Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The charitable organization Oxfam reports this week that 160 million people fell into poverty during the past two years of pandemic, while the richest 10 men in the world doubled their wealth from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion. The authors of the report argued that this is not simply a matter of wealth inequality, but that the extreme wealth of the few is actually killing the poor. The United Nations defines poverty as living on less than about $2 a day and suffering from “hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.”
Here are some of Oxfam’s findings by the numbers:
1. The world’s top 10 wealthiest men own more than the poorest 3.1 billion persons.
2. The investment portfolios of the globe’s 2,755 billionaires grew more during the pandemic than they had during the previous 14 years — and those 14 years hadn’t been too shabby for them either.
3. They say that if you add up all the wealth held by all the women and girls in Latin America + the Caribbean and Africa, some 1 billion people, it comes to less than the wealth holdings of the richest 252 men.
4. Each day, they write, inequality is a contributing factor in the deaths of at least 21,300 people, or four deaths every second that might not occur if wealth were more equally distributed.
5. If they had the same life expectancy as whites, 3.4 million more African-Americans would be alive today. The disparity has worsened since the advent of Sars-CoV-2.
6. The richest 20 billionaires are responsible for 8,000 times more carbon dioxide emissions than the poorest billion people on earth.
7. Every 26 hours since the novel coronavirus arose, a new billionaire has been minted.
8. Of the 17 million estimated COVID-19 deaths globally, the biggest death toll since World War II, the poor have borne the brunt of the disease. During the second, delta variant wave of the coronavirus, people of Bangladeshi heritage in England died at a rate 5 times higher than English whites.
9. International Monetary Fund-backed austerity measures for 73 countries have exacerbated inequality. Women had been an average of 99 years behind, but are now as much as 135 years behind on gender parity.
10. The authors say, “This is the biggest annual increase in billionaire wealth since records began. It is taking place on every continent. It is enabled by skyrocketing stock market prices,28 a boom in unregulated entities, a surge in monopoly power,30 and privatization,31 alongside the erosion of individual corporate tax rates and regulations,32 and workers’ rights and wages — all aided by the weaponization of racism.” Just as alarming, they say, is the way in which the greed of the pharmaceutical billionaires has created a vaccine Apartheid, with citizens of the wealthier countries much more likely to be vaccinated. The horrible thing is that this means new variants can incubate in the poor global South, potentially prolonging the pandemic and its severe economic impact.