Davos: At World Economic Forum, Income Inequality A Major Concern

High in the Swiss Alps, the global wealth gap is being identified as a source of misery and unrest.

Participants in the annual World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland are citing worldwide income inequality as a problem that needs immediate attention, according to multiple reports. The political, cultural and business leaders convening in Switzerland this week are the latest group to express pointed concern over the growing gulf between the planet's richest and poorest citizens.

Several of the wealthiest Davos attendees have told the press that they believe the current lopsided distribution of wealth is unsustainable -- that the "global social-economic order will change, if we want it or not," in the words of one industrialist quoted in Bloomberg.

It's not just them. The Forum's annual Global Risks report names "severe income disparity" as the issue most likely to affect the world over the next 10 years. And a poll of Davos participants conducted by Bloomberg News found that more than half believe income inequality is bad for economic growth -- a conclusion also reached by the International Monetary Fund last year.

About two-thirds believe governments should take active steps to address the issue, the survey also found.

The Davos summit, taking place this week, comes after nearly a year of international protests inspired by a lack of economic opportunities, from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park, and on the heels of numerous studies showing much of the world's population struggling with deprivation.

It also comes just a day after President Barack Obama criticized the current level of wealth disparity in the U.S. during his State of the Union address, calling it "the defining issue of our time."

At the moment -- as one Davis panel discussed Wednesday -- 1 percent of the world's families control 40 percent of the wealth, and one third of the world's workers, or about 1.1 billion people, are either unemployed or impoverished. Historically, income inequality has been shown to correlate with social unrest, and the current conditions of scant opportunities and ever-more concentrated wealth have been linked to a rise in protests and civil disobedience worldwide.

The Occupy movement itself has established a presence at Davos, with a handful of protesters spending this week in igloos and staging demonstrations outside the conference center. One Occupier told reporters that he and his fellow protesters believe the wealthy and powerful Davos participants are more concerned with accruing profits than fostering social justice.

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