The Covid-19 crisis has led to the fastest rise in billionaire wealth on record, according to Oxfam. While 99% of humanity is worse off because of the pandemic, the richest 1% are better off, and the ten richest men in the world doubled their wealth.
As economies went into crisis mode, Oxfam explains, governments quickly authorised stimulus packages. Altogether, these were worth $16 trillion across the world, most of that going into financial markets. Since billionaire wealth rests on shares, the resulting inflation of stock prices drove up their net worth. The total wealth held by billionaires rose by $5 trillion in the last year.
American tech moguls may have got the headlines with their private space ventures during the pandemic, but this is not just a western phenomenon. India’s richest man, Gautam Adani, saw his wealth increase eight-fold as he bought into coal power, ports and airports.
The global economy is structured in such a way that making rich people richer is much easier than making the poor less poor. But who benefits more from an increase in wealth? A tiny increase for the poorest can be life-saving. What does more mean to those already commanding more wealth than they could spend in a 100 lifetimes? Elon Musk captured the meaninglessness of it when he tweeted his reponse to becoming the world’s richest man: “How strange. Well, back to work.”
Taken together, Oxfam reports that over the last quarter century, the top 1% have taken home 20 times more wealth than the entire poorest half of humanity.
Putting aside ideology for a moment, what is the purpose of an economy structured that way? What is it for? What does it acheive? And can we not do better than that?