Money and Markets

Billionaires' wealth gains during the pandemic could easily pay for the whole world to get vaccinated

Business Insider US
A medical assistant administers a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a woman at a clinic in Los Angeles on March 25, 2021.
  • A one-time 99% tax on the pandemic-era gains for the world's billionaires could pay for vaccines for everyone, according to a new report.
  • The rest of the money collected could give every unemployed worker in the world $20,000 (R290,000).
  • One-off wealth taxes have been suggested as one potential solution for boosting economic recovery and addressing inequality.
  • For more stories go to

Billionaires around the world added around $5.5 trillion (around R79 trillion) to their wealth during the pandemic - and a 99% tax on those gains could help vaccinate the world.

That's according to a new report from Oxfam, the Fight Inequality Alliance, and the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies and Patriotic Millionaires.

The analysis looks at the impact of a potential one-time tax on pandemic-era billionaire gains, using Forbes real-time data to track net worths. The report finds that the world's 2,690 billionaires added staggering amounts to their fortunes, with their cumulative wealth growing more since March 2020 than in the previous 15 years.

That adds up to a cumulative net worth of $13.5 trillion (around R195 trillion), which marks a $5.5 trillion (around R79 trillion), or almost 69%, increase since the pandemic first hit, when they held $8 trillion (around R116 trillion).

"Billionaire wealth is not earned. Billionaires are profiting from working people's hard graft and pain. It's their money 'earned' by your sweat, and it's high time that sweat began to pay off," Njoki Njehu, Pan Africa Coordinator of the Fight Inequality Alliance, said in a statement.

The report says, such a 99% one-off tax would bring in $5.4 trillion (around R79 trillion), with the billionaires still holding onto $55 billion (around R797 trillion) in pandemic-era gains.

The authors calculate the cost of vaccination at $7 (around R101) per dose, meaning that vaccinating the entire world would come in at a price tag of $70 billion (around R1 trillion) total, a relatively tiny fraction of the trillions in wealth gained by those billionaires.

Currently, according to Our World In Data, only 1.2% of people in low-income countries have received at least one vaccine dose. Nature reports that it will take until 2023 for the poorest countries to get vaccinated at current expected rates.

The report proposes that rest of the money raised by a wealth tax go to unemployed workers. The International Labour Organization found in a report that 220 million people are unemployed worldwide. According to the analysis, it would cost $4.4 trillion (around R64 trillion) to give them all $20,000 (around R290,000), well within the amount of money left over after global vaccination.

Wealth taxes have arisen as one solution for combating pandemic inequality

Levying taxes on society's wealthiest members has been suggested as one potential method to address pandemic inequality - and it's garnered support from more mainstream bodies and countries.

In April, the International Monetary Fund backed taxes on the wealthy and corporations as one option to help pandemic economic recovery. Argentina took it one step further, enacting its own one-time wealth tax on the top 0.8% of its population. The money from that tax - which brought in $2.4 billion (around R43 billion)- will go towards housing, public health, and other pandemic-impacted sectors.

"This is the time for a bold and meaningful strike at these inequalities," Chuck Collins, the director of the program on inequality and the common good at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Insider. "You can't get a more extreme example of the harms of billionaire wealth excess versus the plight of ordinary people than what we're seeing right now. And people know that. So, I think bold measures - bold wealth taxes - to reverse inequality would have wide public support."

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