One Billionaire Has Been Created Every 30 Hours During Pandemic, Oxfam Says

In the shadow ofThe Davos summit of global elites will take place this week. A new report from Oxfam International reveals how inequality has skyrocketed during the two-year global Covid-19 pandemic, to the point that a new billionaire was created almost every day, while nearly one million people are being forced into poverty at almost the exact same rate.

The new report — titled “Profiting From Pain” — is the latest accounting of how the pandemic has only deepened grotesque discrepancies between the haves and have-nots of the world, showing that while 573 new billionaires were created since the pandemic began, approximately one billionaire every 30 hours, an estimated 263 million are expected to “crash into extreme poverty” this year — a rate of one million people every 33 hours.

The anti-poverty organization concludes that such stark realities and gross injustices are clear evidence of the urgent need to tax billionaire wealth and windfall incomes in order to address critical needs.

“Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes. They have been blessed with a boon thanks to the pandemic, and the steep rises in food prices and energy prices. Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.

Among the most important findings of the report are:

  • Today, 2,668 billionaires — 573 more than in 2020 — own $12.7 trillion, an increase of $3.78 trillion.
  • The world’s ten richest men own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of humanity, 3.1 billion people.
  • The 20 richest billionaires are worth greater than the entire sub-Saharan African GDP.
  • A worker in the bottom 50% would need to work for 112 consecutive years to earn the same income as someone in the top 1% in a single year.
  • 4 million women in Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere have been kept out of the workforce by high levels of informality and overload from care tasks. Half of all women of color working in the US earn less that $15 an hour.

While a tall stack of reports has documented such trends since the pandemic took hold in early 2020, Oxfam’s latest study shines a bright light on the massive profits in the key sectors of energy, food, and pharmaceutical companies — all of which are able to consolidate financial gains due to their monopoly control over commodities essential to society.

According to Bucher, the fortunes of the world’s billionaires have “not increased because they are now smarter or working harder” than the average worker, many who faced layoffs, lack of hours, fractured families, childcare crises, and dangerous work conditions throughout the pandemic.

“The super-rich have rigged the system with impunity for decades and they are now reaping the benefits,” she said. “They have seized a shocking amount of the world’s wealth as a result of privatization and monopolies, gutting regulation and workers’ rights while stashing their cash in tax havens — all with the complicity of governments.”

At the same time, she added, hundreds of millions of regular workers and their families “are skipping meals, turning off the heating, falling behind on bills and wondering what they can possibly do next to survive. One person per minute is likely to die from hunger in East Africa. This inequality is threatening the human bonds that bind us all together as humanity. It is dangerous, divisive, and corrosive. This is inequality that literally kills.”

The report notes that the profit margins of the world’s big oil companies doubled during the pandemic, while the cost of energy worldwide is projected to soar by 50% this year — the largest increase in energy prices, the group noted, since 1973. Giant food companies that control a bulk of the world’s food supply and the large pharmaceutical companies, some like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson which control large portions of the Covid-19 vaccine supply, have been swimming in profits since the virus struck.

With the world’s billionaire class and national leaders meeting in Davos this week as they pretend to meet as stewards of international leadership, Oxfam said there is one clear thing they should do if they want to be taken seriously: support a tax on billionaire wealth.

Among other things, Oxfam calls for a “one-off solidarity taxes on billionaires’ pandemic windfalls to fund support for people facing rising food and energy costs and a fair and sustainable recovery from Covid-19.”

Citing the nearly $8 trillion in tax havens that the global elite is believed to have stashed around the world, the group indicated the global tax system — which has never been defensible — is no longer sustainable in the face of such enormous challenges.

The group is also calling for an end to “crisis profiteering” by introducing a “temporary excess profit tax of 90 percent to capture the windfall profits of big corporations across all industries.” Oxfam estimates that such a tax on less than three dozen “super-profitable multinational companies” could have generated $104 billion in revenue in 2020 alone.

Lastly, Oxfam says a permanent tax on extreme wealth and the disruption of monopoly power by huge multinationals is essential to equalize the world’s economy, lift billions of people out of poverty, and to fund the kind of investments on healthcare, climate action, and social protection for all the low- and middle-income people of the world.

“The extremely rich and powerful are profiting from pain and suffering. This is unconscionable,” said Bucha.

“Over two years since the pandemic began, after more than 20 million estimated deaths from Covid-19 and widespread economic destruction,” she said, “government leaders in Davos face a choice: act as proxies for the billionaire class who plunder their economies, or take bold steps to act in the interests of their great majorities.”