Ireland’s handful of billionaires had an excellent pandemic swelling their already enormous wealth to the tune of €15.5 billion in just over two years since the global health crisis began.
The nine Irish citizens in the billionaire’s club saw their financial worth increase by 55 per cent to a total of €51 billion according to data from Forbes which was analysed in a report on the state of the world’s wealth by Oxfam.
By contrast close to 700,000 Irish people – including 200,000 children – are facing deprivation as we head into the summer of 2022.
The Oxfam report also suggests that globally one person became a billionaire every 30 hours over the course of the pandemic while every 33 hours throughout this year one million people will fall into extreme poverty.
The world’s billionaires’ wealth has risen more in the first 24 months of Covid-19 than in 23 years and the total wealth of the world’s billionaires is now equivalent to 13.9 per cent of global GDP, up from 4.4 per cent at the start of the century.
Seven out of the 10 richest people in the world made their money from technology, increasing their wealth by $436 billion since 2020.
Amazon is perhaps the greatest corporate winner of the pandemic having tripled its profits since 2019. Jeff Bezos has seen his personal wealth increase by $45 billion during the pandemic.
The top 10 billionaires – including Mr Bezos and Elon Musk, the world’s richest man – now own more wealth than the bottom 40 per cent of humanity, or 3.1 billion people.
The “Profiting from Pain” report was published by the charity to coincide with the start of the World Economic Forum – the exclusive get-together of the global elite – taking place in person in Davos for the first time since 2019.
“Billionaires are arriving in Davos 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.
“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,” said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.
Ms Bucher pointed out that the super-wealthy’s fortunes have not increased “because they are now smarter or working harder. Workers are working harder, for less pay and in worse conditions.
“The super-rich have rigged the system with impunity for decades and they are now reaping the benefits. They have seized a shocking amount of the world’s wealth as a result of privatization and monopolies, gutting regulation and workers’ rights while stashing their cash in tax havens – all with the complicity of governments.
“Meanwhile, millions of others are skipping meals, turning off the heating, falling behind on bills and wondering what they can possibly do next to survive. Across East Africa, one person is likely dying every minute from hunger. This grotesque inequality is breaking the bonds that hold us together as humanity. It is divisive, corrosive and dangerous. This is inequality that literally kills.”
Food and energy
According to the research corporations in the energy, food and pharmaceutical sectors – where monopolies are especially common – are posting record-high profits, even as wages have barely budged and workers struggle with decades-high prices and Covid-19.
The fortunes of food and energy billionaires have risen by $453 billion in the last two years, equivalent to $1 billion every two days. Five of the largest energy companies (BP, Shell, TotalEnergies, Exxon and Chevron) are together making $2,600 profit every second, and there are now 62 new food billionaires.
Together with just three other companies, the Cargill family controls 70 per cent of the global agricultural market. Last year Cargill made the biggest profit in its history ($5 billion in net income) and the company is expected to beat its record profit again in 2022. The Cargill family alone now has 12 billionaires, up from eight before the pandemic.
Oxfam International called for one-off solidarity taxes on billionaires’ pandemic windfalls to fund support for people facing rising food and energy costs and and end to “crisis profiteering” by introducing a temporary excess profit tax of 90 percent to capture the windfall profits of big corporations across all industries.
It also wants “permanent wealth taxes to rein in extreme wealth and monopoly power, as well as the outsized carbon emissions of the super-rich. An annual wealth tax on millionaires starting at just 2 per cent, and 5 per cent on billionaires, could generate $2.52 trillion a year - enough to lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world, and deliver universal healthcare and social protection for everyone living in low- and lower middle-income countries.”