Oxfam slams billionaire pandemic as bonanza as millions face poverty

Oxfam slams billionaire pandemic as ‘bonanza’ as millions face poverty

Olga Shumytskaya | moment | Getty Images

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a new billionaire emerged every 30 hours and nearly a million could fall into it extreme poverty at about the same rate in 2022. These are the sobering statistics recently released by Oxfam.

As of March 2022, there were 573 more billionaires worldwide than in 2020, when the pandemic began, the global charity said in a letter released on Monday, the first day of the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland. That’s the equivalent of a new billionaire every 30 hours, Oxfam said.

In addition, she estimated that 263 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty in 2022 due to the pandemic, growing global inequality and soaring food prices, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. That equates to almost a million people every 33 hours, according to Oxfam.

The organization pointed out that billionaires were collectively worth $12.7 trillion in March. In 2021, billionaire wealth was equivalent to nearly 14% of global gross domestic product.

Gabriela Bucher, chief executive of Oxfam International, said billionaires would come to the Davos summit to “celebrate an incredible surge in their wealth”.

“The pandemic and now the spike in food and energy prices has been, quite simply put, a gold mine for them,” she said.

“Meanwhile, decades of progress in tackling extreme poverty have been reversed, and millions of people are facing unimaginably increasing costs of mere survival,” added Bucher.

Pandemic Windfalls

Looking at rising wealth in certain business sectors, Oxfam said the wealth of food and energy billionaires has grown by $453 billion over the past two years, equivalent to $1 billion every two days.

For example, food giant Cargill has been reported to be one of four companies controlling more than 70% of the global agricultural market, Oxfam said. The company, which is owned by the Cargill family, posted nearly $5 billion in net income last year — the biggest profit in its history. There are now 12 billionaires in the Cargill family alone, up from eight before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Oxfam said the pandemic has created 40 new billionaires in the pharmaceutical sector. The billionaires are the ones who have benefited from their companies’ monopolies on vaccines, treatments, tests and personal protective equipment.

To prevent even wider wealth inequality and support people facing rising food and energy costs, Oxfam recommended governments levy one-off solidarity taxes on billionaires’ pandemic windfalls.

No more “crisis profiteers”?

The charity also suggested that governments should end “crisis profiteering” by introducing a temporary excess profits tax of 90% on windfall profits generated by big companies in all sectors.

Oxfam also proposed a permanent tax to curb the extreme wealth, monopoly power and higher carbon emissions of the super-rich.

It said an annual wealth tax of 2% for millionaires and 5% for billionaires could generate $2.52 trillion a year. That would be enough to lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, produce enough vaccines for the world’s population, and provide universal healthcare and social protection for those living in low- and middle-income countries.

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