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World’s Ten Richest Men Double Their Fortunes In Pandemic

New billionaire minted every 26 hours, as inequality contributes to the death of one person every four seconds

The world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from US$700 billion to US$1.5 trillion —at a rate of US$15,000 per second or US$1.3 billion a day— during the first two years of a pandemic that has seen over 160 million more people forced into poverty.

“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,” said Dr Jo Spratt Director of Communication and Advocacy Director at Oxfam Aotearoa. “They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people.”

In a new briefing “Inequality Kills,” published today ahead of 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. This is a conservative finding based on deaths globally from lack of access to healthcare, violence against women and girls, hunger, and climate breakdown.

“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," Spratt said.

Billionaires’ wealth has risen more since Covid-19 began than it has in the last 14 years. At US$5 trillion dollars, this is the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since records began. A one-off 99 percent tax on the ten richest men’s pandemic windfalls, for example, could pay:

· to make enough vaccines for the world;

· to provide universal healthcare and social protection, fund climate adaptation and reduce violence against women and girls in over 80 countries.

All this, while still leaving these men US$8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.

“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. 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,” said Spratt.

Extreme inequality is a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that perpetuate 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.

Spratt continued: “Inequality between countries is expected to rise for the first time in a generation. 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.”

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 privatise 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,” Spratt said. “Over decades, we have built an economic system that leaves all of us less safe from this pandemic, and actively enables the people who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit.”

The report notes the significance of the world’s two largest economies —the US and China—starting to consider policies that reduce inequality, including by passing higher tax rates on the rich and taking action against monopolies. “This provides us some measured hope for a new economic consensus to emerge and shows us that we can rebuild an economy that puts people and planet first,” said Spratt.

Oxfam recommends that governments urgently:

  • Claw back the gains made by billionaires by taxing this huge new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes.
  • 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.
  • End laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionise and strike, and set up stronger legal standards to protect them.
  • 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.

Spratt said: "There is no shortage of money. That lie died when governments released US$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 we’ve put ourselves in through the way we’ve built our economies.”

Notes

Download the “Inequality Kills” report and summary and the methodology document outlining how Oxfam calculated the statistics in the report.

Oxfam’s calculations are 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. Figures on the incomes of the 99 percent are from the World Bank.

According to Forbes, the ten richest people, as of 30 November 2021, have seen their fortunes grow by US$821 billion dollars since March 2020. The ten 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 Buffett.

All amounts are expressed in US dollars.

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

Despite strong recommendations by the IMF and OECD, very few rich nations have said they intend to introduce or increase taxes on wealth.

An example of an annual wealth tax in New Zealand (with rates at 2% on wealth over NZ$7.3 million, 3% on wealth over NZ$73.6 million and 5% on wealth over NZ$1.4 billion) would raise NZ$7.2 billion a year. Based on 2019/20 financial year expenditure on health, the money generated would be enough to raise health spending by 30%.

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