Since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, now two years ago, an additional 160 million people have fallen into poverty (they have to live on less than $5.50 a day). And that while the ten richest men in the world saw their wealth more than double, from 700 billion dollars to 1,500 billion. Development organization Oxfam Novib has calculated this in this case Report ‘Inequality kills’ published on Monday.
Oxfam traditionally seizes the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos to put the spotlight on inequality. While the rich of the earth (politicians, businessmen) come together in the Swiss mountain village, economic and social inequality in the world continues to increase, is invariably the message. In particular, the growing gap between the super-rich in the world (billionaires like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk) and the less well-off often attracts a lot of attention, especially because the development organization uses statistics in a smart way to reinforce its point. .
And although it remains quiet in Davos this year (The WEF cannot continue physically due to the pandemic, instead there is a virtual agenda), Oxfam is once again setting the growth of the wealth of the happy few against the persistent poverty and inequality at the bottom of society. That produces striking numbers. The ten richest men in the world own six times more wealth than the bottom 3.1 billion people. The wealth of those ten billionaires has doubled since Covid-19, while the income of the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population has actually decreased.
The most striking figure, and at the same time the title of the report, is the number of deaths caused by the growing inequality. Every four seconds, Oxfam claims, at least one person worldwide dies as a result of inequality. And that number could rise further as climate change begins to claim more victims, especially in poorer countries that are less able to protect themselves against its effects.
The great equalizer
The corona pandemic, which was initially characterized as a ‘great equalizer’ (the virus does not distinguish between rich and poor), has actually contributed to an acceleration of inequality. Rich countries took good care of their populations, poor countries did not have that opportunity. This is reflected in increased inequality in wealth and income, but also in essentials such as access to health care and, more specifically, vaccines. The chance of dying if you become infected with the corona virus is about twice as high in developing countries as in rich countries. Oxfam concludes: “This shameful vaccine apartheid will make 2021 a blot on the history of our species. This man-made catastrophe has claimed the lives of millions of people in countries with scarce access to vaccines. They could have been saved.”
Also read this essay: A pandemic was a Great Equalizer, right? Yes, exactly once in history
Oxfam, which in previous years was criticized for the report’s populist tone, pays ample attention to the substantiation of the figures in a separate appendix. For example, the organization uses a combination of figures from the World Bank, the annual wealth report of the investment bank Credit Suisse and the billionaires list of the business magazine for increasing inequality. Forbes.
On inequality deaths, the report’s sharpest conclusion, the development agency relies on studies of deaths from hunger, climate change, access to health care and ‘gender-based’ violence (including female circumcision). Based on most conservative estimates (from institutions such as the United Nations, scientists, and other NGOs), the number of daily deaths due to inequality is over 21,000. Hunger (2.1 million deaths per year, or 5,700 deaths per day) and insufficient access to health care (5.6 million deaths per year, or 15,300 deaths per day) are the leading causes of death from inequality.
While you can debate how exact such numbers are, the point Oxfam makes is widely accepted: inequality is a growing problem with serious consequences. Moreover, inequality is not a natural phenomenon, but a choice, Oxfam argues, and maintaining it is an act of economic violence.
Resolving inequality is therefore also a choice that can be initiated by economic means. Redressing current inequalities requires an unparalleled effort. The most important one, according to Oxfam: the introduction of a ‘progressive wealth tax’ – according to the principle the richer you are, the more tax you pay. That helps redistribute the great wealth of the top ‘1 percent’. Radical combating of tax avoidance should also be high on the agenda, says Oxfam. Those practices cost developing countries hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue each year.
Michiel Servaes, the Dutch director of Oxfam Novib, says in a statement that the new coalition agreement of Rutte IV in the field of inequality is too unambitious. He calls on the Netherlands to really work on international solidarity, tackling tax avoidance and a fair distribution of vaccines, for example by forcing pharmaceuticals to share their patents and making the vaccines available to everyone.
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