The 10 richest men in the world doubled their fortunes during the COVID-19 pandemic, a report published Monday by advocacy group Oxfam said, highlighting how the global health crisis has deepened the divide between the haves and have-nots as well as the need for policy intervention to address these “deadly” inequities.
While the wealth of the world’s 10 richest men more than doubled — increasing from approximately $700 billion to $1.5 trillion between March 2020 and November 2021 — the incomes of approximately 99% of people around the globe fell during that time, and more than 160 million people have been forced into poverty, the Oxfam report added.
The poverty and economic justice advocacy group calculated the wealth gains of the ultra-elite based on Forbes’ real-time data on billionaires. The richest men were Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault & family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer and Warren Buffett.
Information on the falling incomes of the global 99% was taken from World Bank data, Oxfam said in its methodology.
The calculations also indicate that the wealth of the world’s billionaires has increased more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years.
“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,” Oxfam International Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement Monday accompanying the latest report.
Bucher added that if the 10 richest men in the world were to lose 99% of their wealth, they would still be richer than 99% of all the people on this planet.
The wealth of the world’s billionaires tends to be more tied up in stocks than their less-wealthy counterparts. In the U.S., the wealthiest 1% of households in the U.S. own more than half of all the publicly traded stock in the market, according to Federal Reserve data, and the bottom 50% of households own less than 1%.
While the pandemic recovery in the labor market and economy as a whole is still sputtering, the stock market has rallied sharply since March 2020 in part due to monetary policies enacted by the Federal Reserve — leading to massive, often untaxed, wealth gains for the rich and leaving the poor who don’t own any market shares behind.
Oxfam said this stark inequality is killing people because of lack of access to health care, hunger and more. The group is advocating for a tax on the ultra-rich to address these deadly inequities.
Bucher added that taxation is one of the key ways to start “righting the violent wrongs of this obscene inequality.”
The report calling for a new tax targeting the world’s wealthiest comes after an investigation into the taxes of billionaires, published by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica last year, found that the ultra-wealthy are able to use legal loopholes to avoid paying taxes on wealth gains.
The ProPublica report published tax documents of the wealthy and said that while the median American household paid 14% of their income in federal taxes, the wealthiest 25 Americans had an average so-called “true tax rate” of just 3.4% of the amount their wealth grew each year between 2014 and 2018. This was in large part due to keeping their reported income, and thus reported income tax, to just a fraction to what their net worth actually is and storing most of their wealth in stocks — which are only taxed once they are sold.
The Oxfam report cited these differing tax rates and is advocating for billionaires to pay taxes every year on their wealth increases — whether these gains are realized or not (i.e. whether a billionaire sells the stock after it rises in value or holds onto it to avoid paying taxes on those gains).
While the idea of a billionaires tax has gained momentum in Washington and beyond in recent years, especially over the pandemic, it has faced an uphill battle in implementation. Critics call these type of taxes on unrealized gains unconstitutional based on the definition of income.
The researchers at Oxfam, meanwhile, view a tax on the rich as an imperative and obvious way to address the “deadly inequality” wrought by the pandemic.
“One of the single most powerful tools we have to address this level of egregious and deadly inequality is to tax the rich,” Abby Maxman, the chief of Oxfam America, said in a statement Monday. “Instead of lining the pockets of the ultra-wealthy, we should be investing billions of dollars into our economy, our children and our planet, paving the way for a more equal and sustainable future.”
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