10 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 10 richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $875 billion to $1.9 trillion CAD — at a rate of $18,700 per second or $1.63 billion CAD 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. 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 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.
“Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance,” said Diana Sarosi, Oxfam Canada’s director of policy and campaigns. “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.”
In Canada, during a global pandemic, 15 new billionaires have been minted and the fortunes of the country’s 59 billionaires have increased by $111 billion since March 2020, roughly the same amount the Canadian government spent on COVID-19 income support to workers, including CERB and CRB ($109 billion).
“While those at the top are accruing excessive levels of wealth, governments around the world are struggling to provide much needed vaccines and social protection for billions of people who have nothing to fall back on. It has never been more important to start righting the violent wrongs of this obscene inequality. We must do this by clawing back elites’ power and extreme wealth, including through taxation, and getting money back into the real economy and invested in life-saving public services,” Sarosi said.
Billionaires’ wealth has risen more in the 22 months since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years. At $6.25 trillion, this is the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since record keeping began. A one-off pandemic windfalls tax on the 10 richest men at a rate of 99 per cent, for example, could pay to make enough vaccines for the world, and 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 $10 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.
Extreme inequality is a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that perpetuate and protect the wealth and power of a privileged few result in direct harm to the vast majority of people across the world and to the planet itself. The world’s response to the pandemic has unleashed this economic violence particularly acutely across racialized, marginalized and gendered lines.
- The pandemic has set back gender parity globally, which at current rates won’t be achieved now for 135 years (up from 99 years). Women collectively lost $876 billion in earnings in 2020, with 13 million fewer women working now than in 2019. The 252 richest men have more wealth than all one billion women and girls in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined.
- The pandemic has hit racialized groups 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 White people — a disparity further exacerbated by COVID-19 and directly linked to historical racism and colonialism.
- Inequality between countries is expected to rise for the first time in a generation. Low and middle-income countries, denied access to sufficient vaccines because of rich country governments’ protection of pharmaceutical corporations’ monopolies, have been forced to slash social spending and face the prospect of austerity measures as their debt levels spiral. The proportion of people with COVID-19 who die from the virus in low and middle-income countries is roughly double that in rich countries.
Despite the huge cost of fighting the pandemic, in the past two years, governments in rich countries have failed to increase taxes on the wealth of the richest. Fair taxation is a key tool for governments to redistribute wealth and provide key public services that curb inequality.
Inequality goes to the heart of the climate crisis, as the richest one per cent emit more than twice as much CO2 as the bottom 50 per cent of the world’s population, driving climate change throughout 2020 and 2021 that has contributed to wildfires, floods, tornadoes, crop failures and hunger.
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 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 end violence and discrimination. Women, racialized and other oppressed groups should be represented meaningfully in all decision-making spaces.
- Adopt and enforce laws to protect the rights of workers to unionize and strike.
- 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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Notes to editors:
- Download the “Inequality Kills” report and summary and the methodology document outlining how Oxfam calculated the statistics in the report.
- All amounts are expressed in Canadian dollars.
- 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 November 30, 2021, have seen their fortunes grow by $1 trillion CAD 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.
- 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 US$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, 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 “Confronting 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).