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Make 10 billionaires richer or freeze global poverty? Capitalism chose the former in 2020

Photo: Jeff Bezos, the second-richest man in the world. Credit: Steve Jurvetson, Wikimedia Commons

The ten richest men in the world became $540 billion richer over the course of 2020, a year of immense suffering from the Coronavirus pandemic that has so far killed at least 2 million people globally and led to an economic crisis of historic proportions. That amount of money could have both prevented anyone from falling into poverty and paid for a COVID-19 vaccine for every person on the planet. If these already unfathomably wealthy capitalists were simply prohibited from becoming even richer last year, then the world would have seen no increase in poverty and everyone could be vaccinated for free.   

These facts and much more are highlighted in a recent report by Oxfam International titled “The Inequality Virus,” painting a more complete picture of the impact the pandemic had on the already staggering levels of inequality under capitalism. 

The top 1,000 billionaires’ fortunes were completely recovered only nine months into the crisis. For working and poor people, Oxfam estimates recovery could take up to 14 times longer. That’s more than a decade. In comparison, it took five years for billionaires to recover their wealth after the 2007-9 Great Recession. 

According to the report, 112 million fewer women would be at high risk of losing their incomes or jobs if men were equally represented in sectors most impacted by the crisis. The report notes, “the coronavirus has also led to an explosion in the amount of underpaid and unpaid care work, which is done predominantly by women, and in particular women from groups facing racial and ethnic marginalization.”

Twenty-two thousand Latino and Black people would still be alive in the United States as of Dec. 2020 if they had the same mortality rates as white people. Over 9,200 Afro-descendants in Brazil would still be alive as of June 2020 if the same were true for them. 

Socialism values people’s lives over billionaires’ bank accounts

We don’t have to imagine what a socialist response to COVID-19 might look like, because we have seen examples of success in China, Cuba, Vietnam and other socialist countries. 

These nations confronted the crisis by taking the threat seriously and studying it, and using their planned economies to pivot and adjust production as necessary. China built new hospitals and directed manufacturers to make PPE and other necessary equipment. They instituted vigorous contact tracing, mass testing and nationwide quarantines. Today, life in China is largely back to normal. 

While Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi called for a partial curfew and asked Indians to “clap hands and bang pots in public, as if this would scare away the virus,” the southern Indian state of Kerala began a public health education campaign called “Break the Chain.” Trade unionists, members of other social movements, and members of the governing Communist Party of India (Marxist) volunteered to make public places safer by sanitizing buses and installing face and hand washing stations.

Cuba and Vietnam experienced monumentally lower numbers of deaths and infections than their capitalist neighbors, and both shared medical supplies and trained medical professionals with other nations in acts of international solidarity. Vietnam sent 450,000 protective suits to the United States in April 2020, despite the U.S. government being responsible for the deaths of millions of Vietnamese people during their war on the country. On it’s official website, the government of Vietnam said it was supplying the medical suits because “the United States currently has a great demand” and they wanted to show a “spirit of mutual support to partner countries, including the United States.” 

It could be different 

President Joe Biden recently said there’s nothing to be done to reverse the pandemic over the next several months. This is a lie, made all the more outrageous coming from a man who wields unparalleled power over the wealthiest government on the planet.

Oxfam International reports, “cancelling debts would release $3 billion a month for poor countries to invest instead in free healthcare for everyone.” At home, the U.S. government could cancel all rents and mortgages, and no one would have to lose their job. It could pay for all vaccine production and distribution, provide free healthcare for everyone and provide a home to every person who is living out on the streets. 

They could do all this by just taxing the billionaires or slashing a small fraction off of the military budget. One can only imagine what could be done if the wealth of the ultra rich was expropriated, completely taken away and used to solve all the great crises and injustices of the world.

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