As the world’s wealthy corporate and political elite gathered at Davos, Switzerland’s ski resort for the annual World Economic Forum that ended Jan. 20, the social justice group Oxfam released their new report titled, “Survival of the Richest: How we must tax the super-rich now to fight inequality.” The report found that the world’s “richest 1 percent grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth (worth $42 trillion) created since 2020, almost twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population.”
According to statistics released by the World Bank, extreme poverty increased in 2020 for the first time in 25 years at the same time extreme wealth dramatically rose since the onset of the COVID pandemic. During the pandemic and record-setting inflation price increases since 2020, $26 trillion (or 63 percent) of all new wealth was captured by the richest 1 percent, while $16 trillion (only 37 percent) went to the rest of the world put together.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Nabil Ahmed, director of economic justice with Oxfam America, who discusses the findings in Oxfam’s inequality report, where the group found that an annual wealth tax of up to 5 percent on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could raise $1.7 trillion annually, enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty and fully fund the shortfalls on existing humanitarian appeals.
NABIL AHMED: So, Scott, we put out this report about inequality every single year. And you’re right, we time it with the World Economic Forum that takes place in Davos in the Swiss Alps in Switzerland. It’s really this kind of festival of wealth which sees very powerful business and government leaders come together with billionaires. And we time time our report about inequality with this moment.
And our new data this year really shows an explosion of inequality. Let me give you some of the headlines. The world’s richest one percent have grabbed nearly two-thirds of all the new wealth created since 2020. That’s just the top one percent. And imagine, just to give you a sense of that, that means that they’ve grabbed twice as much money as the rest of the world, the 99 percent of us put together.
And that’s an extraordinary headline because we know we face that inequality crisis for some years now and they’ve outdone even that at the top. If you look at just the past decade, the one percent have grabbed half of all new wealth. And they’ve outdone even that. So we’re saying this isn’t normal. We’re seeing that the pandemic has created almost this new variant of billionaire wealth.
And it feels like we’re entering a new Roaring Twenties and we’re seeing that rise at the top just when so many folks here in the States, but right across the world are being left, also being pushed behind. But really what we have to keep on underlining that none of this is inevitable. It comes down to the choices that we make. The kind of economic policies that we choose, this kind of extreme inequality is certainly not inevitable.
SCOTT HARRIS: Nabil, I do want to talk about Oxfam’s call for new policies. Please tell our audience why Oxfam is calling for a systemic and wide-ranging increase in taxation of the super rich and the research on this proposal from the Fight Inequality Alliance and other groups.
NABIL AHMED: Sure, there are many solutions to address extreme inequality — from taking on monopoly power to boosting workers rights. So let’s be clear that a strategic precondition to getting us to a more equal society, one that truly invests in our children, is taxing the ultra-wealthy and taxing corporates. We break it down into three key things that we need to do.
The first is looking at the role of one-off taxes on the ultra-rich and on corporates on their excess corporate profits. That’s Number One.
But let me focus on Number Two and Number Three, because I think that’s where we can be really strategic.
The second one here is ensuring that we have a permanent, much fairer tax system on income. So it’s ensuring that the one percent are paying a higher top marginal income tax rate. This isn’t teachers. This isn’t the middle class. This isn’t daycare workers. This is at the very top of society and ensuring that they’re paying a tax rate which is higher and includes capital gains because that’s how those folks at the top are able to make most of their income. And that is taxed at a lower rate than general income. We’re trying to say, let’s address that.
And the third piece here is taxing extreme wealth and putting in permanent proposals to do that. You know, looking at inheritance, looking at land, looking at a wealth tax that we have proposals that plow that money back into society.
So, Number One, the one-off. Number Two, the permanent income side of things. And Number Three, on the wealth side. And we can structure these things in a way that’s fair, that boosts innovation, that truly invests in the rest.
And look, we’ve done some illustrative examples here just to give you one. A wealth tax of up to five percent on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires. That would raise about $1.7 trillion a year. Amongst other things, that would lift about 2 billion people out of poverty. And we use these examples to illustrate what’s possible.
But there’s other folks as well who’ve shown just what’s possible and I can give you one. If we just did a one-off, 40 percent tax: the capital gains are unrealized, just of the U.S. billionaires. A one-time 40 percent (tax) — they’re all going to remain rich — on the U.S. billionaires. That just itself would generate a trillion dollars. Imagine what that would do for our society. Imagine how we could invest that in the proven inequality busters — from health care to childcare to innovation that truly benefits us all.
You know, there were examples across the world, but there are also examples here in the U.S. that shows this isn’t really the extreme thing to do, Scott.
I think the extreme thing to do is to live in a society where so few have so much wealth and so much power at the expense of so many else. You know, 81 billionaires, by the way, Scott, own more wealth than the bottom half of humanity, nearly 4 billion people combined. That’s the extreme thing to me.
For more information, visit Oxfam America at oxfamamerica.org.
Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Nabil Ahmed (26:40) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.
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