“It is tearing our societies apart.”
The super rich became super richer and the super poor became super poorer still. Inequality now does more damage than western imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries.
That is one of the most devastating consequences of the two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.
During those two years in the Philippines, the 50 richest Filipino families increased their wealth by 30 percent.
I will not identify these families. You google “Forbes Philippines Richest 2021” to get their names.
At the same time, per pollster Social Weather Stations in 2021, 82 percent of Filipinos became poor –49 percent felt being poor, and another 33 percent counted themselves borderline poor, meaning poor just the same. In fact, only 17 percent of Filipinos consider themselves “not poor”.
Poor, per the World Bank, is not earning $1.90 per day. Supposedly, that should be your income per day to be able to buy three meals a day and live like a human being. Some dogs are richer.
Worldwide, a new billionaire was being created every 26 hours since the pandemic began. The world’s 10 richest men doubled their fortunes, while over 160 million people are projected to have been pushed into poverty, according to Oxfam International, a think tank.
Oxfam has released Jan. 17, 2022, its “Inequality Report”. Its findings include:
• 252 men have more wealth than all one billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, combined.
• Inequality contributes to the death of at least one person every four seconds.
• Since 1995, the top one percent have captured nearly 20 times more of global wealth than the bottom 50 percent of humanity.
• Twenty of the richest billionaires are estimated, on average, to be emitting as much as 8,000 times more carbon than the billion poorest people.
• Every day inequality contributes to the deaths of at least 21,300
• An estimated 5.6 million people die every year for lack of access to healthcare in poor countries.
Meanwhile, an estimated 17 million people have died from COVID-19—a scale of loss not seen since the Second World War.
These issues are all part of the same, deeper malaise. It is that inequality is tearing our societies apart. It is that violence is rigged into our economic systems. It is that inequality kills.
The coronavirus pandemic has been actively made deadlier, more prolonged, and more damaging to livelihoods because of inequality. Inequality of income is a stronger indicator of whether you will die from COVID-19 than age.
Millions of people would still be alive today if they had had a vaccine—but they are dead, denied a chance while big pharmaceutical corporations continue to hold monopoly control of these technologies.
This vaccine apartheid is taking lives, and it is supercharging inequalities worldwide.
Institutions including the IMF, World Bank, Credit Suisse, and the World Economic Forum have all projected that the pandemic has triggered a spike in inequality within countries across the world.
The world’s poorest people and racialized groups are bearing the brunt of pandemic deaths. In some countries, the poorest people are nearly four times more likely to die from COVID-19 as the richest.
People of Bangladeshi origin were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared with the White British population in England during the second wave of the pandemic.
These present-day divides are directly linked to historical legacies of racism, including slavery and colonialism. This is also expressed by the fact that the gap between rich and poor nations is now expected to rise for the first time in a generation.
People who live in low- and middle- income countries are around twice as likely to die from COVID-19 infection as people who live in rich countries.
At least 73 countries face the prospect of IMF-backed austerity risks worsening inequality between countries, and every type of inequality within countries.
Women’s rights and progress toward gender equality will be hit hard by these austerity measures, amid a crisis that has already set back the goal of achieving gender parity by a whole generation to 135 years, when previously it was 99.
What makes this situation even harsher is that women in many countries face a second pandemic of increased gender-based violence—while, as with every crisis, having to absorb the shock of a mountain of unpaid care work that keeps them trapped at the bottom of the global economy.
The cost of the profound inequality we face is in human lives. Oxfam’s study shows, based on conservative estimates, inequality contributes to the deaths of at least 21,300 people each day.
Every four seconds, inequality contributes to the death of at least one person.
Drawing historical comparisons with the scale of today’s inequality crisis is challenging, but some comparisons are clear.
In July 2021, the world’s richest man launched himself and his friends into space in his luxury rocket while millions were dying needlessly below him because they could not access vaccines or afford food.
Jeff Bezos’ own iconic Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake” moment will forever be more accurately quoted: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and customer because you guys paid for all of this.” The increase in Bezos’ fortune alone during the pandemic could pay for everyone on earth to be safely vaccinated.
The world’s small elite of 2,755 billionaires has seen its fortunes grow more during COVID-19 than they have in the whole of the last 14 years—14 years that themselves were a bonanza for billionaire wealth.
This is the biggest annual increase in billionaire wealth since records began. It is taking place on every continent. It is enabled by skyrocketing stock market prices, a boom in unregulated entities, a surge in monopoly power, and privatization, alongside the erosion of individual corporate tax rates and regulations, and workers’ rights and wages— all aided by the weaponization of racism.
These trends are alarming. By not vaccinating the world, governments have allowed the conditions for the COVID-19 virus to dangerously mutate.
At the same time, they have also created the conditions for an entirely new variant of billionaire wealth. This variant, the billionaire variant, is profoundly dangerous for our world.
Per the World Inequality Lab, since 1995, the top one percent have captured 19 times more of global wealth growth than the whole of the bottom 50 percent of humanity.
Inequality is now as great as it was at the pinnacle of Western imperialism in the early 20th century.