As most of the world’s population suffered under a deadly pandemic, the world’s 10 richest people doubled their wealth while the world’s billionaires added $5 trillion to their collective wealth, a new report by Oxfam finds.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, billionaires have been profiting greatly from the global economy, the report’s authors wrote. Since March 2021, billionaire wealth has risen from an already high $8.6 trillion to $13.8 trillion and previous reports have found that the 10 richest people alone account for hundreds of billions of dollars of that growth in wealth. This is a larger growth in billionaire wealth than that of the last 14 years combined.
“A new billionaire has been created every 26 hours since the pandemic began,” the report reads. “The world’s 10 richest men have doubled their fortunes, while over 160 million people are projected to have been pushed into poverty.”
The report’s authors wrote that such growing economic inequality is a result of purposeful choices by government officials.
“This is not by chance, but choice: ‘economic violence’ is perpetrated when structural policy choices are made for the richest and most powerful people,” the report continued, noting that women and non-white people are particularly susceptible to poverty and its deleterious effects.
They estimate that 21,300 people each day are dying partly as a result of inequality – or about one person every four seconds – an estimate that they characterize as “highly conservative” based on poverty-related factors like food insecurity, a lack of health care and gender-based violence.
Black Americans have especially suffered during the pandemic, the report points out; if Black Americans had the same life expectancy as their white peers, 3.4 million Black people in the U.S. would still be alive today. This number has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The climate crisis is also a growing concern, the report says. Oxfam conservatively estimates that 231,000 people will die each year in poor countries due to the climate crisis by 2030. This is similar to previous estimates, though other research has found that climate crisis-related extreme weather is already killing millions of people every year.
The report, which was released in time for the 2022 Davos Agenda economic forum, is scathing in its analysis of the mechanisms by which extreme inequality is being perpetuated.
“There is no shortage of money” to help reverse this trend, the report authors wrote. “That lie died when governments released $16 trillion to respond to the pandemic. There is only a shortage of courage to tackle inequality, and the wealth and might of the rich and the powerful, and a shortage of the imagination needed to break free from the failed, narrow straitjacket of extreme neoliberalism.”
Oxfam recommends an immediate tax on billionaires’ pandemic gains in order to provide aid to people in poverty. A 99 percent tax on just the pandemic wealth gains of the 10 richest men in the world, for instance, would raise $812 billion for that purpose.
U.S. progressives reiterated their call for taxing the rich in reaction to Oxfam’s report. “Tax the billionaires. Invest in the working class,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).
Even if a wealth tax were to be levied just on American billionaires, the results could be transformative. A report by the Americans for Tax Fairness found that the U.S.’s nearly 750 billionaires gained $1 trillion in wealth in 2021 – a tax-free gain of 25 percent. Their collective wealth, the report found, is about $5.1 trillion, or enough to fund the Democrats’ extinct Build Back Better Act two times over.