In early 2020, the world counted 2,095 billionaires. Today—two years, half-a-billion covid cases, and at least 6 million covid deaths later—there are 2,668.
One of the biggest global crises in modern history was a boon for some, creating 573 new billionaires—or one every 30 hours—according to Oxfam’s newest report on inequality, presented today at the World Economic Forum in Davos (pdf).
At the same time, the report notes, the cumulative death toll from the pandemic—between covid itself, and the other health and economic conditions it exacerbated, is somewhere in the range of 20 million people.
On top of that, the current levels of inflation—particularly with food prices rising globally—risks pushing more than 250 million people into extreme poverty this year alone.
The overall wealth of billionaires grew as much in the past two years as it did in the previous 23, and now accounts for about 14% of the global GDP; in 2000, billionaires only accounted for 4.4% of it. The wealthiest 10 people in the world now have more money than the poorest 40% of humanity.
Corporate profit and individual wealth grew the most in the areas where the general population faced the highest prices and challenges: Energy, food, and the pharmaceutical industry. Altogether, billionaires profiting from soaring food and energy prices have made $1 billion every two days throughout the pandemic, and there are now 26 more billionaires operating primarily in the food business than there were before the pandemic.
The pharmaceutical industry also minted several new billionaires, mostly profiting very directly from covid. Moderna, for instance, made $12 billion so far from its covid vaccine, which turns a 70% profit pre-taxes and is distributed almost exclusively in high-income countries. Four individuals became billionaires thanks to profits from the vaccine, which was developed thanks to $10 billion in US government funding.
While a few hundred people made impossible capital gains, millions haven’t been able to keep up with increasing prices for basic necessities.
Oxfam estimates that in the same time it takes a millionaire to be made, about a million more people will getting into extreme poverty (less than $1.9 a day) this year. This would add up to 263 million more to the rank of the extreme poor, bringing the total to more than a billion people, or nearly 14% of the global population. It would be the steepest increase in global poverty since 1981.