As world leaders, influential business minds and financiers gather in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, there has been an undercurrent of conversation driven by a number of high-profile figures. In a statement to the press ahead of the summit (and a subsequent guest article on the Guardian.com), Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, was quoted in an attack on the world's wealthy. "The fact that a super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us at home and overseas shows how warped our economy has become," he comments, in a release entitled, "Eight people own same wealth as half the world."
Global poverty is incredibly complex. Inequality throughout the world will not be completely eradicated by – in Golding's words – "a group of men who could easily fit in a single golf buggy [that] own more than the poorest half of humanity." Of course, vast sums of money given to any cause will alleviate a number of problems, but they would not solve issues of governmental corruption, deep-seated cultural issues or environmental factors that hamper equality. Redistribution of wealth isn't as easy as the tale of Robin Hood suggests.
In fact, although there are many different ways to measure change, there are studies that have shown global inequality falling in recent years. According to this study by Our World in Data (a project produced by the University of Oxford), since 1975, there has been a huge change in equality across the world. "Over the following four decades the world income distribution has changed dramatically. The poorer countries, especially in South-East Asia, have caught up [...] the incomes of the world's poorest citizens have increased and poverty has fallen faster than ever before in human history," the study reports. However, admittedly, there is still work to be done and the world is far from perfect.
We are all aware of The Giving Pledge and the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and these are just a small number who represent the growing consciousness of millionaires and billionaires across the globe that are committed to good causes. Within the yachting sphere specifically, let's look at the Research Expedition Vessel (REV) project (read my interview with the project's CEO here), Ray Dalio's work on M/V Alucia or Ted Waitt's Plan b. These projects are changing the way that yacht owners are seeing their vessels, and the good that can be achieved with them. From Alucia's work with the BBC for Blue Planet, or the REV, which will be designated as a scientific platform for research communities across the globe, owners are waking up to the fact that these incredible assets are able to give back to the environment they inhabit. These, as well as the many others whose philanthropic endeavours are not publicised, don't fit in with the rhetoric perpetuated by 'the one per cent' conversations.
Aside from the oceanographic research outlined above, when you look at the superyacht industry on a broader level, yachts in particular are easy to target; they are large, gleaming objects that everyone knows are expensive. Yet, it is hard to deny their economic impact. A recent study by The Superyacht Intelligence Agency illustrated how one 80-90m yacht with guests can contribute $125,000 per week to a local economy, with scope for an additional $8,000 when accounting for crew activities ashore. This also doesn't take into consideration the design and build of the vessels (figures recently released by British Marine indicate that the superyacht and maritime industry contributes £1.11 billion to the UK economy). Similarly, Superyacht Australia conducted a comprehensive impact study in 2017, which revealed that the superyacht market contributed $1.97 billion to Australia's GDP in 2016.
Despite Oxfam's statistical approach to their figures being widely discredited (looking at net wealth rather than gross wealth distorts the findings significantly), in some ways I agree with Goldring, those with considerable assets can give more, just as everyone can give more. But instead of alienating 'the one per cent', blaming them for the world's considerable poverty...let's engage with them, let's showcase and celebrate the work that many UHNWIs are doing. The conversation surrounding wealth inequality is hugely important, and those with large assets can impact the world in a remarkable way, but by vilifying their existence, we won't achieve anything.
In the next issue of The Superyacht Report, we speak to project director of the REV project, George Gill, and further explore the growing trend of using vessels for philanthropic causes. See if you're eligible for a complimentary VIP subscription by clicking here. To learn more about The Superyacht Intelligence Agency business packages for 2018, click here.
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