Should billionaires make a killing from Covid without paying back in?
“No one needs billions!” How often have we heard those words? We’ve probably said them ourselves, or a variation on the theme like “No one needs that much money!” And it’s true, no one does need multi-billions of pounds, dollars, or euros; all expertly, frequently mysteriously – and some might say immorally – invested to make even more billions. Can that be right? Is it even acceptable when so many millions worldwide are living in poverty or when a pandemic is raging across the planet? And in the cruellest of ironies, it appears that the Covid-19 virus is contributing to making the super-rich even richer. According to an Oxfam report, the wealth of the world’s ten richest men has risen by $540bn (£400bn) during the pandemic. The report says those ten, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, have seen their fortunes increase due to rebounding stock markets and a “rigged economy” causing rising inequality during the “worst economic downturn in a century.”
To put that into some sort of perspective, the report says Mr Bezos’s worth climbed so much he could have given all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still have been as wealthy as he was before the pandemic.
So, should the wealthiest now pay for the vaccine and possibly more? It’s claimed many already are, with numerous charitable donations from super-rich celebrities, sports stars and business leaders. Swiss bank UBS reported that 209 billionaires committed $7.2bn between last March and June to fight Covid-19, and in fairness to Mr Bezos, by last June he is said to have donated $125 million to the battle. Others have given more. But is this enough? Relatively speaking, isn’t what’s been willingly donated just chicken feed?
A new “coronavirus tax” on billionaires based in the UK has been mooted. Other nations are considering the idea, with Argentina already imposing a one-off “millionaires” tax on its 12,000 richest. And a group of 83 of the planet’s wealthiest, including Disney heir Abigail Disney and Ben and Jerry’s icecream co-founder Jerry Greenfield, have themselves called on their governments to raise taxes on them. Oxfam estimates there were between two and five hundred million people in poverty in 2020. Isn’t it time then for the very wealthiest to dig far deeper into their bulging pockets?
What our surveys show
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn floated the idea back in 2019 – place a special tax on those members of the billionaires’ club to make them contribute more to the economy. It’s a proposal that our readers are certainly picking up on now. Exactly half of those surveyed said they “strongly support” the idea of a super-tax on the super-rich, while a further 34% said they “somewhat support” the notion. That’s a massive 84% in support, with only 11% either “strongly” or “somewhat” opposing and just 5% who “don’t know”.
And support for the world’s top ten billionaires making significant contributions towards funding Covid-19 vaccines globally was even higher. An enormous 89% were in favour of them shelling out, with just 2% against and the remaining 9% being “don’t knows”. We found a favourite super-rich four on the question of who exactly should pay up. Elon Musk, now acknowledged as the world’s richest human, took top spot with 34%, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos took the runner-up spot with 25%, and Bill Gates snatched third from Mark Zuckerberg, 19% to 15%. Just 7% mentioned others in top place.