The world’s billionaires have increased their wealth by trillions of dollars since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, while the world’s poorest people are struggling with soaring prices and rising debt, according to an analysis by charitable organization, Oxfam. As the global business elite gather in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum, Oxfam says it has reason to celebrate: An analysis by the charity shows the wealth of the world’s 2,668 billionaires has risen by $3.78 trillion since 2020. The report’s authors calculate that 573 people became new billionaires during the pandemic, at the rate of one every 30 hours. Conversely, Oxfam says 263 million more people will crash into extreme poverty in 2022, at a rate of a million people every 33 hours.
“It’s an extraordinary moment in history,” Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at Oxfam International, told VOA. “We’ve seen this explosion in billionaire wealth during the pandemic, and now off the back of food and energy price increases. And then you’re seeing this historic rise in poverty worldwide, which we also haven’t seen for decades.”
He added that the super-rich have become more wealthy thanks largely to taxpayers’ money.
“Because of the trillions of dollars that rich countries poured into the economy in response to COVID-19. So, that was the first thing, and that drove up asset prices. And now we’re seeing this really sharp increase in addition in the fortunes of food and energy billionaires, as you see the profits in those sectors soar because of prices rising,” he told VOA. According to Oxfam, the world’s 10 richest men now own more wealth than the poorest 40% of humanity, or 3.1 billion people. The report says the richest 20 billionaires are worth more than the entire GDP of sub-Saharan Africa. As the rich have gotten richer, the past two years have put decades of progress against poverty at risk, Lawson said.
“A crisis of inequality. A crisis of climate-induced hunger all over the world. And then on top of that, the food price increases, and the problems of COVID-19. You put that together and you have more than a perfect storm,” he said. Meanwhile, the World Food Program warns that 49 million people are at immediate risk of famine in 43 countries.
“Our needs right now are an extra $68 billion that we need. We are only asking for one to two days’ worth of [the billionaires’] net worth increases. Is that too much to ask to stabilize the world against famine, destabilization and mass migrations?” David Beasley, executive director of the WFP, told The Associated Press in Davos. The WFP says Ukraine supplies enough grain to feed 400 million people, but its ports are blockaded by Russia.
“If we don't get those ports open, you will be talking about a food pricing problem over the next 10 to 12 months,” Beasley warned. “But next year, it's going to be a food availability problem, and that is going to be hell on earth.”
Oxfam says governments have the power to tackle the growing inequality through fairer taxes.
“This is a product primarily of government interventions. Huge amounts of money poured into the economy. This is our money. It’s driven up the fortunes of these companies. Let’s claw it back. Let’s have a series of taxes — one-off solidarity taxes, windfall taxes, wealth taxes — and bring the world back to balance,” Lawson said. Some European countries, including Portugal and Italy, have imposed windfall taxes on energy firms. Others, including Britain, argue that such taxes would deter investment at a critical time as Western nations try to wean themselves off Russian energy imports.