Billionaires around the world added $4 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic

tax the rich protest US billionaires
  • A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies analyzes billionaires’ gains during the pandemic.
  • The world’s 2,365 billionaires added $4 trillion to their collective wealth, it found.
  • A January Oxfam report said billionaires’ global gains could pay for everyone’s vaccine.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

From March 18, 2020, to March 18, 2021, the world’s billionaires added $4 trillion to their wealth, according to a new report from the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

That’s a 54% increase for the world’s 2,365 billionaires, who now have $12.39 trillion. The wealthiest 20 billionaires alone added $742 billion to their collective wealth during a pandemic – a 68% increase.

A January Oxfam report, which tracked global billionaire gains through December 31, 2020, found that the world’s billionaires had added $3.9 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic – an increase that could pay for the entire world’s vaccinations and prevent anyone from falling into poverty. That report found that recovery for people at the bottom could take up to a decade, with 200 million to 500 million people falling into poverty in 2020.

Now, according to the IPS report, which analyzes data from Forbes, Bloomberg, and Wealth-X, those billionaire gains have grown.

Renewed calls for a wealth tax

One of the Oxfam report’s possible solutions for creating a “better world” was imposing a wealth tax.

The IPS report found that American billionaires account for less than a third of that total wealth. But a wealth tax like the one proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren – where households with a net worth of over $50 million would see a 2% tax, and those with over $3 billion would see a 3% tax – would still raise $120 billion per year, according to the report.

From the end of 2019 to the end of 2020, the top 1% of Americans added just about $4 trillion to their wealth, while the bottom 50% held just $2.49 trillion in total household wealth by the end of 2020.

However, a wealth tax may still be a ways off in the US. President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure package is paired with an accompanying tax hike. But that increase would only target corporations, raising the corporate tax from 21% to 28%, and seek to enact a global minimum tax rate of 21%. It leaves wealth individuals alone, for now, although Biden’s administration has said it wants to tax households making $400,000 a year and up.

“I’m open to other ideas, so long as they do not impose any tax increase on people making less than $400,000,” Biden said in his speech introducing the package.

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Most of the world’s poorest countries haven’t administered a single COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance

Zipline vaccine
Zipline started distributing vaccines by drone in Ghana as part of COVAX’s first vaccine shipment.

  • At the start of March, at least 47 poor countries reportedly had not given any COVID-19 shots.
  • The data came from the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
  • Suspending patents would speed up production, experts said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As wealthier nations speed up their COVID-19 vaccine rollout, poorer countries are being left behind.

Rich nations, on average, vaccinated one person every second throughout January and February, while the majority of the poorest nations are yet to give a single dose, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

Developing countries also face “critical shortages” of oxygen and medical supplies to cope with COVID-19 cases, the Alliance, a coalition of campaigning organizations including Oxfam, the International Trade Union Confederation, and ActionAid, said.

Vaccine doses are going to wealthier countries

To prevent wealthier countries from snatching up vital doses of the vaccine, groups including the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the COVAX scheme in April 2020.

Countries sign up to access an equal share of successful vaccine candidates, meaning the doses are shared among richer and poorer countries.

The companies behind the initiative said: “For lower-income funded nations … COVAX is quite literally a lifeline and the only viable way in which their citizens will get access to COVID-19 vaccines.”

Despite being a “phenomenal effort at international collaboration,” Covax is “seriously underfunded,” Ted Schrecker, professor of global health policy at Newcastle University Medical School, told Insider.

Covax made its first delivery to Ghana in February. Even as the doses procured through COVAX roll out to poor countries, however, the scheme will only be able to vaccinate 3% of their populations by mid-year, and “at best” 20% by the end of 2021, the Alliance said.

As of 4 March, at least 47 of the world’s 79 lowest-income countries hadn’t vaccinated any of their population, according to the Alliance.

In comparison, President Joe Biden said the US would have enough vaccines for every adult in America by the end of May.

Throughout the pandemic, groups including the People’s Vaccine Alliance have been raising concerns about “vaccine nationalism.” This is when richer countries hoard vaccines, while poorer countries are left scrambling to get their own stocks.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, said in February rich countries with only 16% of the world’s population had purchased 60% of available vaccine supplies.

Suspending patents would speed up production

Vaccines doses need to be produced in different areas, priced affordably, allocated globally, and widely deployed for free in local communities, the Alliance said. “Thus far, the world is failing on all four fronts,” it concluded.

The Alliance added that vaccine producers across the world would be ready to produce COVID-19 vaccines if the pharmaceutical companies with authorized vaccines shared their technology and expertise.

A modern factory should be able to start producing vaccines within four months if given the blueprint and technical advice, Suhaib Siddiqi, former director of chemistry at Moderna, said.

“It’s an outrage that vaccine factories are lying idle, unable to produce COVID-19 vaccines because rich countries are prioritizing the patents of pharmaceutical companies ahead of the lives of people across the world,” Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said. He urged pharmaceutical companies to suspend the patents on their COVID-19 vaccines so that they can be produced more quickly.

Gabriela Bucher, executive director at Oxfam International, said: “By allowing a small group of pharmaceutical companies to decide who lives and who dies, rich nations are prolonging this unprecedented global health emergency and putting countless more lives on the line.”

Wealthier countries could be motivated to ensure all countries have access to a vaccine because of herd immunity beliefs, however.

“In order to control the virus, we need worldwide herd immunity, so between 60% and 72% of the population need immunizing,” Alison Copeland, professor of human geography at Newcastle University, told Insider.

“This will hopefully be enough incentive for richer countries to help out.”

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