A general view of the low-income neighboUrhood known as Boca la Caja next to the business district in Panama City . REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Will Oremus looks at the vicious cycle created by staggering global inequalities.

 We’ve long known that life isn’t fair and that the world’s wealth is unevenly distributed.

But the latest factoid from Oxfam on global poverty and inequality is breathtaking.

In a new report, the non-profit organisation reports that just 85 people – the richest of the world’s rich – hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion. That’s half the world’s population.

In other words, the top 0.00000001 percent are worth as much as the bottom 50 percent combined.

The top one percent, meanwhile, control nearly half the world’s wealth, or 65 times as much as the world’s less-fortunate half.

On a country-by-country basis, the filthy rich have only been getting richer.

Between 1980 and 2012, the wealthiest one percent increased their share of the spoils in 24 of the 26 countries Oxfam surveyed. This includes the US, where the wealthiest one percent have captured 95 percent of all economic growth since the 2008 financial crisis, while the bottom 90 percent have become poorer.

Oxfam’s concern is not just that half the world’s population could be bought and sold by a group who could fit in a single large boardroom. It’s that this staggering disparity creates a vicious cycle.

Oxfam is concerned that, left unchecked, this would lead to “opportunity capture” – in which the the best education and best health care are claimed by the children of the rich.

This means the cycles of advantage would be continued across generations.

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Slate / The Washington Post News Service