Tuesday 26 March 2024

REPORT: Combined wealth of American billionaires has skyrocketed by 87.6% since the COVID-19 pandemic

 A recent Inequality.org report reveals that the combined wealth of American billionaires has skyrocketed by 87.6 percent since the onset of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020.

According to the report, the total wealth of American billionaires has reached a staggering $5.53 trillion as of March 18. The windfall has primarily benefited titans of the tech industry, with luminaries such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg leading the charge.

Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, has seen his wealth balloon from approximately $25 billion to a jaw-dropping $188.5 billion, marking a more than seven-fold increase. Similarly, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, saw his fortune swell from $113 billion to $192.8 billion, despite notable philanthropic endeavors and a high-profile divorce. Mark Zuckerberg, the visionary behind Facebook, more than doubled his wealth, soaring from $54.7 billion to $113.5 billion.

Even heirs to retail giant Walmart, Jim, Alice and Rob Walton, have seen a substantial uptick in their combined assets, rising from $161.1 billion to $229.6 billion during the same period.

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, ranks among the top billionaires, with his net worth climbing to $131.5 billion, up from $98 billion in 2020. Meanwhile, his former wife, Melinda French Gates, commands a substantial fortune of $11.3 billion. These figures exclude the substantial endowment of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which stood at $67.3 billion as of 2022. 

Executives at pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Moderna also joined the list.

Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, earned $24.3 million in 2021 and $33 million in 2022. However, his earnings dropped to $21.6 million in 2023 due to less demand for Pfizer's COVID-19 products. Bourla's total net worth is estimated to be around $35.6 million, which puts him among the wealthiest one percent of Americans.

Meanwhile, Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, had a massive payday in 2022, making nearly $400 million, including about $392 million from selling stocks. This amounts to roughly 10 percent of the $4 billion in total earnings of more than 300 CEOs from healthcare companies. Despite Moderna facing a loss of $4.2 billion in operating costs in 2023, Bancel still received $12.9 million in 2020 and $17.1 million in 2023. His net worth stands at $3.9 billion, making him one of the top 812 billionaires globally and placing him in the top 0.01 percent of wealth in the U.S.

This happened while millions of Americans suffered from unemployment, business closures and financial insecurity throughout the pandemic.

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless small businesses closed permanently and millions of Americans faced hunger, shelter insecurity (homelessness, mortgage or rent delinquency, adult children living with parents) and a lack of adequate health insurance. Over eight million people lost their jobs. Some regained their jobs, but the unemployment rate in 2024 has been the highest in two years.

At the same time, the cost of goods and services increased by 16 percent and rents increased by 18 percent between 2017 and 2022. Home prices continued to surge, along with interest rates, which made homeownership impossible.

Economist blames financialization and pandemic response for growing wealth disparity

In a recent analysis, Michael Hudson, president of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends and distinguished professor of economics at the University of Missouri, has pointed to the increasing chasm between billionaires and average Americans.

According to Hudson, this disparity can be traced back to several interconnected factors, including the financialization of the economy, Federal Reserve policies and the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hudson argues that the U.S. economy has undergone a process of financialization, wherein the banking sector has shifted its focus towards creating debt rather than supporting productive industries.  

"Banks have united with the landlords and monopolies to create monopolies to finance an absentee ownership class," he claimed in a podcast on Feb. 9.

Hudson said the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve have predominantly favored the wealthy, exacerbating the wealth gap. Moreover, Hudson criticized the CARES Act, passed in response to the pandemic, for primarily benefiting the financial sector and large corporations. He argued that the relief package failed to adequately support state and local governments, small businesses and ordinary Americans.

"The act enabled the stock market to recover all of its 34 percent drop (as measured by the S&P 500 stocks) by June 9 [2020], even as the economy’s GDP [gross domestic product] was still plunging," Hudson noted.

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