Ten richest men double their fortunes in pandemic while incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall
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 $700 billion to $1.5 trillion —at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3 billion a day— during the first two years of a pandemic that has seen the incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall and 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 Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher. “They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people.”
In Africa, the five richest billionaires saw their wealth increase by a third ($9.7bn) during the pandemic while 39 million people are estimated to have been pushed into extreme poverty in sub-Saharan African. The six richest African billionaires own more wealth ($45.8bn) than the bottom 678 million (half of Africa) Africans ($41.9bn).
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, gender-based violence, 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," she said.
Globally, billionaires’ wealth has risen more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years. At $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 gender-based violence in over 80 countries;
- All this, while still leaving these men $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.
In Africa, an annual wealth tax (with rates at 2% on wealth over $5 million, 3% on wealth over $50 million and 5% on wealth over $1 billion) would raise $19.87 billion a year, enough to increase African public health expenditure by 38% or reduce out of pocket health expenditure by nearly a half (46%).
“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 Bucher.
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.
“The world’s response to the pandemic has unleashed this economic violence particularly acutely across racialized, marginalized and gendered lines. As COVID-19 spikes this turns to surges of gender-based violence, even as yet more unpaid care is heaped upon women and girls,” Bucher said.
- The pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to now 135 years. Women collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020, with 13 million fewer women in work now than there were in 2019. 252 men have more wealth than all 1 billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean combined.
- The pandemic has hit racialized groups hardest. During the second wave of the pandemic in England, people of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the White British population. Black people in Brazil are 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White people. In the US, 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White people —this is directly linked to historical racism and colonialism.
- 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.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed openly both the motive of greed, and the opportunity by political and economic means, by which extreme inequality has become an instrument of economic violence,” said Bucher. “After years now of researching and campaigning on the issue, this is the shocking but inevitable conclusion that Oxfam has had to reach today.”
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 privatize 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 goes to the heart of the climate crisis, as the richest 1 percent emit more than twice as much CO2 as the bottom 50 percent of the world, driving climate change throughout 2020 and 2021 that has contributed to wildfires, floods, tornadoes, crop failures and hunger.
“Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance,” Bucher said. “Not only have our economic structures made all of us less safe against this pandemic, they are actively enabling those 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,” said Bucher.
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.
- Tackle sexist and racist laws that discriminate against women and racialized people and create new gender-equal laws to uproot violence and discrimination. All sectors of society must urgently define policies that will ensure women, racialized and other oppressed groups are represented in all decision-making spaces.
- End laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionize 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.
Bucher said: "There is no shortage of money. That lie died when governments released $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 of extreme neoliberalism. Governments would be wise to listen to the movements —the young climate strikers, Black Lives Matter activists, #NiUnaMenos feminists, Indian farmers and others – who are demanding justice and equality”.
Notes to editors
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 10 richest people, as of 30 November 2021, have seen their fortunes grow by $821 billion dollars since March 2020. The 10 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 Buffet.
All amounts are expressed in US dollars.
According to the WEF’s ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2021’, the pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to now 135 years.
The COVID-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries.
According to England’s Office of National Statistics, during the second wave of the pandemic in England, people of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the White British population.
According to the OECD, Black people in Brazil are 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White people.
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.
The richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity during a critical 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth. Download Oxfam’s “Confronting Carbon Inequality Report.”
The carbon footprints of the richest 1 percent of people on Earth is set to be 30 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030. The poorest half of the global population will still emit far below the 1.5°C-aligned level in 2030. Download the study “Carbon Inequality in 2030”, commissioned by Oxfam based on research carried out by the Institute for European Environment Policy (IEPP) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
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