On Jan. 17, 2022, Oxfam released a report entitled “Inequality Kills”, detailing the growth in wealth inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic and outlining how such drastic inequality leads to the deaths of 21,300 people per day. That is one person every four seconds. This is the violence of the capitalist system—a system that prioritizes the wealth of a select few over the health of billions, a system that turns unnecessary deaths into inevitable ones, a system that is actively destroying the planet—a system that has blood on its hands!
Their profits, our dead
The Oxfam report revealed that since the start of the pandemic the 10 richest men in the world have more than doubled their wealth from $875-billion (CAD) in March 2020 to $1.9-trillion. This increase in wealth was larger than the combined 14 years prior to the pandemic and the largest percentage increase since record keeping began. Around the world wealth is a stronger indicator of whether or not you will die from COVID-19 than your age. In some countries you are four times as likely to die from COVID-19 if you are poor! This is all the more alarming because as the wealth of the richest increased, the poorest in society saw their wealth go down. While the top 20 per cent have bounced back from any losses they took in 2020, the bottom 20 per cent are projected to see a further 5 per cent decrease in their wealth. 163-million additional people have been driven below the poverty line since the start of the pandemic. For working class people these statistics show what everyone already knew – that we are not all in this together. There are really two pandemics: one for the rich and one for the poor! For the rich the pandemic has meant unprecedented gains, and for working class people it only brought further poverty, inequality and death.
Oxfam highlights four main areas that contribute to the deaths of such a large number of people every day: lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, climate change, and poverty.
- Currently 80 per cent of the world’s vaccines have gone to the richest countries, resulting in extremely low vaccination rates throughout the rest of the world. This not only leads to unnecessary deaths but the development of new variants. It is estimated that 5.6-million people die every year due to lack of access to healthcare in poor countries.
- Gender based violence is also on the rise. Women were affected disproportionately during the pandemic as they came largely from already precarious work situations. For every 3-month period of lockdown there are 15-million additional cases of intimate partner violence. On top of this the pandemic is said to have pushed back the already abysmal 99 years that it is going to take to achieve gender equality to 135 years.
- The climate crisis continues to be an ever-growing threat to the lives of millions of people. It is projected that by 2030 climate disasters will result in 231,000 dead every year in the poorest countries. And to add insult to injury the top 20 billionaires produce 8000x as much CO2 as the poorest 50 per cent.
- Poverty and Hunger contribute to 2.1-million people dying every year. At the height of school closures 369 million children were going without school lunches
There are two things to note on these glaring statistics: one, that they are all conservative estimates of the actual situation on the ground, as things like gender-based violence go largely unreported; and two, all these deaths are completely preventable!
Capitalism must die for people to live
The glaring violence of the report leaves many people wanting to take action. Referenced multiple times throughout the report, Oxfam proposes an emergency tax on the profits made by billionaires during the pandemic. To illustrate, they state:
“A one-off 99 per cent emergency tax on new, pandemic-era billionaire wealth of just the top 10 richest men alone would raise $812-billion. These resources could pay to make enough vaccines for the entire world and fill financing gaps in climate measures, universal health and social protection, and efforts to address gender-based violence in over 80 countries. As a group, they would still remain $8-billion richer than they were at the start of the pandemic, and every single one would still be a billionaire.”
While Oxfam also proposes additional ongoing taxes to reduce the number of billionaires in the world, we must ask ourselves—why are they entitled to any amount of wealth at all, let alone billions? As working-class people died on the front lines combating the pandemic, the rich sat idly by and raked in enormous amounts of wealth. Everyday, billionaires are given the choice of making only millions or allowing thousands to die, and every day they choose the latter. Leaving any amount of money in their hands that could be used to prevent unnecessary deaths merely justifies that some people are allowed to die if it means bigger profits for capitalism. Reformist solutions such as this content themselves with merely 10,000 dead a day, rather than 21,000. There is no reasonable amount of people capitalism is allowed to kill.
The wealth and technology currently exist to combat these issues, but they are being hoarded by a small few. Attempts at taxation are of limited use, as the rich merely hide their wealth in tax havens abroad or simply refuse to invest. To truly tackle inequality, you must hit at the source, i.e. who controls the economy. Taking the economy out of private hands and placing the factories, banks, and major corporations under democratic workers’ control is the only way to halt inequality in its tracks, invest in healthcare, end hunger and gender-based violence. The capitalists must lose their right to rule. Capitalism must die for people to live.