Forbes magazine’s annual list of global billionaires this week reported unprecedented looting by the wealthiest.
“Covid-19 brought terrible suffering, economic pain, geopolitical tension—and the greatest acceleration of wealth in human history,” Forbes wrote.
Over 85 percent of billionaires are much wealthier today than they were a year ago.
A new billionaire emerged every 17 hours on average over the past year, Forbes found. The total is now 2,755, an increase of 660.
Amazon founder and outgoing chief executive Jeff Bezos, whose estimated wealth tops £128 billion, is once again at the top of the list. He is followed by Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, whose net worth is £109 billion.
Britain's number of billionaires increased from 45 to 56. Jim Ratcliffe, the boss of Ineos, comes in at number 113 on the list with an estimated wealth of £12.3 billion.
Bezos’ wealth is the equivalent of the entire production in a year of a medium-sized economy such as Bulgaria or Sudan.
The top two billionaires were not simply passive observers. They took action during the pandemic to keep their wealth booming.
In May last year Musk announced his Tesla northern California factory would reopen in defiance of a local public health order designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” the billionaire tweeted.
Subsequently, over 400 workers were infected with Covid-19. Musk denounced stay at home orders as “fascist”.
Amazon admitted last November that nearly 20,000 of its employees had tested positive since the start of the pandemic. The number of deaths is unknown.
The US has the most billionaires on the list, with 724. China has 698.
The High Pay Centre said the Forbes figures showed how wealth was flowing to “a tiny number of super-rich individuals”.
Luke Hildyard, the think tank’s director, said, “It’s impossible to ‘earn’ a billion dollars. Nobody is that much smarter or more productive than anybody else.
“This kind of wealth is what some commentators have called ‘systems money’ because it’s generated through political and economic power, not hard work.”
That system is capitalism where the rich feast on the labour and sweat of workers. As Karl Marx wrote, “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, the agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”
The pandemic makes it even more urgent to seize control of the economy from the billionaires and do away with the system that produces billionaires.