Despite the misery of millions, ten of the richest people in the world have boosted their already vast wealth by more than $400bn (£296bn) since the coronavirus pandemic began as their businesses were boosted by lockdowns and financial crises across the globe.
Americans for Tax Fairness estimates the collective wealth of America’s 651 billionaires has risen by $1.1tn over the same period. Frank Clemente of Americans for Tax Fairness said:
“Their pandemic profits are so immense that America’s billionaires could pay for a major Covid relief bill and still not lose a dime of their pre-virus riches. Their wealth growth is so great that they alone could provide a $3,000 stimulus payment to every man, woman and child in the country, and still be richer than they were nine months ago.”
Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, has watched his wealth rocket by $70bn since March to a record $185bn as hundreds of millions of people trapped at home turned to the online delivery giant to keep themselves fed and entertained. During the pandemic, his wealth has grown by 66%.
His gains pale in comparison to those of Elon Musk, chief executive of electric car company Tesla. Musk’s fortune soared to $153bn, up from $25bn in March, as investors bet that the pandemic would lead governments to speed up the switch from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. Musk, 49, owns 20% of Tesla and is now the world’s second-richest person, up from 35th in the global league table of billionaires back in January. Tesla shares have risen almost sevenfold since March as investors bet that the company would be a clear leader in an electric future. From Monday, the firm will be included in the blue-chip S&P 500 index – news which has led to a further surge in demand for shares over recent weeks.
Bernard Arnault, Europe’s richest person, has seen his fortune double since the pandemic began, as demand for luxury brands in his LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton stable bounced back. Arnault’s wealth increased from $69bn in March to $148bn, to make him the third-richest person on the planet.
Bill Gates of Microsoft and the fourth-richest person, has an estimated $120bn fortune. Gates’s wealth has increased by about $20bn since March.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who saw his wealth increase by about 80% to $100bn,
Warren Buffett, whose fortune increased by 26% to $85bn.
Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, whose wealth swelled by 50% to $88bn.
Google’s Larry Page increased his wealth by half to $76bn, his co-founder, Sergey Brin, saw a similar increase to $74bn,
Amancio Ortega, founder of Inditex, saw his fortune rise 47% to $75bn.
Ana Arendar, the head of Oxfam’s inequality campaign, said the fact that the richest of the rich have made so much money during the coronavirus pandemic “proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the global economic system is not fit for purpose”.
“Allowing the wealth of a tiny few to explode while hundreds of millions suffer is nothing short of a dereliction of duty,” she said of global governments’ inaction on widening inequality. “Extreme poverty is rising for the first time in a decade and hundreds of millions of people face dire hardship; in many cases failing into debt, skipping meals and being forced into destitution,” Arendar said. “Governments need to stop pandering to the richest..."
Luke Hildyard, executive director of the High Pay Centre, a thinktank that focuses on excessive pay, said: “People perhaps fail to appreciate the vast extent of billionaire wealth. To give you some perspective, just the increase in the net worth of these 10 individuals over the past 10 months is more than the estimated amount that the UK government has spent this year fighting the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus on behalf of 66 million people.”
Fine words and but such sentiments are no solution. Tinkering around with the re-distribution of wealth does not go to the root cause of inequality. We need an economic system change