Oxfam calls for an end to billionaire ‘bonanza,’ say millions are falling into extreme poverty

Olga Shumytskaya | Moment | Getty Images

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

There were 573 more billionaires in the world by March 2022 than in 2020, when the pandemic began, the global charity said in a brief that was published on Monday, the first day of the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland. That equates to one new billionaire every 30 hours, Oxfam said.

On top of that, it estimated that 263 million people could be pushed into extreme levels of poverty in 2022 because of the pandemic, growing global inequality and rising food prices that have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. That’s the equivalent of nearly a million people every 33 hours, Oxfam said.

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

Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, said that billionaires were arriving at the Davos summit to “celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes.”

“The pandemic and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them,” she said.

“Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” Bucher added.

Pandemic windfalls

Honing in on soaring wealth in specific business sectors, Oxfam said the fortunes of food and energy billionaires rose by $453 billion in the last two years, equating to $1 billion every two days.

For instance, food giant Cargill was reported to be one of four companies that control more than 70% of global agricultural market, Oxfam said. The corporation, owned by the Cargill family, generated a net income of nearly $5 billion last year — the biggest profit in its history. There are now 12 billionaires in the Cargill family alone, it said, up from eight prior to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Oxfam said the pandemic created 40 new billionaires in the pharmaceuticals sector. The billionaires are those who profited from their companies’ monopolies over vaccines, treatments, tests and personal protective equipment.

In order to prevent even starker wealth inequality, and to support people with rising food and energy costs, Oxfam recommended that governments impose one-off solidarity taxes on the pandemic windfalls of billionaires.

Ending ‘crisis profiteering’?

The charity also suggested that governments end “crisis profiteering” by introducing a 90% temporary excess profit tax on the windfalls generated by big corporations across all sectors.

Oxfam also proposed a permanent tax to rein in extreme wealth, monopoly power and the higher carbon emissions produced by the super-rich.

It said that an annual wealth tax starting at 2% on millionaires and 5% on billionaires could generate $2.52 trillion a year. That would be enough to lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the global population, as well as deliver universal health care and social protection for those living in low and lower-middle income countries.

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