The pandemic may have been one of the ‘best times in recorded history’ for the world’s burgeoning billionaire class

May 23, 2022, 5:16 PM UTC

As the world’s most powerful people embark on their pilgrimage to Davos for the World Economic Forum, the gap between rich and poor has widened into a dangerous chasm.

Thanks to central banks unleashing a tsunami of easy money that inflated equity market prices, billionaires were minted at a rate of one every 30 hours during the past two years, according to estimates by Oxfam.

The advocacy group devoted to fighting global poverty and hunger argued the combined wealth of the world’s billionaires now stands at $12.7 trillion, equivalent to 13.9% of global GDP and a three-fold increase over 2000 when it stood at just 4.4%.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic their mountain of wealth has reached unprecedented and dizzying heights,” concluded Oxfam in a study published on Monday. “The pandemic—full of sorrow and disruption for most of humanity—has been one of the best times in recorded history for the billionaire class.” 

According to the non-governmental organization, the fortunes of the world’s richest people increased as much in the span of 24 months as they did in 23 years. Now the bottom half of the global population would have to toil for an estimated 112 years to earn what the top 1% now rake in over just 12 months.

Meanwhile inflation has sparked a cost-of-living crisis for the poor and working class across the world. Oxfam estimates 263 million people could be pushed into “extreme levels of poverty” this year.

“Across the world, each and every dimension of inequality has skyrocketed,” the organization wrote, citing metrics like wealth, income, racial, health and gender injustice. “This is inequality that kills, contributing to the death of at least one person every four seconds.”

Windfall taxes on wealth, profits

Oxfam singled out the the Cargill family as profiting from what they estimate is a 30% increase in global food prices over the past year. The family now has 12 members who are billionaires, according to Oxfam, a number that has risen by half since the pandemic.

“The Cargill family, along with just three other companies, controls 70% of the global agricultural market,” Oxfam wrote.

Cargill did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Oxfam advocates for a wealth tax and one-time duties imposed on corporate profits that could then be used to protect ordinary people across the world and reduce inequality and suffering.

A windfall tax on the pandemic-related wealth gains of the 10 richest men alone would be enough to make vaccines for the entire world, according to Oxfam.

The organization added that the net worth of Elon Musk rose eightfold, making him the world’s richest man. It estimated he could lose 99% of his wealth and still be in the top 0.0001% of the world’s richest people. And Amazon’s Jeff Bezos saw his wealth soar by $45 billion since 2020.

Due to the ever-widening wealth gap, some economists have likened society to a hundred years ago during the roaring 20s. Traumatic events like hyperinflation that hit Weimar Germany and destroyed the social fabric ultimately ended in the rise of fascism.

“Governments must act now to rein in extreme wealth,” Oxfam warned. “The pandemic has shown us that sticking to the rigged policies of yesterday is a recipe only for more catastrophe.”

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