10 richest men double their fortunes in pandemic while incomes of 99 per cent of humanity fall

January 16, 2022
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.

— 30 —

Notes to editors:
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Paula Baker
Media Relations
Oxfam Canada
(613) 240-3047

Share this page: