Since 2020, as the world was ravaged by a pandemic and corporate profits surged to levels never before seen, the richest people in the world have been profiting handsomely, adding $14 million to their collective wealth every hour in the past three years.
A new Oxfam report out on Sunday finds that the world’s five richest men — Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison and Warren Buffett — more than doubled their wealth between 2020 and the end of 2023.
Between March 2020 and November 2023, their collective fortunes ballooned from an already staggering $405 billion to $869 billion. Musk, the richest man in the world, was the biggest winner, with his wealth growing from $29 billion to $246 billion between March 2020 and November 2023. This is a change of over 700 percent.
As these men gathered billions, nearly 5 billion people across the world became poorer in the same period of time, the report found. Oxfam predicts that the world will see its first-ever trillionaire within the next decade as long as this enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of just a few individuals continues to go nearly entirely unmitigated. Meanwhile, report authors note that it would take nearly 230 years for the world to eradicate poverty under the same conditions.
The report, titled “Inequality Inc.,” was released the day before the start of this year’s World Economic Forum meeting, or Davos, in which a group of elite financial and corporate leaders from across the world will gather to discuss economic and business issues — a forum that has been widely criticized for its role in furthering elite rule and issues and inequalities caused by global capitalism.
“Globally, we’re seeing the makings of a decade of deep division, between a few at the top and everyone else,” said Nabil Ahmed, director of economic and racial justice for Oxfam America and report co-author, in a statement to Truthout. “Across the world we’re seeing how ordinary folks are shouldering the shockwaves of inflation, war, a climate crisis and more. At current rates we will see the first trillionaire in a decade, while it’ll take over two centuries to end poverty — it’s unconscionable.”
The report lays out a number of causes for global wealth inequality and the “gilded age of division.” The rich get richer through processes like colonialism, corporate concentration and profit-grubbing, and political capture through corporate lobbying. Corporate profits from 2023 are expected to break all-time records, due in part to the erosion of corporate taxes on a global scale.
Meanwhile, the report notes, the poor are getting poorer as wages drop or stagnate, workers are increasingly exploited, and issues like the climate crisis have disparate impacts that disproportionately punish poorer populations. Marginalized populations, like women and nonwhite people, are facing the brunt of these impacts.
Oxfam authors call for international leaders to take action to stop the trend of enormous wealth concentration at the top, both by focusing efforts on building wealth and resources for the working class and by reining in the power held by corporations and the wealthy.
“To overcome an age of immense private power, we’re going to need a new era of public action. Governments can and should shape the market to be fairer. We need confident, assertive, dynamic regulation: including breaking up monopolies, stopping corporations from getting too powerful in the first place, empowering workers, and taxing corporations and the ultra-rich,” said Ahmed. “The contest is on — over policy, but also over paradigm.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) echoed Ahmed’s call to action in a foreword to the report. “Each year, the movement toward global oligarchy becomes more pronounced and more obscene,” he wrote. This can only be fought, he continued, “if we are prepared to bring low-income and working people all over the world together to build an international movement that takes on the greed and ideology of the billionaire class and leads us to a world based on economic, social and environmental justice.”
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