According to a new report by Oxfam, ‘The Inequality Virus’, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9tn (trillion) between 18 March and 31 December 2020. Their total wealth now stands at $11.95tn. The world’s 10 richest billionaires have collectively seen their wealth increase by $540bn over this period. In September 2020, Jeff Bezos could have paid all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was before COVID.
At the same time, hundreds of millions of people will lose (have lost) their jobs and face destitution and hunger. It is estimated that the total number of people living in poverty could have increased by between 200 million and 500 million in 2020. The number of people living in poverty might not return even to its pre-crisis level for over a decade.
Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and head of Reliance Industries, which specialises in petrol, retail and telecommunications, doubled his wealth between March and October 2020. He now has $78.3bn. The average increase in Ambani’s wealth in just over four days represented more than the combined annual wages of all of Reliance Industries’ 195,000 employees.
The Oxfam report states that lockdown in India resulted in the country’s billionaires increasing their wealth by around 35 per cent. At the same time, 84 per cent of households suffered varying degrees of income loss. Some 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020 alone.
The authors also noted that income increases for India’s top 100 billionaires since March 2020 was enough to give each of the 138 million poorest people a cheque for 94,045 rupees.
The report went on to state:
“… it would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic… and three years to make what Ambani made in a second.”
During lockdown and after, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the cities (who had no option but to escape the country’s avoidable but deepening agrarian crisis) were left without jobs, money, food or shelter.
It is clear that COVID has been used as cover for consolidating the power of the unimaginably rich. But plans for boosting their power and wealth will not stop there.