The world’s 10 richest people more than doubled their collective fortunes to $1.5 trillion, from $700 billion, during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic even as the number of people living in poverty increased, charity Oxfam has said.
Their wealth increased at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3bn a day during the pandemic while the incomes of 99 per cent of the world's population declined and more than 160 million more people were forced into poverty, Oxfam reported, citing Forbes data.
The report was released before the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.
Inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or one person every four seconds, Oxfam said.
The world’s richest people are Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer and Warren Buffett, the charity said, citing Forbes.
“If these 10 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 Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.
“They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people. 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.”
The number of millionaires grew by 5.2 million to 56.1 million in 2020, the first time in history that more than 1 per cent of all adults worldwide are, in nominal terms, dollar millionaires.
The sharp increase in wealth accumulation was driven by a rise in stock and housing prices, according to the Swiss bank.
The wealth of billionaires surged to $5tn and has increased the most since Covid-19 began than it has in the past 14 years, according to Oxfam.
“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,” Ms Bucher said.
Hunger, gender-based violence, climate change and a lack of access to health care contributed to one death every four seconds during the pandemic, according to Oxfam.
A one-off 99 per cent tax on the pandemic windfalls of the 10 richest people could pay to make enough vaccines for the world, provide universal health care and social protection, while “still leaving these men $8bn better off than they were before the pandemic”, Oxfam said in the report.
Elon Musk, the world’s richest man with a net worth of $269bn, said in November that he would sell his Tesla stock to end world hunger if the United Nations can provide evidence showing it could solve the crisis and how the money will be spent. His net worth was $311bn at the time.
The Covid-19 pandemic also reversed gender parity gains, with women collectively losing $800bn in earnings in 2020 and 13 million fewer women in work now than there were in 2019, Oxfam said.
Inequality between countries is also expected to increase for the first time in a generation, according to Oxfam.
“Developing countries 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,” the non-profit said.
Governments must urgently claw back the gains made by billionaires by taxing this new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes, Oxfam suggested.
“Invest the trillions that could be raised by these taxes toward progressive spending on universal health care and social protection, climate change adaptation and gender-based violence prevention and programming,” it said.
Who are the richest men in the world?
- Elon Musk
- Jeff Bezos
- Bernard Arnault
- Bill Gates
- Larry Ellison
- Larry Page
- Sergey Brin
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Steve Ballmer
- Warren Buffett