17 JAN 2022
Ten richest men double their fortunes in pandemic while incomes of 99 per cent 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 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 the incomes of 99 per cent of humanity fall and over 160 million more people forced into poverty.
'If these ten men were to lose 99.999 per cent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 per cent 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 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.
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 per cent 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 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 Bucher.
'The world’s response to the pandemic has unleashed this economic violence particularly acutely across racialized, marginalised 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 US$800 billion in earnings in 2020. 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 racialised 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.
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. 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 goes to the heart of the climate crisis, as the richest 1 per cent emit more than twice as much CO2 as the bottom 50 per cent of the world, driving climate change throughout 2020 and 2021 that has contributed to wildfires, floods, tornadoes, crop failures and hunger.
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.
Oxfam International 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 racialised people and create new gender-equal laws to uproot violence and discrimination. All sectors of society must urgently define policies that will ensure women, racialised and other oppressed groups are represented in all decision-making spaces.
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.
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About Oxfam Hong Kong
Oxfam is a global organisation committed to creating a world without poverty through its advocacy, development and humanitarian work.