There is a new term to describe the super-rich: “centi-billionaires.” They are individuals whose net worth comes to over $100 billion.
Having added $67.2 billion to his net worth in 2020, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos tops the list of global centi-billionaires: $182.2 billion as of Dec. 13, according to the Forbes website. Next in line, Tesla founder Elon Musk’s net worth of $147 billion represents an increase of over $100 billion to his wealth since 2019.
Both Microsoft founder Bill Gates – net worth of $118.3 billion – and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – net worth of $101.8 billion — saw income gains of over $10 billion each in 2020.
Meanwhile, the 651 richest billionaires in the U.S. enjoyed a total net increase of over $1 trillion since the pandemic hit in mid-March, according to an analysis of Forbes financial data by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies. Their current combined net worth was over $4 trillion, as of Dec. 11. (tinyurl.com/y3qceb8e)
With tens of millions out of work, and an end to extended unemployment insurance looming on the horizon, it is hard to fathom just what it means to have this much wealth – and to have done next to nothing to earn it. After all, the mega-profits of these super billionaires come from exploiting the labor of their workers, not from their own sweat and blood.
Over a third of U.S. adults – around 83 million – are having problems paying for basic needs, including food, medical bills and rent/mortgage. The gains alone of these few hundred multi-billionaires since March 2020 could feed all the hungry, house all the homeless and cover all the medical needs related to the vaccine.
If the U.S. Congress fails to pass a new relief bill, 12 million people will lose unemployment benefits on Dec. 26. Frank Clemente, Americans for Tax Fairness Executive Director, calculated: “Their pandemic profits [$1 trillion] are so immense that America’s billionaires could pay for a major COVID relief bill and still not lose a dime of their pre-virus riches.” (truthout.com, Dec. 11)
According to Clemente, the wealth growth of these 651 billionaires could provide a $3,000 stimulus payment to every person in the U.S. – and the affluent would still be richer than they were before the pandemic.
Jeff Bezos’ net worth is bigger than the GDP of most countries. He could give everyone in Amazon’s 1.2 million full- and part-time global workforce a $75,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was before COVID-19.
But such a “bonus” would only begin to cover the wealth Bezos has stolen from Amazon workers by not paying them the full value of their labor, especially since mid-March, when Amazon’s business skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.
In 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged to focus attention on the growing wealth gap between the wealthiest 1 percent versus the 99 percent of the population struggling to get by. At that time, Bezos’ net worth was “only” $18.1 billion. In the U.S. 1,210 people had a net worth of $4.5 trillion – roughly two times the number of people who are worth that today. (www.forbes.com, Mar. 9, 2011)
That just confirms that, under capitalism, wealth continues to be concentrated at the top and in fewer and fewer hands. While the COVID-19 crisis is a contributing factor, the extreme wealth disparities and the rise of the centi-billionaires in the U.S. were also fueled by four decades of flat wages for workers, and centuries of discrimination based on race, sex, gender, sexuality, disability and more.
The vast wealth of the capitalists could be used to make the COVID vaccines free and accessible to everyone – and particularly to the most vulnerable workers and oppressed people – in the shortest possible time frame. But while a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 is welcome, what is long overdue is a revolution to end the pandemic of capitalist profiteers.