By Earl Bousquet
I love figures especially when well-presented, as they can always allow you to see the big picture behind them clearer than a written story or spoken words can tell.
We’ve been inundated for the past year with unending numbers of positive cases and deaths, costs of COVID-19 care, prices of vaccines and costs to economies wrecked by the virus, and we’ve also seen that money can’t save anyone from COVID-19.
Caribbean people have seen jobs and lives lost as well, one million dead in The Americas – almost half the world’s COVID-19 deaths.
But few ever give thought to the fact that COVID-19 is actually a huge cash cow being milked voraciously by the world’s richest.
I was, therefore, both glad and sad when a like-minded friend sent me an article by Chuck Collins of inequality.org with facts and figures that simply amazed me, as they will with you too.
Collins’ January 27, 2021 article was entitled ‘Billionaires Gone Wild – Pandemic Profiteering by the Numbers’ reveals how American millionaires turned into billionaires thanks to COVID-19 and it did grind my gear.
March 18 was the unofficial beginning of the pandemic and was also the publication date of Forbes’ Annual Billionaires Report in 2020, from where the author also drew numbers.
The article revealed that ‘The collective wealth of all US billionaires has increased over $1.1 trillion since mid-March 2020, a nearly 40 percent leap during the last ten months of national emergency’ in 2020.
Also, ‘the combined fortune of the nation’s 660 billionaires as of January 18, 2021, was $4.1 trillion, up 38.6 percent from just under $3 trillion on March 18, 2020.’
Indeed, he found there were ‘46 newly-minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were 614.’
At $4.1 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by 165 million bottom-half of the population.
But ordinary Americans have not fared as well during the pandemic: Over 25 million have fallen ill with the virus and almost 500,000 have died; over 73 million lost jobs between March and December; and 16 million were collecting unemployment on January 2, 2021.
Besides, ‘Nearly 100,000 businesses have permanently closed across America; over 12 million workers have lost employer-sponsored health insurance, and some 29 million adults reported in mid-December that their household had not had enough food in the previous week.’
Also: ‘Between 8 and 12 million American children lived in a household where kids did not eat enough because the household could not afford to fully feed them’; and ‘14 million adults – or 20 percent of all tenants reported in December being behind in their rent.’
And: ‘Because of long-standing racial and gender disparities, low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises of 2020, with Latinos more likely to become infected with COVID-19 and more Blacks likely to die from the disease than whites.’
The stock market surge and lock-down economy caused new estimates for the riches of the richest to be figured in the trillions.
According to Collins: ‘Jeff Bezos Elon Musk and Bill Gates were each worth more than $100 billion on January 18; but before that, Bezos had been the only US centi-billionaire, reaching the peak in 2018.
‘Today, Bezos and other billionaires have seen particularly astonishing increases in wealth: Musk’s wealth grew by over $154 billion (from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $179.2 billion on January 18) – a nearly eight-fold increase boosted by his Tesla vehicle brand.’
The boost in wealth of the SpaceX founder ‘was more than twice that of any other billionaire and also about seven times NASA’s $22.6 billion budget for 2020.’
Bezos’ wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $182 billion on January 18, an increase of 61 percent.
Adding-in his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott’s wealth of $55 billion on January 18, the two had a combined wealth of almost a quarter of a trillion dollars, thanks to their ownership of Amazon.
But by Collins’ calculation, ‘If Bezos’s $68.6 billion growth in wealth was distributed to all his 810,000 US employees, each would get a windfall bonus of almost $85,000 and Bezos would not be any poorer than he was in March.’
Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $92 billion in January, an increase of over two-thirds, fueled by Facebook.
According to Collins, ‘Taxing the wealthy to ensure they pay their fair share would transform a good chunk of those huge billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation.
‘But getting at that big boost in billionaire fortunes is not as simple as raising tax rates, as tax rules let the rich delay, diminish and even ultimately avoid any tax on the growth in their wealth.’
However, based on numbers from a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), ‘At $4 trillion, the total wealth of all US billionaires today is nearly double the $2.1 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, or 165 million Americans.
‘Never before has America seen such an accumulation of wealth in so few hands,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, adding: ‘Their wealth growth is so great that they alone could provide a $3,000 stimulus payment to every man, woman and child in America — and still be richer than they were nine months earlier.’
Like I said, while the figures made me glad, the finding made me sad – even mad – forcing me to more than just shake my head at the fact that just one percent of all that money can solve any Caribbean nation’s problems for years.
But those milking the cash cow rather leave the majority of Americans – and the world’s people – in COVID-19 tears, in 2021 and beyond.