Spike in inequality as billionaires thrive amid Covid-19, says Oxfam

The 10 richest men, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (above) and Tesla founder Elon Musk, saw their net worth increase by US$540 billion between March and December last year.
The 10 richest men, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (above) and Tesla founder Elon Musk, saw their net worth increase by US$540 billion between March and December last year.
The 10 richest men, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla founder Elon Musk (above), saw their net worth increase by US$540 billion between March and December last year.
The 10 richest men, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla founder Elon Musk (above), saw their net worth increase by US$540 billion between March and December last year.

LONDON • Billionaires, including Amazon's Mr Jeff Bezos and Tesla founder Elon Musk, have seen their wealth soar during the Covid-19 pandemic while the world's poor face years of hardship, charity Oxfam said yesterday as it demanded steps to tackle inequality.

Nations have a "shrinking window of opportunity" to build a fair, green recovery, according to The Inequality Virus report, published as global leaders tune in for the World Economic Forum's virtual Davos Dialogue meeting.

"We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began," Oxfam International executive director Gabriela Bucher said in a statement as the charity called for higher wealth taxes and stronger protections for workers.

"Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in luxury, while those on the front line of the pandemic - shop assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors - are struggling to pay the bills."

Covid-19 has unleashed an economic storm that hit the poor and vulnerable hardest, with women and marginalised workers facing the worst of job losses and the World Bank warning more than 100 million people could be pushed 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.

Meanwhile, the collective wealth of the world's billionaires rose US$3.9 trillion (S$5.2 trillion) between March and December last year to reach US$11.95 trillion, the report calculated.

The 10 richest men - a list led by Mr Bezos and Mr Musk which also includes LVMH luxury group's CEO Bernard Arnault, Microsoft's Mr Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg - saw their net worth increase by US$540 billion in the same period, Oxfam said.

That sum would be enough to prevent anyone from falling into poverty as a result of the pandemic and pay for a vaccine for everyone on earth, researchers calculated.

The pandemic marks a "pivotal" point which has exposed economic disparities and built support for "transformative" policies, Oxfam said, calling for higher taxes on wealth and corporations alongside stronger protections for workers.

A temporary tax on excess profits made by the 32 global corporations that have profited the most during the pandemic could have raised US$104 billion last year, Oxfam said.

International cooperation would be key to implementing many changes, said Professor Jayati Ghosh of the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was among the economists polled by Oxfam for the report.

The administration of new US President Joe Biden will spur "more willingness" for joint action on issues including a crackdown on tax havens and a bailout for developing nations, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

"There are some very, very big hurdles, but there are many things that can be done very quickly," she added.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2021, with the headline 'Spike in inequality as billionaires thrive amid Covid-19, says Oxfam'. Subscribe