The COVID-19 pandemic has been good for the wallets of the wealthy.
Some 573 people have joined the ranks of billionaires since 2020, bringing the global total to 2,668, according to analysis published by Oxfam on Sunday. This means that a new billionaire has been struck about every 30 hours, on average, so far during the pandemic.
The report, which draws on data compiled by Forbes, examines the rise in inequality over the past two years. This is timed to coincide with the kick off of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a gathering of some of the the richest people and world leaders.
Billionaires have seen their total net worth soar by $3.8 trillion, or 42%, to $12.7 trillion during the pandemic. Much of the rise was fueled by strong gains in stock markets, which were helped by governments pumping money into the global economy to cushion the financial blow of the coronavirus.
Much of the increase in wealth came in the first year of the pandemic. It then plateaued and has since declined slightly, said Max Lawson, inequality policy manager at Oxfam.
Meanwhile, COVID-19, growing inequality and rising food prices could push up to 263 million people into extreme poverty this year, reversing decades of progress, Oxfam said in a report. released last month.
“I have never seen such dramatic growth in poverty and wealth at the same time in history,” Lawson said. “It’s going to hurt a lot of people.”
BENEFIT FROM HIGH PRICES
Consumers around the world are dealing with soaring energy and food prices, but companies in these industries and their leaders are profiting from rising prices, Oxfam said.
Food and agribusiness billionaires have seen their total wealth increase by $382 billion, or 45%, over the past two years, after adjusting for inflation. Some 62 food billionaires have been created since 2020.
Meanwhile, the net worth of their peers in the oil, gas and coal sectors has jumped $53 billion, or 24%, since 2020, when adjusted for inflation.
Forty new pandemic billionaires have been created in the pharmaceutical industry, which has been at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 and the recipient of billions in public funding.
The tech industry has spawned many billionaires, including seven of the world’s 10 richest people, such as Telsa’s Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft’s Bill Gates. These men have increased their wealth from $436 billion to $934 billion over the past two years, after adjusting for inflation.
TAXING THE RICH
To counter soaring inequality and help those struggling with rising prices, Oxfam is pushing governments to tax the rich and corporations.
He is calling for a temporary 90% tax on corporate excess profits, as well as a one-off wealth tax on billionaires.
The group would also like to levy a permanent wealth tax on the super-rich. It suggests a 2% tax on assets over $5 million, rising to 5% for net worth over $1 billion. It could bring in $2.5 trillion worldwide.
Wealth taxes, however, have not been embraced by many governments. Efforts to levy taxes on the net worth of the wealthiest Americans have not made headway in Congress in recent years.
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