Crazy, filthy rich

Kumail Soomro

The writer is a media studies student with experience in journalism.

The coronavirus pandemic upended the world and caused even greater income equalities. Millions of people were unemployed and could take over a decade to recover. In the United States alone, more than twenty million people have lost their jobs. However, for the filthy super rich, the pandemic has been a completely different experience.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla chief Elon Musk are the two richest men on the planet today. Both became a lot wealthier since the pandemic struck. According to Oxfam, these two men along with Bill Gates and a luxury group CEO Bernard Arnault have collectively seen their wealth grow by $540 billion during this period. US President Joe Biden in his address to Congress had mentioned how roughly 650 billionaires in the US saw their wealth increased by $1 trillion amid the pandemic and are now worth $4 trillion.

Jeff Bezos, who announced to step down from Amazon later this year, was among the biggest winner. As people stayed indoors, they turned to online shopping and there was a sudden surge in home deliveries. Amazon riders, many of them working below minimum wage, worked tirelessly to ensure parcels reach home. In October 2020, it was reported that 20,000 Amazon employees had contracted the coronavirus. The company did not disclose the deaths but at least ten were confirmed to have died. The company faced backlash for not prioritizing the health of employees, putting profit before safety, frequent accidents in warehouses, long overtime hours and poor working conditions. During this time, Forbes estimated that Bezos became the first person in history with more than $200 billion.

The billionaires aren’t just getting richer – they also increased in numbers. A record 493 new billionaires joined the list from the likes of Kim Kardashian to Apple CEO Tim Cook. That’s one billionaire every 17 hours from March 2020 till March this year. Elon Musk had an incredible run this year as the shares of his enterprises Tesla and SpaceX skyrocketed and made briefly the world’s richest person. It is likely that every country will see an increase in inequality for the first time, but for men like Bezos and Musk, the pandemic was probably good for business.

The pandemic is our mirror to society and had has revealed is a highly unequal world. We are seeing a disproportionate rise in wealth, increasing poverty and widening gaps between the rich and poor. This will have lasting effect on how economic policies unfold and democracies function.

We saw how rich nations hoarded coronavirus vaccines and refused to share with poor countries. A report estimated how the wealth increase of just ten of the richest men was enough to pay for COVID-19 vaccines for all.

What is more troublesome is that many of these super rich don’t even pay enough taxes. There may be winds of change in Washington with proposed taxes but the fact that their fortunes rose during the worst economic downturn while 200 to 500 million people live in poverty shows how the economy is rigged to only benefit the superrich. What have these billionaires done to help others in hard times?

In India, wealthy celebrities are urging people to donate to their COVID-19 fundraisers before they were called out. Indian cricketer Virat Kohli, and his wife, Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma, announced to set up a fund for virus relief. The couple donated 20 million rupees themselves until it was pointed they could donate the entire target amount of 70mn rupees themselves with a combined wealth of $170 million. India’s rich and famous fled for beach resorts amid pandemic and were least concerned about the financial distress the pandemic has on ordinary middle-class people.

While the pandemic has devastated the lives of many across India, the rich just got richer through this period. The top 10 percent of the Indian population holds 77 percent of the total national wealth. With over 140 super rich persons, India is home to the world’s third-highest number of billionaires. Whether in US, India, China, Russia, Germany or France, the crazy super rich are getting richer and increasingly indifferent to the sufferings of others devastated by the pandemic.