World’s ten richest men, including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, made $1.3 billion a day during Covid-19 pandemic while 160 million more people fell into poverty.
Inequality in global wealth distribution contributes to the death of 21,000 people a day, the equivalent of one person every four seconds, says a new report by the global NGO Oxfam.
The data, published ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda meeting, found that while the world’s billionaires more than doubled their fortunes during the pandemic, lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger and the climate emergency have contributed to the death of millions. The figures are a “conservative” estimate, according to the NGO.
The briefing titled Inequality Kills shows that during the first two years of the pandemic, the world’s ten richest men—which include space racers Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos—collectively doubled their wealth from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion, that is $1.3 billion a day. The pandemic has produced a new billionaire every 26 hours, while thrusting 160 million more people into poverty.
If these ten men were to lose 99.999 percent of their wealth, they would still be richer than 99 percent of all the people in the world, and would still have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people.
The report comes as the World Economic Forum is set to bring together heads of state and government, international organisations, as well as business and civil society leaders from 17 to 21 January. The event, which aims to shape policies around key issues of global concern including vaccine equity and climate change, will take place online this year.
One-off billionaires tax could get vaccines for the entire world, and more
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, billionaires’ wealth has seen the biggest surge since records began. A one-off 99 percent emergency tax on that additional pandemic wealth alone, Oxfam argues, could pay to make enough vaccines for the world while still leaving the billionaires collectively $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.
While the rest of the world lost jobs, incomes, and loved ones, billionaires were able to directly profit from the $16 trillion that governments pumped into their economies to get through the crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“We're seeing this incredible increase that we've never seen before,” Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at Oxfam International, told TRT World. “It really is astronomical, and there's a direct relationship between that and the huge amount of central bank and government financial intervention in the economy. Much of that money ended up leaking into the stock market, and driving up asset prices, as a result increasing the fortunes of billionaires.”
Last year saw some progress on corporate taxation with the introduction of a 15 percent minimum tax rate for multinationals, agreed to by 136 countries. Despite criticism around loopholes, it was considered a good step forward, while discussions about taxing huge individual wealth have yet to start.
Elon Musk, the world’s richest man who has received billions of dollars in government subsidies for his companies making electric cars and solar panels, paid a “true tax rate” of 3.27% between 2014 and 2018.
“In the context of this huge Covid increase in their wealth, there’s reasons to demand that they are fairly taxed,” Lawson said.
Abolishing tax havens could pay for climate finance, to end gender-based violence by 2030 and alleviate hunger
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Copenhagen University have estimated that corporate tax dodging leaves governments across the world with a $200bn shortfall in revenue, more than twice the annual $100bn that rich countries have promised, but failed to deliver, to low- and middle-income countries in climate finance for mitigation and adaptation.
Those countries have also been amassing debt as a result of the pandemic, making it even more difficult to direct resources to fend off the worst effects of the climate emergency that they bear little historical responsibility for.
According to Oxfam data, 85% of the 107 Covid-19 loans extended by the IMF will push 73 countries toward austerity once the crisis ends. Two-thirds of all low- and lower-middle-income countries have already cut their education budgets since the pandemic began.
The pandemic has also set back the estimated time it will take to achieve gender parity by more than a generation, from 99.5 to 135.6 years. Women collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020, losing their jobs at a higher rate than men due to being overburdened with unpaid care work, but also being more likely to be in precarious work.
The pandemic has worsened gender-based violence, projected to have increased on average by an estimated 20% during periods of lockdown.
According to the UN, ending gender-based violence in 132 priority countries by 2030 through prevention and response programmes would cost $42bn.
Inequality and race
Several studies have pointed out that the pandemic has hit women, minorities and racialised groups the hardest.
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 that of white people.
The proportion of people with Covid-19 who die from the virus in developing countries is roughly twice than in rich countries.
“Lack of healthcare, lack of decent jobs, lack of housing, lack of safety, is a form of violence,” Lawson said. . “And it's happening because of the appalling distribution of resources.”