The COVID19 pandemic has taken a terrible toll on human lives around the world. With 581,000 deaths and over 13 million infected worldwide (as of July 15), COVID19 easily ranks as the most devastating health disaster in recent history.
However, the economic toll exacted by this pandemic – as has unfolded thus far and as it portends to unleash in the near and long term future – threatens to be equally devastating. In fact, many argue that this disaster’s economic impacts will far exceed its other consequences. Job losses, livelihoods deteriorations, suicide spikes – the list goes on.
During the desolate periods of lockdowns, we kept hearing the phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ from many corners. But are we really? Do we from all walks of life really face this pandemic together as one? Do we all bear the burden of this catastrophe equally across the board? Well, it appears, for the most part, we do. Indeed, we’re facing this pandemic with equal burden on people from all walks of life; except with one glaring anomaly. It appears while almost everyone on the planet continue counting losses in various degrees, there remains one class of people who are thriving during this disaster. And that group consists, exclusively I might add, of the ultra-rich billionaire class.
For example, in May CNBC reported America’s billionaires saw their wealth rise by $434 billion during lockdown between mid-March and mid-May. According to CNBC:
“[T]he net worth of America’s billionaires grew 15% during the two-month period, to $3.382 trillion from $2.948 trillion. The biggest gains were at the top of the billionaire pyramid, with the richest five billionaires — Bezos, Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Larry Ellison — seeing combined wealth gains of $76 billion.
“Elon Musk had among the largest percentage gain of billionaires during the two months, seeing his net worth jump by 48% in the two months to $36 billion. Zuckerberg was close behind, seeing his wealth surge by 46% in the two months, to $80 billion. Bezos’ wealth increased by 31% to $147 billion. Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie re laid off due to the crisis.”
Amazingly enough, this extravagant wealth gain for the billionaires took place while the average Americans grappled with a terrifying contemplation; that a genuine possibility of abject poverty might actually be lurking in their future. Unprecedented job losses, business closures and lurking home foreclosures make that possibility all too real. While everyone around the world live through a financial nightmare, the ultra-rich billionaires enjoy wealth accumulation at an unprecedented level.
For instance, an article in The Guardian, published just a week after the CNBC article above, reports the number of job losses in the U.S. passed 40 million by the end of May. The Guardian writes:
“Job losses have hit virtually every industry, though some harder than others. Figures from the Department of Labor earlier this month showed the leisure and hospitality industry was the hardest-hit, with 4.8 million jobs lost – nearly a 40% unemployment rate – as traveling came to a halt with shutdown measures. Millions of education and health services, retail and manufacturing jobs were also cut.
“Even months after shutdown orders were put in place, the reported unemployment figures may not show a complete picture of how many people were laid off due to the crisis.”
Besides, an April survey notes millions of small businesses remain at great risk of closing permanently due to COVID19 pandemic. In their findings Main Street America writes:
“Of the nation’s approximately 30 million small businesses, nearly 7.5 million small businesses may be at risk of closing permanently over the coming five months, and 3.5 million are at risk of closure in the next two months.”
Furthermore, a report published last week by The Brookings Institute paints a bleaker picture for American households. It indicates that the economic hardships for US households will likely extend well beyond what has been observed thus far. The report states:
“The hardships presented here have many negative consequences for households. Difficulty paying rent puts households and families at risk for eviction, especially when eviction moratoria some municipalities implemented expire and households struggle to pay back-due rent.
“The negative downstream effects of eviction are varied and far-reaching: loss of possessions, disruptive school changes, loss of friends for children, and mental health distress just to name a few.
“The health consequences of food insecurity are far-reaching. Among children, consequences include birth defects, anemia, asthma, and cognitive, behavioral, and mental health problems. Compounding these issues, individuals may put off medical care or avoid filling prescriptions as a result of the high cost and loss of income. These individuals jeopardize their health, especially if they have serious or chronic illnesses.”
In addition, another heartbreaking side effect of the pandemic measures rears its ugly head in the form of suicide spikes. American Psychological Association points out in their June article, COVID19 brought in a “perfect storm” when it comes to suicides.
In an article published in May, RT writes:
“In the best-case scenario, suicide rates will increase 25 percent, Professor Ian Hickie predicted, observing that 40 percent of those would be among young people. If the Australian economy continues to deteriorate, suicide rates could increase 50 percent.”
All these misery for the general public around the world, while the billionaire class enjoy remarkable gains in their fortunes. This phenomena undoubtedly points to a noxious disconnect between the billionaires and the rest of us.
Yes, we are all in this together, most of us that is – perhaps higher than even 99% of us. However, the richest 0.1% of the population who sit at the top of the proverbial pyramid; the ultra-rich super elites who control much of the wealth on the planet; they’re not in this (or in anything else) with us.
Systemic machinations that produce such blatant disparity between one small group and rest of population certainly needs scrutinizing. However, the problem seems to be that the power and influence afforded by dubious wealth accumulation within that small group makes it possible, in the first place, to enact said ‘flawed’ system; which in turn helps the billionaire class get ever so richer while the rest of us face destitution.
Indeed, the ‘system’ doesn’t do it because it’s flawed; the system does it because it was designed that way.