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Super-rich ‘doing better than ever’ during pandemic

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Issue 2722
Richest man in the world Jeff Bezis has increased his billions
Richest man in the world Jeff Bezos has increased his billions

“Pandemic be damned”. That’s the message from Forbes, which calls itself “the defining voice of entrepreneurial capitalism.”

Forbes reported this week that “America’s super-rich are doing better than ever”. The aggregate wealth of its top 400 list is £2.5 trillion. That’s up 8 percent from a year ago and a record in the four decades Forbes has tracked the richest Americans’ fortunes.

Ordinary people in the US face rampant coronavirus, mass unemployment, and reduced wages. But for those at the top it’s boom time.

Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, remains in the top spot for the third consecutive year. Bezos’ fortune of £138 billion, as of 24 July, is up 57 percent from last year.

Since then Forbes reported in late August that Bezos’ net worth reached a record-breaking £150 billion, with Bezos the first person in history to reach this obscene milestone.

Others to profit from the pandemic include one of the newcomers on this year’s list—Eric Yuan. He’s chief executive of Zoom Video Communications, with a net worth of £8 billion.

“The remarkable growth in fortunes of The Forbes 400 stands out at a time of pandemic-induced economic upheaval,” said Kerry A Dolan, assistant managing editor of Wealth at Forbes.

“Much of the wealth is highly concentrated. The top 21 richest on the list—there is a tie at number 20-account for 42 percent of the total wealth.”

A record 233 US billionaires did not make the cut this year, falling short of the £1.6 billion minimum needed to make the list.

Winners and losers in Covid-19 Britain
Winners and losers in Covid-19 Britain
  Read More

And not every billionaire prospered. President Donald Trump’s ranking dropped to number 352 from 275 in 2019. His net worth dropped to “only” £2 billion as the value of his office buildings, hotels and resorts fell.

All these wealth estimates are an underestimate.

Forbes editor Jennifer Wang writes, “Uncovering their fortunes required us to pore over thousands of documents, court records, probate records and news articles.

“We took into account all types of assets—stakes in public and private companies, real estate, art, yachts, planes, ranches, vineyards, jewellery, car collections and more.

“While some billionaires provided documentation for their private assets and companies, others were less forthcoming.”

And many keep their wealth through avoiding tax.

As the Forbes report was published, it was revealed that Amazon’s main British business paid only 3 percent more tax last year. This was despite a 35 percent rise in profits to nearly £102 million as the online retailer benefited from the switch to online shopping.

As economic crisis grips, we will be told there is no money to sustain workers’ wages and jobs or maintain services. And, particularly in the Global South, people will starve because they cannot afford to eat.

The Forbes List shows there is extraordinary wealth that could be used for the needs of the immense majority.

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