While the vast majority of people were struggling to stay alive and weather economic instability during the first two years of the pandemic, the world’s richest 1 percent were thriving as the proportion of new global wealth they were capturing soared to new heights, a report reveals.
Over the past decade, the global top 1 percent has taken about half of all new wealth — an already extremely high proportion for such a small handful of people.
But in the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new report by Oxfam, that proportion skyrocketed to nearly two-thirds of new wealth, meaning that the top 1 percent captured nearly double the amount of new wealth received by the rest of the people on Earth. This amounts to roughly $26 trillion of new wealth gained by the top 1 percent.
This has allowed the world’s richest people to hoard an immense amount of wealth, and the disparity is even clearer when comparing regular people to billionaires. For every dollar gained by one of the billions of people in the bottom 90 percent since 2020, the report finds, one of the world’s roughly 2,600 billionaires has captured $1.7 million. Overall, billionaires have gained $2.7 billion a day in the last two years — gains that came after the number and wealth of billionaires had already doubled in the past decade.
“While ordinary people are making daily sacrifices on essentials like food, the super-rich have outdone even their wildest dreams. Just two years in, this decade is shaping up to be the best yet for billionaires — a roaring ‘20s boom for the world’s richest,” Executive Director of Oxfam International Gabriela Bucher said in a statement.
These extreme gains have come after world leaders across nearly every continent have been carrying out extraordinary cuts to income and inheritance taxes for the richest people since the 1980s, the report finds, kicked off in part by the regressive economic policies embraced by leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Meanwhile, global powers have increased taxes on goods and services, the impact of which falls disproportionately on the world’s poorest people.
In the 1950s and 1960s, for instance, the highest marginal tax rate for federal income taxes in the U.S. was 91 percent. Now, it is a mere 37 percent, while the tax system is structured to allow people like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett to pay less than 1 percent of the growth of their wealth in a tax year.
These wealth gains have come as the poor and working class are facing an affordability crisis, caused in part by corporate hoarding. In Australia, Europe and the U.S., corporate profiteering is driving at least 50 percent of inflation, researchers have found.
This crisis, along with the pandemic, overlaps with the climate crisis, which billionaires are also largely responsible for perpetuating — as another recent Oxfam report finds, billionaires emit a million times the carbon emitted by the lifestyle of an average person, and are also more likely to invest their resources into fossil fuels and other polluters.
In the face of such vast inequities, Oxfam says global leaders must implement wealth taxes on the rich and windfall taxes on profiteering corporations to stem the consolidation of wealth at the very top.
“Taxing the super-rich and big corporations is the door out of today’s overlapping crises,” said Bucher. “It’s time we demolish the convenient myth that tax cuts for the richest result in their wealth somehow ‘trickling down’ to everyone else. Forty years of tax cuts for the super-rich have shown that a rising tide doesn’t lift all ships — just the superyachts.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) also called for a wealth tax in response to the report. “When we talk about the movement towards global oligarchy, we’re talking about two-thirds of all new wealth in the world flowing into the hands of the top 1 percent since 2020, while 81 billionaires now own more wealth than the bottom half of humanity,” Sanders tweeted on Tuesday. “Yes. We need a global wealth tax.”