With the exponential rise of the stocks of pharmaceutical firms during the pandemic, COVID-19 vaccines have created nine new billionaires. The combined wealth of these people is more than enough to vaccinate everyone in the world’s poor countries. Moreover, the Washington Post recently published an analysis from the news organisation ProPublica which said that the 25 richest Americans, including Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and Elon Musk, paid little to nothing in federal income taxes between 2014 and 2018.
This is in stark contrast to the exacerbation of poverty the pandemic has caused. Billionaires are people who tend to be respected by the general public. We look up to them because they satisfy our problematic definition of being successful: becoming rich.
However, should billionaires really exist? Several studies over the years have shown how billionaires often use unethical means to hoard money that others need and that they wield a lot of political power.
It is almost impossible to ethically make a billion dollars. US representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez once said,
“You don’t make a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars.”
If we were to look at all the billionaires in the world who made their money through commerce, without a doubt, most, if not all, are unethical. There is a reason Jeff Bezos is one of the richest people in the world, while his workers have to skip bathroom breaks to avoid getting fired. Furthermore, if someone has made a billion dollars, there is a high chance they are also exploiting the environment. Once again, Amazon is a good example to back this statement. The company has an enormous carbon footprint – they emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018.
Billionaires are hoarding so much money, while others barely have enough to afford basic necessities like food and medicine. The average American would need to work for 2.8 million years to earn what Bezos already had in 2019; by now it would be even more. Billionaire wealth is twice the total wealth of the bottom 50% of America, and all the world’s billionaires have more wealth than 60% of Earth’s population. But what if the rich were taxed higher? The richest 1% of America owns almost 40% of all the wealth but pays only 20% of all the taxes. According to a report published in The Guardian ,increasing billionaires tax by just 10 percentage points would create about 3 trillion dollars – enough to make all college free at public universities.
Additionally, billionaires have too much political power. A study done by The Guardian found that the majority of American billionaires have made huge donations to Republican candidates and officials who want to cut, instead of expand (like most Americans want), social security benefits. Another example is when Washington was facing a budget deficit in 2011, the Obama administration proposed a deal to congressional Republicans, which entailed cuts in social security in exchange for a tax increase for the rich. In the end, the Republicans did not accept because they did not want the rich to be taxed higher.
However, this deal was not something that the American public wanted – a CBS poll found that only 6% even considered the deficit an important issue. And as noted above, Americans did not favour social security cuts. On the other hand, the rich did think deficit reduction was the most important issue of the time, and also thought social security cuts would be a good step. The deal was only brought to the table for the interests of the wealthy. As you can see, the rich do have a big political impact, which is not helpful for the public.
And now the pandemic has further widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Almost 85% of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered so far have been to people living in high-income and upper-middle-income countries. While children have started being vaccinated in places like Canada and the US, many countries in Asia and Africa are facing shortages.
Recently, over 100 countries supported a proposal to temporarily lift the vaccine patents. This will allow countries to manufacture their own vaccines, which will be beneficial for low-income countries. However, a few rich countries, for instance, the UK and Germany, have pushed back against this, protecting pharmaceutical companies’ best interests. India’s health system has been completely overwhelmed by COVID-19, and the country’s only hope is the vaccine – of which there is a huge shortage.
The fact that nine more billionaires have been created during this time from these outrageous monopolies is tragic.
Billionaires unethically extract money, don’t pay their taxes and have too much of a political impact. Should we be glorifying them? Are they really the people we should be looking up to?
Iman Mannathukkaren is a 14-year-old Canadian of Indian origin. In her free time, she likes to read, draw and listen to music.