How COVID-19 created more billionaires worldwide – an excerpt
Over the past two decades, as the global population of billionaires rose more than fivefold and the largest fortunes rocketed past $100bn, I started tracking this wealth. Not for the voyeuristic thrill, but for warning signs. Rising inequality was becoming ever more of a political issue, threatening to provoke popular backlashes against capitalism itself.
The pandemic has reinforced this trend. As the virus spread, central banks injected $9tn into economies worldwide, aiming to keep the world economy afloat. Much of that stimulus has gone into financial markets, and from there into the net worth of the ultra-rich.
The total wealth of billionaires worldwide rose by $5tn to $13tn in 12 months, the most dramatic surge ever registered on the annual billionaire list compiled by Forbes magazine.
The billionaire population boomed last year as well. On the 2021 Forbes list, which runs to April 6, their numbers rose nearly 700 to a record total of more than 2,700.
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The biggest surge came in China, which added 238 billionaires — one every 36 hours — for a total of 626. Next came the US, which added 110 for a total of 724. The top 10 gainers in the US and China each saw already vast fortunes grow in just one year by sums that not long ago would have seemed impossible in a lifetime: from $25bn to more than $150bn for Tesla founder Elon Musk.
Already these numbers are fuelling the anger of prominent progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have been calling on America to tax billionaires out of existence.
Though President Joe Biden has not joined these calls he has begun to hum a similar tune, citing the billionaire class windfall during the pandemic as reason to tax the very rich more heavily and redistribute wealth to the middle class