The wealth of American billionaires has grown by $ 2.1 trillion, or 70%, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, while tens of millions of workers have faced unemployment and disease, and 724,000 are deaths from COVID-19. In addition, the list of American billionaires grew by 131 people, from 614 to 745, during the same period.
According to an analysis of Forbes data on American billionaires by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) program on inequalities, the wealth of the country’s richest people has increased from “just under $ 3 trillion to start of the COVID crisis on March 18, 2020, to more than $ 5,000 billion on October 15 of this year, “and this wealth is” two-thirds more than the $ 3 trillion in wealth held by the 50 Poorest% of US Households Estimated by the Federal Reserve ”.
In an accompanying press release, the ATF and IPS say that the “great fortune of these billionaires over the past 19 months” contrasts sharply with the “89 million Americans. [who] lost their jobs, more than 44.9 million [who] were sickened by the virus ”and the nearly three quarters of a million who died of it.
The billionaire who has increased his fortune the most is Elon Musk. The wealth of the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX increased 751% during the pandemic, from $ 24.6 billion to $ 209.4 billion. Musk has become the richest individual in the country, beating Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who rose from $ 113 billion to $ 192 billion, a 70% increase over the 19-month period.
Other prominent billionaires who dramatically increased their wealth during the pandemic include Google founders (now Alphabet, Inc.) Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who saw their fortunes increase 137.2% to 120.7 billion dollars and 136.9% to 116.2 billion dollars, respectively. Phil Knight, Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Nike, Inc., has nearly doubled his fortune since March 2020, from $ 29.5 billion to $ 57.9 billion.
A more in-depth analysis of the Forbes data shows 12% of US billionaires are women, including Alice Walton of the Walmart empire with a personal fortune of $ 64.5 billion, up from $ 54.4 billion, and MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Jeff Bezos, who increased his wealth by 54% this year from $ 36 billion to $ 55.5 billion. There are five billionaires in their twenties, including Sam Bankman, the 29-year-old CEO of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, who was not previously on the Forbes list until this year, when he raised $ 22.5 billion.
California has the highest number of billionaires in the United States at 196. There are 182 billionaires in finance and investment and 142 in technology industries. The second highest figure is in the fashion and retail industry with 52 billionaires, with family members Walton and Phil Knight at the top of the list, followed by Leonard Lauder (Estée Lauder), John Menard , Jr. (Menards) and Hank and Doug Meijer (Meijer), each with more than $ 10 billion in fortune.
The ATF and IPS analysis was released as part of Oregon Democratic Party Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s campaign to gain support from a Billionaires Income Tax Bill (BIT) in the US Congress. Wyden’s tax plan, which he announced on September 23, is part of ongoing negotiations in Washington DC for the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Agenda infrastructure plan.
The press release says 67 national organizations have sent letters to Congress “expressing concern that neither the Ways and Means Committee plan nor President Biden’s plan will adequately tax billionaires,” although the statement said Wyden’s BIT proposal – the specific details of which have yet to be disclosed – is backed by the White House.
The ATF and IPS press release states that “most of the earnings of these huge billionaires will not be taxed under current rules and will disappear entirely for tax purposes when passed on to the next generation.” The statement reveals that, on average, billionaires pay an “effective federal tax rate of around 8%” and that is a lower rate than that paid by many “middle-income taxpayers like Canadians. teachers, nurses and firefighters ”.
The paper further explains how the super-rich avoid paying income tax on their huge increases in wealth. Most of their income comes “from the increased value of their investments such as stocks, businesses or real estate, rather than a paycheck like most people”, and they don’t have to pay any money. ‘taxes on that wealth unless they sell the assets. “But the ultra-rich don’t sell assets,” the statement read; instead, they borrow money on their assets from banks at extremely low interest rates “and live tax free”.
Even when they sell the assets, the super-rich pay only a top capital gains tax rate of 20%, plus a Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) of 3.8%, which which is well below the current top rate of 37% they would pay. taxes on an equivalent salary.
The report states that many billionaires have paid no taxes in recent years, “including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg and George Soros” and the top 25 billionaires in the United States “paid a tax rate of only 3.4% on an increase of $ 400 billion. in their collective fortune between 2014-18.
The ATF and IPS analysis fails to mention that the grotesque increase in the numbers and wealth of America’s billionaire capitalist elite over the past 19 months has been fueled by a combination of an increase in the exploitation of the working class during the public health crisis and the unprecedented $ 7 trillion purchase of financial assets by the Federal Reserve Bank as part of the US government’s response to the pandemic.
The staggering amounts of billionaire wealth accumulated at one pole of society, both in the United States and internationally, are negatively reflected in the growing poverty and suffering of the poor and working class by the billions. The ruling elite is using the pandemic to accelerate, like a runaway train, the decades-long process of wealth inequality. But the working class is beginning to articulate its response to this crisis in the form of a wave of strikes that is developing in the United States and around the world.