Ten richest men double their fortunes in pandemic while incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall

Monday, January 17, 2022

Abuja, January 17, 2022  - New billionaire minted every 26 hours, as inequality contributes to the death of one person every four seconds

The world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion —at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3 billion a day— during the first two years of a pandemic that has seen the incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall and over 160 million more people forced into poverty.

In Nigeria, billionaires saw their wealth increase by 38% during the pandemic while 7.4 million people are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020. There are 4,690 individuals with a net worth of $5 million or more, with wealth totaling $107.2 billion. There are 245 individuals with $50 million or more with a combined wealth of $56.5 billion.

“If these ten men were to lose 99.999 percent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 percent of all the people on this planet,” said Oxfam International’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher. “They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people.”

In a new briefing “Inequality Kills,” published today ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, Oxfam says that inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or one person every four seconds. This is a conservative finding based on deaths globally from lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger, and climate breakdown.

“It is disappointing that the two richest billionaires in Nigeria have more wealth than the bottom 63 million Nigerians. It is about time we begin to correct these extreme inequalities.” Said the Country Director of Oxfam in Nigeria, Dr. Vincent Ahonsi.

“Collectively, the total wealth of the 3 billionaires in Nigeria equal to $24.9 billion and throughout the pandemic (beginning in mid-March 2020), their wealth increased $6.9 billion while the majority of Nigerians are poorer. It is a remarkable surge in wealth at the very top of the society, which has not impacted positively on the majority,” said Dr. Ahonsi.

Billionaires’ wealth has risen more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years. At $5 trillion dollars, this is the biggest surge in billionaire wealth since records began. A one-off 99 percent tax on the ten richest men’s pandemic windfalls, for example, could pay:

  • to make enough vaccines for the world;
  • to provide universal healthcare and social protection, fund climate adaptation and reduce gender-based violence in over 80 countries;
  • All this, while still leaving these men $8 billion better off than they were before the pandemic.

Extreme inequality is a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that perpetuate the wealth and power of a privileged few result in direct harm to the vast majority of ordinary people across the world and the planet itself.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated social-economic distress impact more on the families, women and girl now face unprecedented risk of physical, sexual and psychological abuse and violence,” said Dr. Ahonsi.

  • The pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to now 135 years. Women collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020, with 13 million fewer women in work now than there were in 2019. 252 men have more wealth than all 1 billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean combined.
  • The pandemic has hit racialized groups hardest. During the second wave of the pandemic in England, people of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the White British population. Black people in Brazil are 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White people. In the US, 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White people —this is directly linked to historical racism and colonialism.
  • Inequality between countries is expected to rise for the first time in a generation. Developing countries, denied access to sufficient vaccines because of rich governments’ protection of pharmaceutical corporations’ monopolies, have been forced to slash social spending as their debt levels spiral and now face the prospect of austerity measures. The proportion of people with COVID-19 who die from the virus in developing countries is roughly double that in rich countries.

Despite the huge cost of fighting the pandemic, in the past two years rich country governments have failed to increase taxes on the wealth of the richest and continued to privatize public goods such as vaccine science. They have encouraged corporate monopolies to such a degree that in the pandemic period alone, the increase in market concentration threatens to be more in one year than in the past 15 years from 2000 to 2015.

Inequality goes to the heart of the climate crisis, as the richest 1 percent emit more than twice as much CO2 as the bottom 50 percent of the world, driving climate change throughout 2020 and 2021 that has contributed to drought, floods, crop failures, food insecurity and hunger being experienced in Nigeria and other parts of the world.

“It is now a moral burden on billionaires to invest more on social goods including water and sanitation, education, food security, health and social infrastructure as part of their corporate social responsibilities for a just post-pandemic recovery,” said Dr. Ahonsi.

Oxfam recommends that governments urgently:

  • Claw back the gains made by billionaires by taxing this huge new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes. 
  • Invest the trillions that could be raised by these taxes toward progressive spending on universal healthcare and social protection, climate change adaptation, and gender-based violence prevention and programming.
  • Tackle sexist and racist laws that discriminate against women and racialized people and create new gender-equal laws to uproot violence and discrimination. All sectors of society must urgently define policies that will ensure women, racialized and other oppressed groups are represented in all decision-making spaces.
  • End laws that undermine the rights of workers to unionize and strike, and set up stronger legal standards to protect them.
  • Rich governments must immediately waive intellectual property rules over COVID-19 vaccine technologies to allow more countries to produce safe and effective vaccines to usher in the end of the pandemic.

“We can end inequality and it is a moral duty for the billionaires and corporations to play their part to end hunger, disease and poverty,” said Dr. Ahonsi.

Notes to editors: 

Download the “Inequality Kills” report and summary and the methodology document outlining how Oxfam calculated the statistics in the report.

Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available. Figures on the very richest in society come from Forbes’ 2021 Billionaires List. Figures on the share of wealth come from the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s Global Wealth Databook 2021. Figures on the incomes of the 99 percent are from the World Bank.

According to Forbes, the 10 richest people, as of 30 November 2021, have seen their fortunes grow by $821 billion dollars since March 2020. The 10 richest men were listed as: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bernard Arnault & family, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer and Warren Buffet.

All amounts are expressed in US dollars.

According to the WEF’s ‘Global Gender Gap Report 2021’, the pandemic has set gender parity back from 99 years to now 135 years.

The COVID-19 crisis cost women around the world at least $800 billion in lost income in 2020, equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries.

67,000 women die each year due to female genital mutilation and murder at the hands of a former or current intimate partner.  

According to England’s Office of National Statistics, during the second wave of the pandemic in England, people of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the White British population.

According to the OECD, Black people in Brazil are 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than White people.

In the US, 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White people.

The proportion of people with COVID-19 who die from the virus in developing countries is roughly double that in rich countries.

Despite strong recommendations by the IMF and OECD, very few rich nations have said they intend to introduce or increase taxes on wealth.  

The richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity during a critical 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth. Download Oxfam’s “Confronting Carbon Inequality Report.”

The carbon footprints of the richest 1 percent of people on Earth is set to be 30 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030. The poorest half of the global population will still emit far below the 1.5°C-aligned level in 2030. Download the study “Carbon Inequality in 2030”, commissioned by Oxfam based on research carried out by the Institute for European Environment Policy (IEPP) and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

Contact information: 

Rita Abiodun | rita.abiodun@oxfam.org | + 08089721663

For more information about Oxfam and its work in Nigeria, visit www.nigeria.oxfam.org.

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