January 20, 2022
This is an old story. The rich get richer. The rich get richer faster and faster. Nationally and globally, more and more get left behind with painful and tragic consequences.
A new report from OXFAM, “ Inequality Kills”, is the newest version. This version documents how in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed almost 5.6 million people worldwide and more than 800,000 in the United States those with great wealth have seen their fortunes rise sharply.
“The world’s small elite of 2,755 billionaires has seen its fortunes grow more during COVID-19 than they have in the whole of the last fourteen years—fourteen years that themselves were a bonanza for billionaire wealth. This is the biggest annual increase in billionaire wealth since records began…It is enabled by skyrocketing stock market prices, a boom in unregulated entities, a surge in monopoly power, and privatization, alongside the erosion of individual corporate tax rates and regulations, and workers’ rights and wages— all aided by the weaponization of racism…the top 1% have captured 19 times more of global wealth growth than the whole of the bottom 50% of humanity. Inequality is now as great as it was at the pinnacle of Western imperialism in the early 20th century. The Gilded Age of the late 19th Century has been surpassed.”
OXFAM has gone one step further. Not only does this report provide insight into the continuing growth of wealth inequality it documents the tragic consequences of national and international policies which allow, even encourage, this degree of wealth hoarding. “This was never by chance, but by choice. Extreme inequality is a form of “economic violence”—where structural and systemic policy and political choices that are skewed in favor of the richest and most powerful people result in direct harm to the vast majority of ordinary people worldwide.”
That harm occurs from the unwillingness to provide a global safety net that would ensure every man, woman and child have access to proper medical care; all have a proper standard of living that wipes out hunger and housing insecurity; and that we can remediate the climate disaster we are now facing. Rather than ensure we are protecting the most vulnerable, we continue to protect the right of the wealthy to become wealthier above all else.
As the pandemic grew and grew, men and women who were in the position to sell the things the world desperately needed to try to keep the virus at bay seized the opportunity to join the list of the mega-rich. In April, Forbes identified a list of 40 new billionaires whose fortunes grew because we needed masks, medical equipment, and vaccines. “Some vaccine companies have been so successful that their rise over the last year has minted several new billionaires from the same company, including four apiece from Moderna and Tianjin-based CanSino Biologics, which saw its one-shot vaccine approved by Chinese regulators in February. And it’s not just the vaccine discoverers: companies that mass-produce the vaccines and contract research firms that help firms run clinical trials have both reaped the rewards, creating new fortunes for people like Juan López-Belmonte López of Spanish pharma outfit Rovi and Karin Sartorius-Herbst and Ulrike Baro of German biopharma firm Sartorius AG.”
Governments chose to allow the silent hand of the marketplace to take control of desperately needed items, to allow prices to be driven by demand, and ignore a universal need. Governments, even when they have invested heavily in the development of vaccines, have refused to insist that they be available for all to produce. Governments, our own included, have refused to see this crisis as a crisis and refused to take control of the production and distribution of needed materials in the same way they controlled bullets and bombs in an earlier war. Rather, governments just became one more customer of the businesses profiting from the pandemic’s misery. Rather than forcing them to share and produce at cost, our government has chosen to support private businesses, allowing rich countries to access resources and making poorer countries beg for charity and wait at the end of the line. .
Just days after OXFAM issued its report, it joined with The Institute for Policy Studies, Patriotic Millionaires, and the Fight Inequality Alliance to provide a recipe,“Taxing Extreme Wealth”, for a modest wealth tax that could provide much of the cure for the impact of growing wealth inequality. “An annual wealth tax on the world’s millionaires and billionaires could …generate enough revenue to pay to make enough vaccines for the entire world and fill financing gaps in climate measures, universal health and social protection, and efforts to combat gender-based violence in over 80 countries.” It could also, alternatively, make a big dent in the plight of the “3.297 billion people living on the poverty line of less than $5.50 a day.”
Viewed only from the perspective of our country, a wealth tax would make the festering argument about whether we can afford the Build Back Better investments at the levels they were originally proposed seem immaterial. “An annual wealth tax in the United States would raise $928.39 billion a year (with rates at 2% on wealth over $5 million, 3% on wealth over $50 million, and 5% over $1 billion).” Remember the last august when House Democrats were jumped on for the “unaffordable” desire to spend when they proposed programs estimated to cost $3.5 trillion over 10 years (that is just $350 million per year.)
The issue is not affordability, it is will. Do we as a nation and as a global community have the will to turn to those with great wealth, those who have profited from the misery of billions, and expect them to pay their share of the cost of a humane society and world?
Sociologist Duncan Watts has written about the balance we must demand that our policymakers remember when he observed that “building a successful life requires a deep conviction that you are the author of your own destiny. Building a successful society requires an equally deep belief that no one’s destiny is their own to write. Balancing these seemingly contradictory ideas may be the most important social challenge of our time.”
Abigail Disney, a member of the Patriotic, described the balance we need to restore in her forward to “Inequality Kills”, “the answer to these complicated problems is ironically simple: taxes. Mandatory, inescapable, ambitious tax reform on an international level— this is the only way to fix what is broken. Without high-functioning governments actively using plentiful resources to redress these injustices, we will head yet further down the rabbit hole the wealthy class has dug for us all.”
There is more than enough money to solve most of the world’s problems. It’s just being held in the hands of millionaires and billionaires who aren’t paying their fair share.