“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” - Karl Marx


The Dramatic Rise in Wealth Inequality

Oxfam has just produced a report in which it highlights the dramatic increase in wealth inequality that is occurring in India. The basic data it uses are from Credit Suisse which regularly brings out a Global Wealth Databook; and according to Credit Suisse the top 1 percent of the population in India cornered 73 percent of the additional wealth generated in the year 2017.

This is an incredible figure in itself. What is more, this percentage, which refers to the latest year, is higher than the overall figure that had prevailed prior to this year, which was 58 percent. The percentage at the margin being higher than the average percentage means that the average itself, already extremely high, is in the process of rising still further.

Growing wealth, and income, inequality, is not a phenomenon confined to India alone. It is a world-wide phenomenon which has now started worrying even the top leaders of the capitalist world who gather every year at Davos for the World Economic Forum. The threat of social instability that such growing economic inequality poses has placed it as a major item on the Davos agenda.

But where India stands out is that the growth of inequality here has been more rapid than elsewhere in the world, so much so that it now ranks among the most unequal societies anywhere. Compared for instance to the figure of 58 percent of total wealth that the top 1 percent owned in India prior to 2017, the corresponding figure for the world as a whole was 50 percent. And even though for the world as a whole the top 1 percent owned 82 percent of the addition to wealth in 2017 compared to 73 percent for India, the level of wealth inequality in the world will continue to remain below that in India in the foreseeable future.

What this suggests is that the underlying reason which is boosting wealth inequality everywhere is operating with even greater intensity in India. And this reason has primarily to do with the pursuit of neo-liberal economic policies. The growing wealth, and income, inequality is a necessary feature of neo-liberal capitalism. The "spontaneous" tendency of capitalism to produce "wealth at one pole and poverty at another" which had been somewhat restrained in the post-war years through State intervention, in response to the socialist threat and to the growth in working class strength that capitalism faced at the end of the second world war, has been reintroduced with a vengeance now, under neo-liberal capitalism.

There are at least five obvious ways in which neo-liberal capitalism boosts wealth inequality. The first is through the increase in income inequality that it brings about. Since the ratio of income that is saved (and hence added to the stock of assets) is greater for higher income groups, a shift in income distribution in favour of the latter increases both the overall ratio of savings (and asset formation) in total income, and also the share of the top asset-owners in total assets.

An example will make the point clear. Suppose, to start with, that the top 10 percent of the population owned assets worth 250 and earned an income of 50, while the bottom 90 percent had an asset of 50 and earned an income of 50; and suppose the former habitually save half of their income while the latter habitually save 10 percent of their income. Then the top 10 percent would save 25 and the bottom 90 percent 5, so that each group's asset grows by 10 percent, and there is no rise in wealth inequality.

But now if income distribution becomes 60 for the top 10 percent and 40 for the rest, then with the same savings ratios, the growth in assets is 34 or 11.3 percent of the pre-existing level; the top group's asset growth is 12 percent while the bottom group's asset growth is 8 percent. The top group's share in total assets increases from 83 to 84 percent. And if the increase in income inequality continues then the share of the top 10 percent would continue to rise.

The tendency under neo-liberalism is to keep worsening income distribution. This is because the number of jobs created under it falls woefully short of the number of job-seekers, which increases the relative size of the reserve army of labour, so that wages remain tied to a subsistence level even as labour productivity increases. The share of surplus accruing to the rich therefore keeps increasing over time under neo-liberal capitalism, entailing an increase in income, and hence wealth, inequality.

In the above example we assumed that the ratio of savings to income of each group remains unchanged when income distribution changes. In fact however consumption tends to be relatively sticky when income changes, in which case in the above example the savings of the top 10 percent would increase to 35 when their income rises to 60 (since consumption remains fixed at 25), and the savings of the bottom 90 percent would fall to minus 5 since their consumption remains 45 even as income falls to 40. In this new situation then, the share of the top 10 percent in total wealth increases from 83 to 86 percent.

This tendency for an increase in the share of wealth of the top percentiles becomes particularly pronounced when there is an absolute decline in the incomes of the bottom percentiles. And one reason among others why this happens in a neo-liberal regime is the privatization of essential services like education and healthcare which also makes them more expensive, so that the poor have to deplete their meagre stock of assets even to be able to afford a particular level of access to these services. This therefore is the second way in which a neo-liberal regime contributes to an increase in wealth inequality.

The third way in which a neo-liberal regime accentuates wealth inequality is through an intensive process of primitive accumulation of capital which it unleashes upon the economy. Through a variety of means, ranging from an outright takeover of petty property, including peasant property, (or its purchase "for a song"); to encroachment on common property; to appropriation of State property (which is built up through taxes imposed on ordinary people); to the sheer filching of bank credit from the public sector banks (what is commonly referred to as a build-up of their "Non-Performing Assets"), the big capitalists increase their share in the total wealth of the economy.

In fact primitive accumulation increases wealth concentration in two ways: one has just been discussed; it supplements the effect of what Marx had called "centralization of capital. The other way is that by squeezing peasants and petty producers it forces them out of their traditional occupations to migrate to cities where they join the ranks of the job seekers and hence swell the relative size of the reserve army of labour; this accentuates income inequality for reasons already discussed, and hence wealth inequality.

The fourth way that neo-liberalism promotes wealth inequality is by handing over tax concessions and tax breaks to the rich in the name of promoting higher economic growth. Such concessions directly increase wealth inequality. In addition since they are balanced by reducing government expenditure on education and healthcare, and thereby directly or indirectly privatizing these essential services, they contribute to the impoverishment of large segments of the ordinary people, which as we saw earlier, also increases wealth inequality.

The fifth way in which wealth inequality increases under neo-liberalism is through the formation of asset price bubbles. Speculative booms on the stock market or on other asset markets give a boost to the value of assets, because of which the top percentiles which figure prominently among the asset-holders find the absolute value of their wealth, and hence their share in total wealth, increasing quite sharply within a very short period.

This however raises a moot point. To what extent can an increase in the absolute amount of wealth and its share in the total caused by such a speculative boom be considered genuine? After all, just as a speculative bubble can boost the wealth of the top percentiles, the collapse of the bubble can reduce their wealth overnight; why then should a bubble-based increase in wealth inequality be a cause for concern?

It does however become a cause for concern because, again under a neo-liberal regime, governments try to prevent a collapse of the bubble (which would have seriously adverse repercussions on the economy) by sustaining it through various means. These range from fiscal support (such as what Obama had pledged in the U.S. to stem the effect on the financial system of the collapse of the housing bubble), to the commoditization of elements of nature like water and air (so that new profitable assets are introduced to keep the boom going), to the privatization of government assets such as "spectrum"(with the same objective). Hence the view that wealth acquired through an asset market bubble constitutes only fictitious wealth and should not therefore be a cause for concern, does not necessarily hold.

To be sure, wealth estimates, and hence estimates of wealth distribution, are fraught with a host of statistical difficulties. But, notwithstanding such difficulties, there is no gainsaying the fact that something extremely serious for our democracy and freedom is occurring through the extraordinary rise in wealth inequality.


  • River in a 'Court of Law' - Legal issues pertaining to its personality
  • Syria: A Testament To International Moral Bankruptcy
  • When the State Sought to Muzzle Privacy, U-Turn Now Only to Accommodate SC Verdict
  • The Bull in A China Shop Wrecks Indian Economy
  • When Buddha Looks The Other Way: The Plight Of The Rohingya
  • A Fatal Blow to The Judiciary
  • The Dramatic Rise in Wealth Inequality
  • Wild And Baseless Speculations of Crisis in the CPI(M)
  • Budget 2018: Fantabulous Schemes With Not A Paisa Earmarked
  • Kasganj: Sankalp Foundation and the Politics of Hate
  • PM Modi Sounds the Election Bugle: Congress and Hindutva the Agenda for 2019 Polls
  • The US Game Plan in Syria
  • Both Nehru and Patel Were the Need of the Hour in 1947-48
  • The Battle of the Two Begums of Bangladesh
  • Why Bangladesh Matters
  • Kejriwal's Apology is Not What the Media Claims
  • Arrest of a '5-minute Dalits' Proves Why SC/ST Act Dilution Will Grossly Impact Real Dalits
  • The Dalits and the Law
  • Winners May Be Losers In Karnataka's Catch 22 Endgame
  • Jinnah and the BJP
  • Jawaharlal Nehru (Nov 14 1889- May 27, 1964): We Still Live In A House That Nehru Built
  • Implications of Trump-Kim Summit: Nuclear Pays!
  • Thomas Reuters Foundation Survey: Measuring Safety, Generating Outrage
  • What Are People Voting for?
  • Foreign Policy: A Double Whammy Awaits India
  • Changing Discourse
  • Assam: The Mythology of "Immigrants"
  • Imran Time is Here
  • 71 Years on, Forsty Relations Countinue
  • To Stop Climate Change, We Need to Open Bordera
  • Make Use of Bid to Postpone Provincial Elections
  • Cringing and Fuddled at 71
  • Ensuring Strident Voice Will Not Become Majority Voice
  • Nehru, Vajpayee and Modi
  • Religious Bias Okayed
  • The Oslo Accords: A Bloody Legacy of Betrayal
  • Crushing the Campus
  • Three Stories And Task of The Office Of Missing Person
  • Drama Over Indo-Pak Meeting
  • An ill Wind
  • Symbolic Actions Alone Are Insufficient For Long Term Change To Occur
  • If Democracy Subverts Itself
  • Returning Land to Civilians is a Promise That Needs Follow Up
  • Democracy In Crisis: What we Know and What we Don't
  • Reparations Office Can Bind The Nations Together
  • Implementation Challenges Facing The Ayushman Bharat Program
  • Subverting the Central Bank
  • Under the Yoke of New-Imperialism: A Fake War of Patriotism and Treason
  • India Joins the Club
  • The Third Phase
  • President is Best Situated to Resolve Political Crisis
  • No Country for Adventure: Challenges Extreme Sports Athletes Face in India
  • Setting A Perilous Political Precedent
  • What Rahul and Modi can do in the Next Four Months
  • Finding a Win-Win Solution to Break the Deadlock
  • Temple in the Age of Colliders
  • Four Parameters of a Political Solution at This Time
  • Resolve National Question With President's Support
  • Decapitating the Leadership
  • Four Takeaways From the 2018 Election
  • Science of Words
  • The Ace up Modi's Sleeve
  • The Government Must Not Deny The TNA
  • The Prolonged Wait For Justice And For Political Leadership
  • Endgame in Afghanistan
  • Pluralist Ethos is More Relevant to National Identity
  • A Concerned Citizen's Points For Inclusion in The Manifesto of Political Parties
  • In My Own Voice: Circle of Unreason
  • RBI To The Rescue of Modi Government - It's Election Time!
  • Say No to War
  • A terrifying Fallout
  • The Type of Leadership The Country Needs
  • Death Wish as Nationalism
  • Politics on Kashmir Need Not be About Optics Alone
  • Why an Urban Job Guarantee Scheme is Not a Bad Idea
  • National Security: The New in 'New Normal'
  • Re-Promulgating an Ordinance is a Fraud on the Constitution
  • Elections 2019: India at a Crossroads
  • Peace and Inclusive Development
  • NYAY Providing Basic Income Fulfills the Vision of Mahatma Gandhi and Changed Election Narrative Based on Basic Issues
  • Advani Should Blame Himself For Promoting Modi
  • Kashmir: Tracing the Degeneration of Mainstream Politics
  • Elections and the Issue of Civil Liberties
  • Jumlanomics:Chronicles of a Post-Truth Bharat
  • BJP: Hiding Failures, Targeting Nehru
  • A Mayawati Moment
  • Godse is a Synonym of Hindu Nationalism, Agenda of the RSS Combine!
  • Development Beyond Numbers
  • A Rational Approach to Countering Extremist Violence is Needed
  • In My Own Voice: Is This the Sprit of Democracy?
  • Prevention is The Best Migration Cure
  • The Rise of Hate
  • The Right Mantras for India's Change
  • Coming Home - Where Family Overpowers All
  • Easter Sunday Bombing Used to Create a Major Rift in Sri Lankan Society
  • Hacking Humanity
  • Environmental Rule of Law in India
  • Peace is a Word That West Has Taken From Afghans
  • Trump's War Games
  • Modi & States
  • Who is an 'Outsider' in West Bengal?
  • China on Maps
  • 19th Amendment Will Correct Itself at End of President's Current Term
  • Authoritarianism and the Crisis of Public Ethics in India
  • Presidential Candidate The People Want
  • Has India's Kashmir Cape Given Pakistan Reason for War?
  • Icons and Ideology of Religious Nationalism
  • Why NRC in Assam May Create Another Kashmir
  • Campaign to Abolish the Executive Presidency in Sri Lanka is a Red Herring
  • As US Tries to Isolate Iran, China Steps In
  • Of Hindi and Hierarchy
  • Why Sri Lankan Elections May Bring Far Reaching Change
  • What US Policy Tells Us About India's Growing 'Friendship' With It
  • Gandhian Philosophy is a Critique of Modernity and Power
  • Inner Party Democracy is Just as Important as Funding
  • India's Foreign Policy Has Dug Itself a Deep Hole
  • 'Broken Promises' and Politics of Hate': Is Political Autonomy The Way Forward For J&K?
  • The Ninth Betrayal: America Has Let Down Khurd, Yet Again
  • Who Benefits From The WhatsApp Hacking Case?: Pertinent Question Left Unanswered
  • State Elections Results Expose "Limits" of BJP's Nationalist Agenda
  • "Religious Belief" vs. "Rule of Law": Did SC's Ayodhya Verdict Legalise Building of a Theocratic State?
  • What Does Trump's "New Refugee Ban" Mean for America's Immigrants?
  • India Must Change Course as Rajapaksas Return on Sinhala Buddhist Wave
  • The Supreme Court's First Judgment Without an Author
  • Geopolitics in South Asia Renders Millions Stateless
  • "Shakespeare's Vision of the Improbale" Unfolds: Is Modi Today's Macbeth?
  • Sri Lanka Under Rajapaksa: Finding Areas of Mutual Agreement
  • "The Game of Religion is Played by Men": Women Speak From the Margins of Ayodhya Dispute
  • Telangana Ecounter- Failure of Local Police Poses Grave Danger to Democracy
  • The Changing Nature of War and Diplomacy
  • Sri Lanka: Government's Cooperation A "Temporary Phenomenon"?
  • The Role of Corruption in This Season of Revolts
  • New Citizenship Law to a "Brazenly Divisive Agenda"
  • Youth Agitation Against CAA Brings a Historic Generational Shift
  • "Digital Authoritarianism": With Internet Shutdowns Normalised, the Digital Space is Democracy's New Battleground
  • Sri Lanka: The Challenge of Development Amidst Devolution of Power
  • The Political Divides that Split India
  • 'Never Again': Echoes of Nazi Crimes Remain Alive 75 Years After Auschwitz
  • "Legacy of Mutual Suspicion" Plagues Opponents of the Modi Regime
  • "Toxic" India Sliding into an Environmental Abyss
  • Manufacturing Hate: From Anurag Thakur's 'Shoot the Traitors' to Pistol-Bearing Youth's 'Yeh lo Azaadi!'
  • Kejriwal Isn't Communal, But His Desire Not to be Seen Anti-Hindu May Prove Self-Defeating
  • Religion States Won't Oppose US-Taliban Deal
  • Lessons From Pathogens: Coronavirus, A wake Up Call?
  • The Geopolitics of the Covid 19 Pandemic
  • Cold War Begins As Nations Fued Over Coronavirus
  • India Fights Coronavirus...With Scriptures, Morals and Police
  • The Burden of COVID 19
  • Do Israeli Settelemnts in Occupies West Bank Constitute a War Crime ?
  • The Global Debate on COVID-19 Lockdown: Listen to Divergent Scientific Voices or Risk Manipulation by Big Businesses?
  • Sri Lanka's Easter Bombings And The Demand For Justice
  • How India Can Solve the "Catch-22 Situation" of Allowing Migrant Workers to Return Home
  • The Time for Universal Basic Income Has Arrived
  • COVID-19 Crisis Exposes Fatal Weaknesses of 'Strong' Leaders
  • The Pandemic Has Taught Us the Importance of Maintaining an Ecological Balance, Will we Remember IT?
  • The Muslim Elite Has Let Down the Muslim Poor
  • "There is Nothing Nationalist or Non-Nationalist in Reporting"
  • Why WHO Took 3 Months to Declare a Global Pandemic
  • A Political Lockdown That Silences Voices
  • The 'Relief Package' of Online Education May End up "Institutionalising Drop Outs"
  • Can Democracy Survive the Coronavirus?
  • As China Ups the Ante, This is What India Must do...
  • Tackling Racism With Compassionate Reporting-CNN Leads The Way
  • Sri Lanka: Pluralism In Governance Required In The Absence of Parliament
  • Idia's Tactical Non-Solutions To China's Incursions in Ladakh
  • "At The Brink of A New Cold War": Sino-US Ties at a Crossroads
  • In Light of Rising Conservatism, Can The Personal be Political Again?
  • India-China: The Complete Breakdown of Trust, How and Why
  • Rethinking Development After Covid-19
  • The Pandemic Must Transform Our Agriculture
  • Treacherous Road to Make Manu History