Boston-based Oxfam has called for a one off, 99 per cent tax, after it was revealed the ten richest men in the world doubled their massive fortunes over the two-year coronavirus pandemic.

A new report from the Boston-based charity shows billionaires’ wealth grew more since the start of Covid-19 than it has in the previous 14 years.

The combined fortunes of the super-wealthy like Tesla founder Elon Musk, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos increased by $5 trillion – the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since records began.

The charity says if there was a one-off 99 per cent tax on the wealth of these men, they would still be among the richest people in the world.

Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said: “If these ten men were to lose 99.999 percent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 percent of all the people on this planet.”

A new briefing from the charity called “Inequality Kills”, published ahead of World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, says inequality is contributing to the deaths of at least 21,000 people a day – one person every four seconds.

This based on deaths globally based on lack of access to healthcare, gender based violence, hunger and climate breakdown.

Ms Bucher continued: “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 charity says the one-off tax could pay

  • to make enough vaccines for the world;
  • to provide universal healthcare and social protection, fund climate adaptation and reduce gender-based violence in over 80 countries;
  • All this, while still leaving these men $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.

“Billionaires have had a terrific pandemic”

Ms Bucher continued: “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.

“Vaccines were meant to end this pandemic, yet rich governments allowed pharma billionaires and monopolies to cut off the supply to billions of people.

“The result is that every kind of inequality imaginable risks rising. The predictability of it is sickening. The consequences of it kill/”

The charity also found:

  • The pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to now 135 years with women collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020.
  • 13 million fewer women are in work now than there were in 2019.
  • 252 men have more wealth than all one billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean combined.
  • The pandemic has hit racialized groups hardest. During the second wave of the pandemic in England, people of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the White British population. Black people in Brazil are 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. In the US, 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White people —this is directly linked to historical racism and colonialism. 
  • Inequality between countries is expected to rise for the first time in a generation. Developing countries, denied access to sufficient vaccines because of rich governments’ protection of pharmaceutical corporations’ monopolies, 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.

Ms Bucher continued: “The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed openly both the motive of greed, and the opportunity by political and economic means, by which extreme inequality has become an instrument of economic violence.

“After years now of researching and campaigning on the issue, this is the shocking but inevitable conclusion that Oxfam has had to reach today.”

Rich country governments have failed to increase taxes on the wealth of the richest

Oxfam says despite the massive cost of fighting Covid, rich countries have failed to increase taxes on the richest and continued to privatize goods like vaccine science.

The report also looks at the climate crisis, and says the richest one per cent emit more than twice as much CO2 as the bottom 50 per cent of the world, which has driven climate change throughout 2020 and 2021, which contributed to wildfires, floods, tornadoes, crop failures and hunger

Ms Bucher added: “Inequality at such pace and scale is happening by choice, not chance.

“Not only have our economic structures made all of us less safe against this pandemic, they are actively enabling those who are already extremely rich and powerful to exploit this crisis for their own profit.”

The report does not some change, with the US and China both considering policies that reduce inequality, including higher tax rates on the rich and taking action against monopolies.

Ms Bucher said: “This provides us some measured hope for a new economic consensus to emerge,” said Bucher.

Oxfam recommends that governments urgently:

  • Claw back the gains made by billionaires by taxing this huge new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes. 
  • Invest the trillions that could be raised by these taxes toward progressive spending on universal healthcare and social protection, climate change adaptation, and gender-based violence prevention and programming.
  • Tackle sexist and racist laws that discriminate against women and racialized people and create new gender-equal laws to uproot violence and discrimination. All sectors of society must urgently define policies that will ensure women, racialized and other oppressed groups are represented in all decision-making spaces.
  • End laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionize and strike, and set up stronger legal standards to protect them.
  • Rich governments must immediately waive intellectual property rules over COVID-19 vaccine technologies to allow more countries to produce safe and effective vaccines to usher in the end of the pandemic.

She said: “There is no shortage of money.

“That lie died when governments released $16 trillion to respond to the pandemic.

“There is only a shortage of courage and imagination needed to break free from the failed, deadly straitjacket of extreme neoliberalism. Governments would be wise to listen to the movements —the young climate strikers, Black Lives Matter activists, #NiUnaMenos feminists, Indian farmers and others – who are demanding justice and equality”.

The full report can be found here.

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