Over 26 million people have filed for unemployment over the past five weeks in the United States. Multiply that by 1,000, and you will still have less than the total number of dollars Jeff Bezos has collected since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic.
The Institute for Policy Studies, a research centre that focuses on wealth inequality, checked the Bloomberg Billionaires Index for the change in net worth of 34 billionaires since January 1, 2020. They found that, even after March’s historic stock market crash, the group had amassed tens of millions, and eight had increased their fortunes by over $US1 ($2) billion. Bezos, unsurprisingly topping the list, has accrued $US28 ($44) billion since January 1. (By comparison, Bezos’s net worth increased by $US46 ($72) billion from January 2017 to January 2020, albeit after a divorce that cost him $US35 ($55) billion in Amazon shares.) His ex-wife, MacKenzie, who owns 4 per cent of Amazon shares, has also gained $US9.7 ($15) billion since January 1. The study notes that she has signed the Giving Pledge, promising to donate the majority of her wealth over her lifetime. Jeff Bezos has not.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is next on the list of winners, gaining over $US11 ($17) billion overall from January 1 to this writing, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The study speculates that the rise may have to do with Musk’s Twitter-sourced decision to manufacture ventilators, although that has been another shaky Tesla rollout, and Tesla’s stock rally could have more to do with the fact that Tesla delivered more cars than expected during the pandemic—or just that young investors like Elon Musk.
Others more clearly correlate with pandemic-related demands. Zoom founder Eric Yuan’s fortune has, at this writing, roughly doubled to $US7.78 ($12) billion since January 1. Steve Ballmer, former CEO and major shareholder in Microsoft, which owns Skype and Teams, has made roughly $US5 ($8) billion since January 1. (Although, interestingly, Bill Gates’ wealth has dropped during that time.) Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, has made nearly $US1 ($2) billion since the beginning of this year. Dozens of others have managed to increase their wealth by millions by unstated means.
The dismal study concludes that the billionaire class will emerge from the current pandemic and associated economic downturn just fine, “or even see a major surge” in wealth. It notes that between 2019 and 2020, the number of U.S.-based billionaires increased, but their collective net worth had decreased by about $US164 ($257) million.
One fatal road marker, the study notes, is that tax obligations for the wealthy have decreased 79 per cent, as a percentage of their wealth, between 1980 and 2018. They recommend establishing a “Pandemic Profiteering Oversight Committee,” mandating that charities pay out donor-advised funds, and levying an emergency 10 per cent millionaire surtax.
Study co-author Chuck Collins acknowledged to Gizmodo that there have been “super losers” like oil and gas magnates. (The study only highlights 34 of the nation’s 170 wealthiest billionaires.) But they’re all charging into a potential depression with net worths that would last them several lifetimes. “We don’t know how this will shake out over a year, but the 400 wealthiest lost $US300 ($470) billion between 2008 and 2009, and it took over two and a half years to rebound to 2007 levels,” Collins said.
“Yes, the fortunes of this group will be tracked by rises and falls in the stock market,” he acknowledged. “But they will probably bounce back much faster than everyone else—and the equity market as a whole, thanks to the big winners.”
Jeff Bezos has pledged to give $US100 ($157) million to food banks. That’s better than nothing, but when food banks are implementing disaster protocols due to overwhelming demand in some states, and job loss is at its highest rates since the Great Depression, his loose change isn’t going to cut it. Let’s see the $US27,900,000,000 ($43,746,390,900) check.