Ten richest men double their fortunes during the pandemic while the incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall

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A new Oxfam report finds a new billionaire is created 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 the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, the incomes of 99 percent of humanity fell and over 160 million more people have been 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 a new briefing “Inequality Kills,” published today ahead of the World Economic Forum’s virtual State of the World sessions, 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.

“One of the single most powerful tools we have to address this level of egregious and deadly inequality is to tax the rich,” said Abby Maxman, CEO and President of Oxfam America. “Instead of lining the pockets of the ultra-wealthy, we should be investing billions of dollars into our economy, our children and our planet, paving the way for a more equal and sustainable future.”

“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," said Bucher.

The wealth of billionaires has increased more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years, according to Oxfam. At $5 trillion, this is the biggest surge in billionaire wealth on record.

“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,” said Bucher. “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.”

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 report also finds that:

  • The pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to now 135 years. An estimated 252 men have more wealth than all 1 billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean combined. Women collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020, with 13 million fewer women in the workforce now than in 2019.
  • The pandemic has hit people of color the hardest. 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. 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.
  • 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 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 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 calls for the following urgent measures in the US and beyond:

  • The US Congress should pass a billionaires’ tax that would require billionaires to pay taxes every year on their wealth increases. (While the average American household paid 14% in federal taxes, America’s 25 richest billionaires paid only 3% in income tax between 2014 and 2018.)
  • The US Congress should invest in working families, in the welfare and education of children, and in the wellbeing of the planet by passing the Build Back Better Act.
  • The US government must also end laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionize and strike, and set up stronger legal standards to protect them; the first step is for Congress to pass the PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize Act), which would restore the right of workers to freely and fairly form a union and bargain together for changes in the workplace.
  • The US government must protect its democratic foundations, and ensure that women and people of color have voice and representation at all levels of society and economy. This starts with immediately stifling all attempts at voter suppression; Congress must pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would counter a wave of state level anti-voter laws that are aimed at suppressing the vote of Black, Indigenous, youth, disabled and communities of color.
  • The US and other rich governments must immediately waive intellectual property rules over COVID-19 vaccine technologies to allow more countries to produce safe and effective vaccines to bring about the end of the pandemic.

"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,” Bucher said. “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.”

ENDS

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.

67,000 women die each year due to female genital mutilation and murder at the hands of a former or current intimate partner.

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.

In the US, 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as 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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