“A new report issued by the UK-based charity Oxfam International ahead of this week’s virtual World Economic Forum, which is usually held annually in Davos, Switzerland, underlined the effect of government policies enacted in response to the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. The report shows that deliberate policies enacted by capitalist governments around the world has resulted in a further concentration of wealth among the financial oligarchy while exacerbating already historic levels of global wealth inequality.
Testifying to the interconnected character of the global capitalist system, the report notes that for the first time since 1870, the oldest tax records available to Oxfam, “per capita incomes are expected to decline in all regions. This means it is likely that COVID-19 will drive up inequality in virtually every country on earth simultaneously. This will be the first time that this has happened since records of inequality began, over a century ago.”
Despite annual reports from Oxfam highlighting the ever-worsening inequality endemic to the capitalist system, the authors write: “The total number of billionaires nearly doubled in the ten years after the financial crisis of 2008, and between 2017-2018 a new billionaire was created every two days.” Meanwhile, Oxfam estimates that globally 56 percent of the population lives on between
$2 and $10 a day.
While more than three billionaires were being minted every week before the pandemic emerged, Oxfam notes that “billions of people were already living on the edge… they did not have any resources or support to weather the economic and social storm it created. Over three billion people did not have access to health care, three-quarters of workers had no access to social protection like unemployment benefits or sick leave, and in low- and lower-middle income countries over half of workers were in working poverty.”
The report notes that while millions of workers the world over have lost their jobs, wealth and loved ones over the last year, billionaires’ collective wealth increased by a stupefying $3.9 trillion between March 18 and December 31, 2020. The 10 richest “pandemic profiteers,” including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Zhong Shanshan, founder of beverage company Nongfu Spring, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, have seen their wealth increase by over $540 billion over the same period.
The $540 billion hoarded by just 10 people, Oxfam writes, “is more than enough to prevent anyone on Earth from falling into poverty because of the virus and to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for all.”
Collectively, the world’s billionaires, less than 2,300 people, control approximately $11.95 trillion in wealth, which Oxfam notes is the “equivalent to what G20 governments (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and the European Union) have spent collectively in response to the pandemic.”
While billionaires’ wealth and lives have been protected throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, Oxfam notes, “have a clear social gradient.” It explains: “COVID-19 mortality in the most deprived 10 percent areas in England is twice that of the least deprived 10 percent. Similar trends have been reported in France, Brazil, Nepal, Spain and India.”
While governments the world over have spent relatively little on measures to contain and eradicate the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 2.1 million people worldwide—430,000 of these deaths in the US alone—they have opened their coffers to provide the financial oligarchy with trillions of dollars in bailouts. At the same time that have demanded that workers risk their lives in disease-ridden workplaces and schools in order to continue the extraction of surplus labor value.
The clearest example of this was the quickness with which the world’s top billionaires recovered their wealth after the pandemic sent stocks plummeting in March 2020. Oxfam noted that it took the world’s top 1,000 billionaires nine months to recover their wealth, while it may take the world’s poor, which Oxfam estimates to have increased between 200 and 500 million globally throughout the pandemic, over a decade to return to “pre-crisis” levels.
The resulting growth of inequality and further concentration of wealth for a select few are the result of deliberate policy choices implemented by capitalist governments around the world, placing profits before lives.
This was seen in the US with the rapid and near unanimous passage of the multi-trillion-dollar CARES Act at the end of March 2020. The bill did not allocate billions to workers and their families to allow them to stay home while resources were used to train and hire thousands of doctors and nurses to care for the sick, implement a nationwide testing and contact tracing program, or build new hospitals.
Instead, the bipartisan measure provided a pittance to jobless workers, essentially blackmailing workers to go back on the job, while providing Wall Street with unlimited funds through quantitative easing policies via the Federal Reserve. This class policy safeguarded and increased the wealth of the ruling class, whose fortunes are predicated on the never-ending rise of the stock market.
While the CARES Act provided a one-time $1,200 check for adults and short-term enhanced unemployment benefits, the expiration of these benefits has since led to an increase in poverty in the US, according to new research by the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and the University of Notre Dame.
The authors of the study note that while poverty declined in the first few months of the pandemic, from 10.8 percent in January 2020 down to 9.3 percent in June, by the end of July, which saw the expiration of the $600 unemployment payments enacted in the CARES Act, poverty began to increase in the following months, ending December 2020 at 11.8 percent. The increase of 2.5 percentage points from July translates to some 8.1 million people, nearly equivalent to the population of Switzerland.
Anywhere between 200 and 500 million people around the world have been pushed into poverty this year, and roughly 3 billion people prior to the pandemic survived on less than $5.50 a day, or about $2,000 a year. The Oxfam report cites analysis by the World Bank that estimates that as of October 7, 2020, the pandemic had pushed between 88 and 115 million people into “extreme poverty,” that is, surviving on less than $1.90 a day, or about $694 a year.
Credit Jacob Crosse. Publication: World Socialist Web Site. Source link: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/01/26/oxfa-j26.html?pk_campaign=newsletter&pk_kwd=wsws