During the COVID pandemic, essential workers have been given a metaphorical pat on the back as CEOs, politicians, and celebrities call them heroes and send them off to war, giving them no other option to working but to get laid off or evicted. Though they tend to work in food, farming, and healthcare, many are those who the speedy world of instant shopping so desperately depends on – laborers in warehouses, packaging, and deliveries. The sentiment of deep appreciation towards the labor of everyday people caring for others in the middle of a crisis is fair and reasonable, but the hero narrative can be used as a distractive and manipulative discourse when performed by the powerful elites. While workers get cheered on for saving the economy, it is the one percent that gets richer.
The coronavirus outbreak has been a true blessing for billionaires. In the meantime, unemployment, eviction, debt, and death spike amongst commoners, with black and brown people disproportionately affected. Workers are operating under hazardous conditions and they are hardly protected by their employers – laboring for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the masses.
American billionaires gained over $1.1 trillion during the pandemic.
Jeff Bezos has grown his fortune by 75.6 billion dollars since March 2020, amounting his wealth to $182.4 billion. The magnitude of such amounts of money is difficult to apprehend, so let’s look at these numbers from a different perspective: the total amount of COVID pay to one million Amazon workers is $1.8 billion. Did Bezos actually work 42 times harder than a million workers combined?
If Bezos were to give each of his Amazon workers a $75,000 bonus, he would still be richer than he was when the pandemic started.
Elon Musk’s fortune surged over 414 percent during the pandemic, reaching 185 billion dollars and making him the second richest man in the world. Bill Gates, Marck Zuckerberg, and the Walmart family are additional examples of excessively wealthy people who have benefited from the pandemic. Nevertheless, I chose the topmost billionaires for the purpose of comparing and contextualizing figures.
The figure below shows the growth experienced by American billionaire wealth from March 18th until November 24, 2020. Consider this wealth to keep growing.
Are billionaires doing great things for the advancement of society? Sure. Most are philanthropists who largely contribute to charity and science and are still bathing in gold after donations and tax evasions. But is it morally correct for anyone in this world to have that kind of money when over 700 million people (nearly 10% of the world population) live in extreme poverty and struggle to fulfill basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation? I don’t think so.
Let’s look at these numbers from a different angle. The United Nations estimates the cost to end world hunger by 2030, the primary cause of death, to be that of $30 billion a year.
Though I am no economist, I am quite sure $1.1 trillion, the sole amount of money made by American billionaires in the past year, would suffice to end world hunger and keep the rich in their glorious positions of power.
Capitalism does a great job in increasing productivity in order to enlarge the economic pie, but capitalists aren’t great when dividing the economic pie equally. The system we live in produces large wealth and opportunity gaps, resulting in some very successful people eating most of the pie and a whole bunch of people dying from hunger.
Here’s another perspective: the United States spent 738 billion dollars on defense in 2020. What if instead of approaching security and defense issues with weapons, military bases, and involvement in foreign regime changes, the U.S channeled that energy and money into saving lives?
The chart below shows the significance of the U.S military budget exceeding the total amount spent by the next ten countries with the highest military spending combined.
In my opinion, the misallocation of government resources is inextricably linked to the existence of people with this kind of money. After all, money makes the world go round. Billionaires have the full capacity and power to make the government serve their interests, and as we see now, even more so during a crisis.
The fact that billionaires benefit immensely from crises is nothing new. This makes sense for two main palpable reasons, firstly, government gives more aid to banks and corporations, so when the stock-market bounces back, the unequal bailouts result in the wealthy being way ahead of everyone else. Secondly, wealth-friendly tax laws and loopholes keep rich people at the top. It’s a true love story between the government and the rich.
Our rigged economic model leads to a massive concentration of wealth amongst a few people, which results in an aggravation of various types of inequality in all branches of society. The coronavirus outbreak has revealed the ugliest and most genuine side of this system, in which the world’s largest corporations make billions at the expense of low-wage workers who are at risk every day, in every way. These corporations funnel profits to shareholders and billionaires, a small group of white men in rich nations who refuse to let their greed go.
The following image is from the September 2020 Oxfam report: Power, Profits and the Pandemic.
So what can we do? For starters, we can purchase from local businesses instead of massive online retailers such as Amazon. Rather than funding billionaires, we can support everyday people and entrepreneurs. We can push the government to reallocate resources and demand the rich to pay their fair share. We can inform our peers, especially those who blindly relate to billionaires rather than sympathizing with 99% of the world. But unfortunately, this is all too idealistic. We have a deep, structural issue that needs to be tackled from its roots. And we, the commoners, have very little power. Yes, even you, with a father that makes 100,000 a year. We have more in common than you do with billionaires. What if we stopped supporting billionaires because they worked for it, and instead refused to allow people to accumulate billions of dollars?