Billionaires including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Tesla founder Elon Musk have seen their wealth soar during the Covid-19 pandemic as the world’s poor face years of hardship, charity Oxfam said on Monday when it called for action to address inequality.
Nations have a “shrinking window of opportunity” to build a fair, green recovery, according to the “The Inequality Virus” report, published as global leaders set for the World Economic Forum’s virtual “Davos Dialogue” meeting.
“We stand to witness the largest increase in inequality since records began,” said Gabriela Bucher, CEO of Oxfam International, in a statement calling on the charity to raise higher wealth taxes and stronger workers’ protection.
“Rigged economies drive wealth to a wealthy elite that rides out the pandemic in luxury, while those in the front line of the pandemic – shop assistants, healthcare professionals and market vendors – struggle to pay the bills.”
Covid-19 has unleashed an economic storm that hit the poor and vulnerable hardest, with women and marginalized workers facing the worst job losses and the World Bank warning more than 100 million people could be forced into extreme poverty.
It could take more than a decade to reduce the number of people living in poverty back to pre-crisis levels, Oxfam said.
At the same time, the collective wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $ 3.9 trillion between March and December 2020, reaching $ 11.95 trillion, the report estimated.
The ten richest men – a list led by Bezos and Musk that also includes the LVMH luxury group’s CEO Bernard Arnault, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – saw their net worth increase by $ 540 billion over the same period, Oxfam said.
That sum would be enough to prevent someone from falling into poverty as a result of the pandemic and paying for a vaccine for everyone on earth, researchers estimated.
The pandemic marks a “central” point that has exposed economic disparities and built support for “transformative” policies, Oxfam said, demanding higher taxes on wealth and business along with stronger protection for workers.
A temporary tax on surplus profits made by the 32 global companies that have earned the most during the pandemic could have raised $ 104 billion by 2020, Oxfam said.
International cooperation would be the key to implementing many changes, says Jayati Ghosh, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was among the economists asked by Oxfam for the report.
The administration of the new US President Joe Biden will stimulate “more willingness” for joint action on issues that include a powerful countermeasure of tax havens and a rescue for developing countries, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
“There are some very, very big obstacles, but there are many things that can be done very quickly,” she added.