final quote from Norberg worth considering:
Part of our problem is one of success. As we get richer, our tolerance for global poverty diminishes. So we get angrier about injustices. Charities quite rightly wish to raise funds, so they draw our attention to the plight of the world’s poorest. But since the Cold War ended, extreme poverty has decreased from 37 per cent to 9.6 per cent — in single digits for the first time in history.
Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?
The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. How have the most competitive economies shifted in the past decade?
Ranked: Which Economies Are the Most Competitive?
What makes a country successful from an economic perspective? Many think of this in terms of GDP per capita—but in a rapidly changing world, our definitions of progress have evolved to encompass much more.
This animated Chart of the Week visualizes 10 years of global competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum, and tracks how rankings have changed in this time.
How Do You Measure Competition?
The WEF’s annual Global Competitiveness Report defines the concept of ‘competitiveness’ as an economy’s productivity—and the institutions, policies, and factors which shape this.
This year’s edition unpacks the national competitiveness of 141 countries, using the newly-introduced Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 4.0 which looks at four key metrics:
- Enabling Environment
Includes: Institutions, Infrastructure, ICT Adoption*, Macroeconomic Activity
*Refers to information and communications technology
- Human Capital
Includes: Health, Skills
Includes: Product Market, Labor Market, Financial System, Market Size
- Innovation Ecosystem
Includes: Business Dynamics, Innovation Capability
Each country’s overall competitiveness score is an average of these 12 main pillars of productivity. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the countries which emerge triumphant.
The Most Competitive: Movers and Shakers
The world’s top countries excel in many fields—but there can only be one #1. In 2019, Singapore wins the coveted “most competitive economy” title, with a 84.8 score on the GCI.
The nation’s developed infrastructure, health, labor market, and financial system have all propelled it forward—swapping with the U.S. (83.7) for the top spot. However, more can be done, as the report notes Singapore still lacks press freedom and demonstrates a low commitment to sustainability.
How have the current scores of the most competitive economies improved or fallen behind, compared to 2018?
|Rank||Economy||2019 Score||2018 Score||2018-2019 Change|
|#2||🇺🇸 United States||83.7||85.6||-2|
|#3||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||83.1||82.3||+0.9|
|#9||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||81.2||82||-0.8|
Finland (80.2) and Canada (79.6) are notable exits from this top 10 list over the years. Meanwhile, Denmark (81.2) disappeared from the rankings for five years, but managed to climb back up in 2018.
Regional Competitiveness: Highs and Lows
Another perspective on the most competitive economies is to look at how countries fare within regions, and how these regions compete among each other.
Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the widest gap in competitiveness scores—Israel (76.7) scores over double that of poorest-performing Yemen (35.5). Interestingly, the MENA region showed the most progress, growing its median score by 2.77% between 2018-2019.
The narrowest gap is actually in South Asia, with just a single-digit difference between India (61.4) and Nepal (51.6). However, the region also grew the slowest, with only 0.08% increase in median score over a year.
|Region||Best Performer||2019 Score||Worst Performer||2019 Score||Regional
|Europe and North America||🇺🇸 United States||83.7||🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina||54.7||29|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||🇨🇱 Chile||70.5||🇭🇹 Haiti||36.3||34.2|
|East Asia and Pacific||🇸🇬 Singapore||84.8||🇱🇦 Laos||50.1||34.7|
|South Asia||🇮🇳 India||61.4||🇳🇵 Nepal||51.6||9.8|
|Eurasia||🇷🇺 Russia||66.7||🇹🇯 Tajikistan||52.4||14.3|
|Middle East and North Africa||🇮🇱 Israel||76.7||🇾🇪 Yemen||35.5||41.2|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||🇲🇺 Mauritius||64.3||🇹🇩 Chad||35.1||29.2|
Across all regions, the WEF found that East Asia’s 73.9 median score was the highest. Europe and North America were not far behind with a 70.9 median score. This is consistent with the fact that the most competitive economies have all come from these regions in the past decade.
As all these countries race towards the frontier—an ideal state where productivity growth is not constrained—the report notes that competitiveness “does not imply a zero-sum game”. Instead, any and all countries are capable of improving their productivity according to the GCI measures.
Which Companies Are Responsible For the Most Carbon Emissions?
Since 1965, over ⅓ of the world’s cumulative carbon emissions can be traced back to just 20 fossil fuel companies. Who are the biggest contributors?
20 Companies Responsible For the Most Carbon Emissions?
Since 1965, it’s estimated over 1.35 million metric tons (MtCO₂e) of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere—and over a third can be traced back to just 20 companies.
This week’s chart draws on a dataset from the Climate Accountability Institute, and highlights the companies which have been responsible for the most carbon emissions in the past half-century.
The Sum of their Carbon Emissions
Between 1965-2017, the top 20 companies have contributed 480,169 MtCO₂e in total carbon emissions, or 35% of cumulative global emissions. This whopping amount is mostly from the combustion of their products—each company on this chart deals in fossil fuels.
The largest contributor? Saudi Aramco, the national petroleum and natural gas company of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco actually comes in first on another list as well—it’s the most profitable company, making over $304 million daily.
However, this financial gain came at a significant cost: the state-owned giant’s operations have resulted in 59,262 MtCO₂e in carbon emissions since 1965. To put that into perspective, this total is more than six times China’s emissions in 2017 alone (9,838 MtCO₂e).
Explore the full list of companies by location, who owns them, and their total 1965–2017 emissions count below:
|Company||Country||Ownership||All Emissions, MtCO₂e|
|Total Emissions||480,169 MtCO₂e|
|Saudi Aramco||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||State-owned||59,262|
|Exxon Mobil||🇺🇸 U.S.||Investor-owned||41,904|
|National Iranian Oil Co.||🇮🇷 Iran||State-owned||35,658|
|Royal Dutch Shell||🇳🇱 Netherlands||Investor-owned||31,948|
|Coal India||🇮🇳 India||State-owned||23,124|
|Petroleus de Venezuela||🇻🇪 Venezuela||State-owned||15,745|
|Peabody Energy||🇺🇸 U.S.||Investor-owned||15,385|
|Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.||🇦🇪 UAE||State-owned||13,840|
|Kuwait Petroleum Corp.||🇰🇼 Kuwait||State-owned||13,479|
|Iraq National Oil Co.||🇮🇶 Iraq||State-owned||12,596|
|Total SA||🇫🇷 France||Investor-owned||12,352|
|BHP Billiton||🇦🇺 Australia||Investor-owned||9,802|
A Greener Business Model?
According to the researchers, all the companies that show up in today’s chart bear some responsibility for knowingly accelerating the climate crisis even after proven scientific evidence.
In fact, U.S.-based Exxon Mobil is currently on trial for misleading investors: the company downplayed the effect of climate change on its profitability, while internal calculations proved to be much larger. It also sowed public doubt on the immense impacts of rising greenhouse gas levels on the planet.
Growing sustainability and environmental concerns threaten the viability of old business models for these corporations, causing many to pivot away from the fossil fuel focus. Take BP for example—originally named British Petroleum, the company embraced “Beyond Petroleum” as its new rallying cry. More recently, it launched a carbon footprint calculator and is committed to keeping its carbon emissions flat into 2025.
The first step to reducing your emissions is to know where you stand. Find out your #carbonfootprint with our new calculator & share your pledge today!— BP (@BP_plc) October 22, 2019
However, the Climate Accountability Institute argues that more can still be done, with the researchers calling for these companies to reduce their fossil fuel production in the near future.
Continued pressure on these “Big Oil” companies to peak their carbon emissions, and urgently increase their renewable energy investment, may help curb the climate crisis before it’s too late.
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