The combined wealth of the world’s billionaires spiked to more than $13.5 trillion since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, a gain of more than $5.5 trillion since the beginning of a crisis that has upended economies and millions of lives.
A one-time tax on billionaires’ surging wealth could provide $20,000 to unemployed workers and vaccinate every person on the planet against Covid-19, according to a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam, the Fight Inequality Alliance and the Patriotic Millionaires.
That one-time emergency 99 per cent levy on the $5.5 trillion gained since March 2020 would still leave the world’s 2,960 billionaires $55bn richer than before the start of the pandemic, according to the report, drawing on data from Forbes.
“Governments across the world are massively under-taxing the wealthiest individuals and big corporations, which is undermining the fight against Covid-19 and poverty and inequality,” according to the report.
The groups calculated the costs of vaccines at $7 per dose for 5 billion people (the groups do not support such costs and have endorsed a campaign from The People’s Vaccine Alliance for patent-free access to manufacture generic vaccines).
The groups also relied on unemployment figures from the International Labour Organization, which reports roughly 220 million currently unemployed people, including 114 million who lost their jobs from Covid-19.
Global billionaires’ combined wealth has increased more over the last year and a half than it has in the 15 years before the pandemic, the report found, while global poverty accelerated as the coronavirus crisis underscored and widened existing disparities across the public health spectrum.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos alone saw his wealth surge by nearly $80bn since March 2020 up to more than $192bn as of 31 July.
He “could personally pay for enough vaccines for the whole world, yet he would rather spend his wealth on a thrill ride to space,” Oxfam International’s Global Inequality Policy lead Max Lawson said in a statement.
“Rich people getting endlessly richer is not good for anyone,” said Morris Pearl, former managing director at BlackRock and chair of the Patriotic Millionaires. “Our economies are choking on this hoarded resource that could be serving a much greater purpose. Billionaires need to cough up that cash ball – and governments need to make them do it by taxing their wealth.”
An August report from progressive think tank Economic Policy Institute found that corporate boards have awarded America’s top executives compensation packages that radically outpace stock market growth and worker pay, while the nation’s federally set hourly minimum wage has remained at $7.25 for more than a decade.
Following massive federal investments in safety net programmes with a variety of coronavirus aid, the US is expected to see one of the largest short-term reductions in the nation’s poverty rate, down to 8.5 per cent by an estimate from Columbia University or 7.7 per cent according to the Urban Institute.
Growing wealth inequality in the face of the pandemic has revived debate among lawmakers mulling proposals to raise taxes on the nation’s wealthy, which also enjoys widespread popular support.
A 2020 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that nearly two-thirds of respondents believe America’s rich should pay more, and another 2021 poll from Hill-HarrisX found that a majority of voters support a “wealth tax” on the nation’s billionaires.
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