Inequality Kills

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Yesterday, the United States celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We hope that you were able to take some time to honor and celebrate King’s legacy, just as we hope Senate Democrats do by changing the filibuster to pass essential voting rights legislation.

Because of the federal holiday, you might have missed the release yesterday of Oxfam’s new bombshell report Inequality Kills. The report lays out in stark detail just how much economic inequality has grown over the past two years of the pandemic and the negative, real-world consequences of the growth. One of our very own members, Abigail Disney, wrote a foreword for the report (you can read that separately HERE).

We all know that inequality is out of control, but some of the numbers coming out of this report are truly shocking, even for people who work on these issues every day. We highly encourage you to take a few minutes to read the entire report, but we wanted to highlight some of the biggest takeaways from it for you today:

  • Over the course of the past two years of the pandemic, the world’s ten richest men doubled their collective fortunes – from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion – at the same time that incomes for 99% of humanity fell. And if these ten men had 99% of their wealth taxed? They would still be richer than 99% of the planet.
  • Billionaires have had the greatest surge in wealth – $5 trillion – during the pandemic than any other period of time in modern history.
  • Inequality contributes to the death of at least 21,000 people around the world every day – or one person every four seconds. Whether it be from lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger, or climate devastation, inequality is quite literally killing thousands of our own on a daily basis.
  • Women, racial minorities, and those in developing countries have been hit the hardest by the pandemic:
  • The pandemic has set gender pay parity back 36 years – from 99 years to 135 years. Women lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020 because there are 13 million fewer women in the workforce now than before the pandemic.
  • The pandemic has significantly hurt Black Americans’ life expectancy. 3.4 million Black Americans would be alive today if their life expectancy was the same as White Americans, an appalling drop-off from the already-unacceptable 2.1 million estimate before the pandemic.
  • Inequality between developed and developing countries is rising for the first time in decades, which has led to a situation where deaths from COVID-19 in poor countries roughly double those in rich ones.

These findings are extremely alarming. We already knew from the 2022 World Inequality Report that inequality got worse during the pandemic, but this Oxfam report spells out in the starkest of terms just how worse it really got.

In light of these findings, Oxfam has called upon government leaders to take immediate action to reduce inequality around the world. How? By taxing the rich. Like us, they recommend that world leaders and legislative bodies waste no time in implementing more progressive tax systems to tax the rich and the spoils that they’ve amassed during the pandemic. Funds could then be redistributed and used to lift the position of those worst off in society.

As Abigail Disney says in her foreword for the report, “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.”

According to Oxfam’s own estimates, a simple, one-off 99% tax on the fortunes that the ten richest men have made during the pandemic could be used to make enough vaccines for the world and provide funds for universal healthcare, social protection, climate adaptation, and gender-based violence prevention in over 80 countries. (Don’t worry about the rich men – they’d still have $8 billion to spare.)

Leaders from around the world are meeting this week for the World Economic Forum’s online “Davos Agenda.” (They were originally scheduled to meet in person in Davos, Switzerland, but it was moved to an online forum because of the spread of the Omicron variant.) We sincerely hope that they find time in between their various navel-gazing panels and self-congratulating Q&A sessions to discuss the findings of the Oxfam report, the growing gap between the rich and the rest around the world, and the obvious solution: taxing the rich.

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