In every crisis, an opportunity. And for some, Covid has been one hell of an opportunity. "Billionaires have had a terrific pandemic," says Oxfam Ireland's chief executive, Jim Clarken. A stock market boom, not least in pharma, fuelled by the stimulus provided by central banks and finance ministries around the world, has helped create a new billionaire every 26 hours since the pandemic began, the charity records in its annual report on global inequality, Inequality Kills. The world's 10 richest men have doubled their fortunes. And the world's 2,755 billionaires have seen their collective wealth increasing by $5 trillion to $13.8 trillion since March 2020.
The net worth of Ireland’s nine billionaires has increased by 58 per cent to €49.7 billion.
And it’s not just that the richest got richer, but the rest have been further impoverished. If Covid has been the main killer, rising inequality, specifically the widening gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of us, has been an incubator feeding the pandemic’s deadliness.
Millions of people would still be alive today if they had had a vaccine, but they were denied a chance
The 10 richest men in the world now own more than the bottom 3.1 billion people but World Bank figures show 163 million more people have been driven below the poverty line and the incomes of 99 per cent of the world's population reduced from March 2020 to October 2021.
According to the IMF, in that time the net wealth of the top 1 per cent richest households rose by nearly 35 percentage points of the economy’s disposable income, seven times the total increase for the bottom 50 per cent. And inequality is contributing to the deaths of at least 21,000 people each day, one person every four seconds, Oxfam argues, from lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger and climate breakdown.
Millions of people would still be alive today if they had had a vaccine, but they were denied a chance while big pharmaceutical corporations continued to monopolise control of these technologies. “This vaccine apartheid is taking lives, and it is supercharging inequalities worldwide,” Oxfam argues.
Its solutions are radical but political dynamite. A 99 per cent one-off windfall tax on the Covid wealth gains of the 10 richest men alone could generate $812 billion, to pay for enough jabs to vaccinate the entire world, and provide the resources in 80 countries to tackle climate change, provide universal healthcare and social protection, and address gender-based violence. Alone the increase in Jeff Bezos’s fortune during the pandemic could pay for everyone on Earth to be safely vaccinated.
Oxfam Ireland estimates a one and a half per cent wealth tax on Irish millionaires owning above €4 million could raise €4 billion in tax revenue. A one and half per cent wealth tax on Irish billionaires alone could raise a bit over €0.7 billion.