Every year, just before the rich and powerful converge on the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum (WEF) summit, Oxfam publishes its annual report on global inequality.
This year’s Survival of the Richest: How we must tax the super-rich now to fight inequality report reveals, once again, that the super rich got even richer.
Meanwhile, billions suffer from a social-ecological-economic-political “poly crisis”, driven by the chronically inequitable capitalist system.
“We are living through an unprecedented moment of multiple crises," the report said. "Tens of millions more people are facing hunger. Hundreds of millions more face impossible rises in the cost of basic goods or heating their homes.”
The climate breakdown is “crippling economies” and droughts, cyclones and floods are forcing people to flee their homes.
“Millions are still reeling from the continuing impact of COVID-19, which has already killed over 20 million people. Poverty has increased for the first time in 25 years.”
These multiple crises all have winners, the report said. “The very richest have become dramatically richer and corporate profits have hit record highs, driving an explosion of inequality.”
The key statistics are mind numbing:
• Since 2020, the richest 1% has captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth — nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population.
• Billionaire fortunes are increasing by US$2.7 billion a day, even as inflation outpaces the wages of at least 1.7 billion workers (more than India’s total population).
• Food and energy companies more than doubled their profits last year, paying out US$257 billion to wealthy shareholders. Meanwhile more than 800 million people went to bed hungry.
• Only 4 cents in every dollar of tax revenue comes from wealth taxes; and half the world’s billionaires live in countries with no inheritance tax on money they give to their children.
• A tax of up to 5% on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could raise US$1.7 trillion a year — enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty and fund a global plan to end hunger.
We’ve all gotten used to the fact that the billionaire class gets richer and richer. But we shouldn’t let the apparent automatic capacity of wealth to grow make us believe this is some magical process.
It happens because great wealth is the power to exploit the labour of a great many people. The rich get richer because they get more people, directly or indirectly, to work for their profits.
We don’t need the billionaires, but they need us!
The wealth of billionaires allows them to effectively buy governments, force them to lower corporate tax rates while passing laws to restrict workers’ rights to collectively campaign for better wages and conditions.
As the Oxfam report said: “As soon as you join the ranks of the super wealthy, you have a whole range of exciting tools to avoid paying tax and to help you and your family get even wealthier!”
These include: untaxed capital gains; the power to “lobby” governments; the power to ignore tax rules as the tax authorities don’t have the capacity to challenge you; the power to hide your income and wealth offshore in tax havens; and, the power to pass on your wealth to your heirs, untaxed.
When the economy goes into a serious recession, the billionaire class expects to be bailed out with public funds. Just ask any banker.
WEF’s Global Risks Report warned of an unprecedented risk of greater global economic fragmentation, geopolitical tensions and widespread debt distress. These, in turn, would make it less likely that governments will take the necessary steps to address the climate crisis.
That’s why Green Left says the world cannot afford to stick with the capitalist system to rise to today’s social and environmental challenges.
The WEF’s “solution”, however, is to shift to something called “stakeholder capitalism”, in which the rich corporations act as “trustees of society”. The billionaire class is telling us to “Trust us!”