A one-time 99% tax on billionaires' massive pandemic wealth gains would raise enough revenue to pay for coronavirus vaccines for every adult on Earth—and provide each of the hundreds of millions of unemployed workers around the world with a $20,000 cash grant.
"Governments need to tax the rich for us to stand any chance of reversing the inequality crisis we're in."
—Njoki Njehu, Fight Inequality Alliance
So finds an analysis released late Wednesday by Oxfam International, the Fight Inequality Alliance, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the Patriotic Millionaires, progressive advocacy organizations that are pushing governments to tax billionaires to help fund critical pandemic relief measures.
According to the groups' new report, global billionaires have seen their collective net worth soar by nearly 69%—from $8 trillion to $13.5 trillion—since the start of the pandemic, which has killed more than 4.3 million people and unleashed economic havoc worldwide, intensifying poverty, hunger, housing insecurity, and joblessness. Oxfam recently found that global deaths from hunger and malnutrition—as many as 11 per minute—are outpacing coronavirus fatalities.
Taxing billionaires' pandemic wealth gains at a rate of 99%, the analysis shows, would raise $5.4 trillion in revenue and still leave the world's 2,690 billionaires about $55 billion richer—roughly $37 million per billionaire—than before the crisis.
"Billionaire Jeff Bezos could personally pay for enough vaccines for the whole world, yet he would rather spend his wealth on a thrill ride to space," said Max Lawson, the head of inequality policy at Oxfam International. Bezos, the richest man on Earth, has seen his wealth grow by more than $79 billion during the pandemic, from $113 billion in March 2020 to $192.4 billion today, the new analysis finds.
The organizations estimate that fully vaccinating the world's entire adult population would cost around $70 billion, and a one-time $20,000 cash grant to all jobless workers would cost $4.4 trillion.
"Covid-19 is turning the gap between rich and poor into an unbridgeable chasm," Lawson added. "The obscene levels of wealth gained from the pandemic by a handful of mega-rich individuals should immediately be taxed at 99%―enough to fully vaccinate everyone on Earth and help millions of workers who lost their jobs due to Covid-19. Only with this kind of radical and progressive policymaking will we be able to fight inequality and end poverty."
Njoki Njehu, Pan Africa coordinator at the Fight Inequality Alliance, said in a statement that "with a 99% tax on billionaires' Covid-19 wealth gains, we are calling time on this age of greed."
"Billionaire wealth is not earned," Njehu continued. "It's their money 'earned' by your sweat―and it's high time that sweat began to pay off. Governments need to tax the rich for us to stand any chance of reversing the inequality crisis we're in."
"The surge in global wealth during an unprecedented pandemic is morally repugnant."
—Chuck Collins, Institute for Policy Studies
More than 4.5 billion coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered across the globe thus far, but just 1.2% of those doses have gone to people in low-income countries—leaving billions without access to a single shot. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 11 billion vaccine doses will be necessary to end the pandemic.
Because rich countries have blocked an effort to temporarily waive international patent protections, pharmaceutical companies have maintained a stranglehold on global vaccine production—and they've predictably sold most of their supply to wealthy nations, some of which are now rolling out booster shots despite the WHO's call for a moratorium aimed at shrinking the persistent inoculation gap.
In May, The People's Vaccine Alliance found that coronavirus vaccine profiteering has produced at least nine new billionaires with a combined net worth of $19.3 billion.
The new analysis of billionaires' wealth gains shows that the richest people on the planet have seen their collective fortune grow "more over the past 17 months than it has in the past 15 years, and 325 new billionaires joined the 'three-comma club' since the pandemic began―equivalent to roughly one new billionaire minted every day."
"The surge in global wealth during an unprecedented pandemic is morally repugnant," said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. "Taxing pandemic wealth windfalls to fund global vaccination is a just and practical way to address the suffering for millions who have lost their lives and livelihoods."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Jake Johnson.