Billionaires see wealth double during pandemic as tech bros lead the charge

Now what – in the middle of a pandemic – is a useful thing we could do with that $800bn extra dosh, Oxfam wonders

Self-proclaimed visionaries of our times like to explode myths about what can and cannot be done. Inhabiting mars? Let's get on it, electric car maker Elon Musk says.

Heavy industry in space? It's on the to-do list, says online shop owner Jeff Bezos. Supersonic underground hyperloop connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes? No problem, they both chime in. Vaccinating the world to help slow the development of another deadly covid variant? Well, hold on there, know your limits, eh?

Except it could be done using only the increase in Bezos' fortune over the pandemic period, according to international poverty charity and campaign group Oxfam.

Research from the charity and campaign group has found that the world's 10 richest people more than doubled their fortunes from $700bn to $1.5tn during the first (almost) two years of the pandemic. During that time, the incomes of 99 per cent of humanity fell and over 160 million more people were forced into poverty, it said.

It will surprise no one that the list of the world's top richest men (and it is all men in the top 10 billionaires list) includes eight tech founders. Joining Musk (who made his first fortune with PayPal) and Bezos, are Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Oracle founder and CTO Larry Ellison, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In what Oxfam said is the greatest increase in billionaire wealth since records began, the world's small elite of 2,755 billionaires has seen its wealth increase more since the pandemic than the whole of the last 14 years, which were themselves a "bonanza" for billionaire wealth, the charity said.

"If these 10 men were to lose 99.999 per cent of their wealth tomorrow, they would still be richer than 99 per cent of all the people on this planet," said Oxfam International's executive director Gabriela Bucher. "They now have six times more wealth than the poorest 3.1 billion people."

Oxfam says that governments could tackle these inequalities by taxing the huge new billionaire wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes.

Putting aside for one moment the politics of how this might be done, it is possible to vaccinate the world to slow pandemics' development and help the world recover.

If the top tech billionaires paid for it, it would hardly dent their wealth but imagine what it would do to their already swollen egos. ®

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