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Richest 1% earn twice as much as rest of the world put together
A 5% tax on billionaires could raise enough money to lift 2 billion people out of poverty, Oxfam says
Tom King 18 Jan 2023

Globally, the richest 1% have made nearly twice as much money as the rest of the world put together over the past two years, according to a new study.

Billionaire fortunes are increasing by US$2.7 billion a day even as at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages, global charitable organization Oxfam says in its latest report.

The release of the report, Survival of the Richest, coincided with the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where global elites flew in with their private jets, as extreme wealth and extreme poverty increase simultaneously for the first time in 25 years.

“While ordinary people are making daily sacrifices on essentials like food, the super-rich have outdone even their wildest dreams. Just two years in, this decade is shaping up to be the best yet for billionaires – a roaring ’20s boom for the world’s richest,” says Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International.

The Oxfam report says the richest 1% gained nearly two-thirds of all new wealth worth US$42 trillion created since 2020, almost twice as much money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population.

It asserts that a tax of up to 5% on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could raise about US$1.7 trillion a year, enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty.

Billionaires have seen extraordinary increases in their wealth. During the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis years since 2020, US$26 trillion, or 63% of all new wealth, was captured by the richest 1%, while US$16 trillion or 37% went to the rest of the world.

Reducing inequality

Fortunes of billionaires have increased by US$2.7 billion a day. This comes on top of a decade of historic gains, the number and wealth of billionaires having doubled over the last 10 years. A billionaire gained roughly US$1.7 million for every US$1 of new global wealth earned by a person in the bottom 90%. 

Billionaire wealth surged in 2022 with rapidly rising food and energy profits. At least 95 food and energy corporations more than doubled their profits in 2022, according to the report. They made US$306 billion in windfall profits, and paid out US$257 billion, or 84% of that, to shareholders.

In Asia, Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, owner of major energy corporations, saw his wealth soar by US$42 billion (46%) in 2022 alone.

At the same time, at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages, and over 820 million people, roughly one in 10 people on earth, are going hungry.

Calling for efforts towards more equality, Oxfam is asking for a systemic and wide-ranging increase in taxation of the super-rich to claw back crisis gains driven by public money and profiteering.

The charity claims decades of tax cuts for the richest and corporations have fuelled inequality, with the poorest people in many countries paying higher tax rates than billionaires.

“Taxing the super-rich is the strategic precondition to reducing inequality and resuscitating democracy,” Bucher says. “We need to do this for innovation. For stronger public services. For happier and healthier societies. And to tackle the climate crisis, by investing in the solutions that counter the insane emissions of the very richest.”

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