Abigail E. Disney is a documentary filmmaker, activist, co-founder of Fork Films, and podcast host of “All Ears.” She is a member of the Patriotic Millionaires. The following is her foreword for the recently release Inequality Kills report from Oxfam International.
We have just spent nearly two years, over and over again, watching people die—they’ve died of neglect, of carelessness, of a lack of empathy, of ennui. Yes, of course, it was actually Covid that killed the people I am talking about, but just as every famine is political and man-made, so is every Covid death.
When Covid first hit I, and a lot of other naifs, thought that maybe, just maybe, the way our structures had been so starkly revealed as unjust and downright cruel would wake us up and give us new energy to think differently about the way resources are distributed.
In fact, the opposite has happened. New billionaires were minted while the old billionaires added more and more billions to their stakes. Businesses like Amazon, rather than feel shame, saw opportunity and doubled down on the strategies that had left 40% of American workers unable to rely on even the smallest amount of savings to address the hunger, homelessness, and poor healthcare that presented all the more immediate threats to them and their families.
Society was riddled with cracks when we started this pandemic—cracks which have widened into fault lines. These fault lines threaten social cohesion and democracy, and perhaps more importantly, present an almost insurmountable barrier to any cogent or effective approach to addressing the climate crisis, which is quickly turning very real for even the most hardened deniers.
None of this just “happened.” Decades of coordinated assault upon the laws, regulations, and systems that protected the common person from those that would exploit them have left us with a hobbled civil society, a union movement on life support, and a government so starved for resources it is barely able to simply collect the taxes it needs just to keep operating.
The solutions, therefore, must be just as deliberate. We must undo the structures that are perpetuating a deadly status quo and build new ones that will redistribute both wealth and power in a more equitable manner. Systemic issues require systemic solutions, not piecemeal attempts at treating symptoms rather than the disease itself.
The answer to these complicated problems is ironically simple: taxes. Mandatory, inescapable, ambitious tax reform on an international level— this is the only way to fix what is broken. Without high-functioning governments actively using plentiful resources to redress these injustices, we will head yet further down the rabbit hole the wealthy class has dug for us all.
There is more than enough money to solve most of the world’s problems. It’s just being held in the hands of millionaires and billionaires who aren’t paying their fair share.
We can start by clawing back some of the frankly absurd growth in billionaire fortunes over the course of the pandemic. It isn’t complicated, and it shouldn’t be controversial. Virtually everyone else on the planet has sacrificed in some way over the last two years; it’s time for billionaires to do the same—and quickly. As this report so clearly lays out, there isn’t any time to waste.
Too many of my too-wealthy peers treat inequality as an abstract issue, but it has devastating, real-world consequences. Our wealth does not come to us in a vacuum: it is directly linked with our country and our world’s failure to provide for those with the most need.
Billionaires alone have made an astronomical amount of money in just the last two years—they can easily afford to pay more.
We can make our world a better place. We just have to find the political will to do what it takes.