Ten richest men double fortunes in pandemic

January 19, 2022 - 18:39

And that’s while incomes of 99 percent of the rest of humanity has fallen. According to Oxfam, new billionaires made so much money every 26 hours, as inequality contributes to the death of one person every four seconds 

The poverty and economic justice advocacy group says the world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion, at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3 billion a day, during the first two years of a pandemic that has seen the incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall and over 160 million more people forced into poverty. 

Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher explains “If these ten men were to lose 99.999 percent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 percent of all the people on this planet. They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people.”

In a new briefing “Inequality Kills,” published for the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, Oxfam says that inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or one person every four seconds. 

Even that is a conservative number based on deaths globally from lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger, and climate breakdown.

In a statement Bucher said “it has never been so important to start righting the violent wrongs of this obscene inequality by clawing back elites’ power and extreme wealth including through taxation, getting that money back into the real economy and to save lives”

Billionaires’ wealth has risen more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years. At $5 trillion dollars, this is the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since records began. 

To put that into perspective, Oxfam’s report says a one-off 99-percent tax on the ten richest men’s “pandemic windfalls”, could pay to: 

One: make enough vaccines for the world. And two: provide universal healthcare and social protection, fund climate adaptation, and reduce gender-based violence in over 80 countries

And quite astonishingly, that would still leave these men $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.

The report calling for a new tax targeting the world's wealthiest follows an investigation into the taxes of billionaires, published by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica last year, which found that the ultra-wealthy are able to use legal loopholes to avoid paying taxes on wealth gains.

The Oxfam International Executive Director says “billionaires have had a terrific pandemic. Central banks pumped trillions of dollars into financial markets to save the economy, yet much of that has ended up lining the pockets of billionaires riding a stock market boom” 

She adds “vaccines were meant to end this pandemic, yet rich governments allowed pharma billionaires and monopolies to cut off the supply to billions of people. The result is that every kind of inequality imaginable risks rising. The predictability of it is sickening. The consequences of it kill”. 

Oxfam describes extreme inequality as a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that maintain the wealth and power of a privileged few result in direct harm to the vast majority of ordinary people across the world and the planet itself. 

Bucher points out that the “world’s response to the pandemic has unleashed this economic violence particularly acutely across racialized, marginalized and gendered lines” 

The pandemic has hit racialized groups the hardest. According to Oxfam, during the second wave of the pandemic in England, people of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the White British population. Black people in Brazil are 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White people. In the US, 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White people, this is directly linked to historical racism and colonialism.  

The global charity movement warns inequality between countries is expected to rise for the first time in a generation. It argues that developing countries (denied access to sufficient vaccines because of rich governments’ protection of pharmaceutical corporations’ monopolies) have been forced to slash social spending as their debt levels spiral and now face the prospect of austerity measures. 

The proportion of people with COVID-19 who die from the virus in developing countries is roughly double that in rich countries.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed openly both the motive of greed, and the opportunity by political and economic means, by which extreme inequality has become an instrument of economic violence,”  Bucher said. “After years now of researching and campaigning on the issue, this is the shocking but inevitable conclusion that Oxfam has had to reach today.”

Oxfam also says that despite the huge cost of fighting the pandemic, in the past two years rich country governments have failed to increase taxes on the wealth of the richest and continued to privatize public goods such as vaccine science. They have encouraged corporate monopolies to such a degree that in the pandemic period alone, the increase in market concentration threatens to be more in one year than in the past 15 years from 2000 to 2015. 

“Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance,” Bucher said. “Not only have our economic structures made all of us less safe against this pandemic, they are actively enabling those who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit.”

The global charity movement also recommends that governments urgently:

1. Clawback the gains made by billionaires by taxing this huge new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes.

2. Invest the trillions that could be raised by these taxes toward progressive spending on universal healthcare and social protection, climate change adaptation, and gender-based violence prevention and programming. 

3. Tackle laws that discriminate against women and racialized people and create new gender-equal laws to uproot violence and discrimination. All sectors of society must urgently define policies that will ensure women, racialized, and other oppressed groups are represented in all decision-making spaces.

4. End laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionize and strike, and set up stronger legal standards to protect them.

5. Rich governments must immediately waive intellectual property rules over COVID-19 vaccine technologies to allow more countries to produce safe and effective vaccines to usher in the end of the pandemic.

Bucher says "there is no shortage of money. That lie died when governments released $16 trillion to respond to the pandemic. There is only a shortage of courage and imagination needed to break free from the failed, deadly straitjacket of extreme neoliberalism. Governments would be wise to listen to the movements, the young climate strikers, Black Lives Matter activists, Indian farmers, and others – who are demanding justice and equality”.

Oxfam says it’s calculations and research have been documented based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available. Figures on the very richest in society come from Forbes’ 2021 Billionaires List. Figures on the share of wealth come from the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth Databook 2021. Information on the falling incomes of the global 99% was taken from World Bank. 

According to Forbes, the 10 richest people, as of 30 November 2021, have seen their fortunes grow by $821 billion dollars since March 2020. The 10 richest men were listed as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault & family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer, and Warren Buffet.

Abby Maxman, the chief of Oxfam America, says "one of the single most powerful tools we have to address this level of egregious and deadly inequality is to tax the rich”. 

Maxman also notes that "instead of lining the pockets of the ultra-wealthy, we should be investing billions of dollars into our economy, our children, and our planet, paving the way for a more equal and sustainable future."

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