The COVID-19 pandemic has made the world’s top 10 wealthiest men even richer while the income of 99 percent of humanity dropped, according to a new Oxfam report.
Titled “Inequality Kills”, the report explains the world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion at a rate of $1.3 billion a day.
Based on the Forbes World's Billionaires List, as of November 30, 2021, the 10 richest people were Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault & family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer, and Warren Buffet.
However, even the lesser-known megarich also enjoyed significant gains throughout the pandemic. The collective wealth of all 2,755 billionaires has recently surged more than in the last 14 years put together, reaching a grand total of $5 trillion dollars (that's $5,000,000,000,000)
Meanwhile, the rest of the world saw a steep increase in poverty – over 160 million more people are living on less than $5.50 a day than when the pandemic began. Through a lack of access to healthcare, hunger, gender-based violence, and impacts of the climate crisis, growing inequality is now contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day. That's one person every four seconds.
“The explosion in billionaire’s fortunes at a time when poverty is increasing lays bare the fundamental flaws in our economies. Even during a global crisis our unfair economic systems manage to deliver eye-watering windfalls for the wealthiest but fail to protect the poorest – it is an avoidable tragedy that every day people die because they lack essentials such as food and healthcare,” Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, in a statement.
Deepening inequality is affecting developing countries and already marginalized communities the hardest. As per the report, developing countries have been denied access to sufficient vaccines because of rich governments’ protection of pharmaceutical corporations’ monopolies, forcing them to cut social spending and imposing stricter austerity measures.
An estimated 3.4 million Black Americans would still be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White Americans'. That figure has significantly risen since before the COVID-19 when it was – still alarming – an estimated 2.1 million people.
The push towards gender equality has also suffered a major setback. Up to 13 million fewer women are now in work than in 2019, resulting in women collectively losing $800 billion in earnings in 2020. Oxfam had previously estimated that gender equality could be reached worldwide in 99 years' time. Following the pandemic, that estimate is now at least 135 years.
The report does put forward a solution to this problem: taxes. They estimate that a one-off 99 percent windfall tax on the COVID-19 wealth gains of the 10 richest people could raise $812 billion that could pay for enough vaccines for the whole planet, universal healthcare and social protection, climate crisis adaptation, and gender-based violence reduction in over 80 countries. Even after this mammoth tax, the top 10 richest men would still be $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.
Whether or not this bold plan will go down well with the world’s hyper-rich remains to be seen.
“The answer to these complicated problems is ironically simple: taxes. Mandatory, inescapable, ambitious tax reform on an international level— this is the only way to fix what is broken,” the report concludes.
“It isn’t complicated, and it shouldn’t be controversial. Virtually everyone else on the planet has sacrificed in some way over the last two years; it’s time for billionaires to do the same – and quickly.”