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.
In a new briefing called “Inequality Kills,” which was published 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.
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. They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people.Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam International’s Executive Director
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. Oxfam believes that one-off 99 percent tax on the ten richest men’s pandemic windfalls 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.
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 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.
It has also 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.
Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance. Not only have our economic structures made all of us less safe against this pandemic. They are enabling those who are already extremely rich to exploit this crisis for their own profit.Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam International’s Executive Director
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.
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. Some of Oxfam’s recommendations include:
- 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.