Billionaires are old news; world to soon have its first trillionaire
Here's to the first trillion: Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk cheers as he speaks at the annual political festival Atreju, in Rome on Dec. 16, 2023. A recent report from anti-poverty organization Oxfam highlighted how the fortunes of the world's five richest people—Musk, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison, Bernard Arnault of luxury company LVMH, and investment guru Warren Buffett—have more than doubled since 2020. The group says the world will soon have its first trillionaire. | Alessandra Tarantin / AP

If you’re still thinking in terms of “the billionaire class vs. the rest of us,” it’s time to update your terminology.

The world could have its first trillionaire within a decade, as the gap between the rich and poor has become “supercharged,” anti-poverty organization Oxfam International said last week in its annual assessment of global inequalities, titled Inequality Inc.

In the report, timed to coincide with the world’s political and business elites gathering in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum meeting, Oxfam said that the gap between the rich and poor has been “supercharged” since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fortunes of the five richest men—Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault and his family of luxury goods company LVMH, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, and investment guru Warren Buffett—have increased by 114% in real terms since 2020, when the world was reeling from the coronavirus crisis.

But even as the pandemic receded, the pace at which the richest among us have been accumulating sped up even further. Billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7 billion per day right now, even as at least 1.7 billion workers live in countries where inflation is outpacing wage growth.

Oxfam U.K. Interim Executive Director Amitabh Behar said the report showed that the world was entering a “decade of division.”

He said: “We have the top five billionaires. They have doubled their wealth. On the other hand, almost five billion people have become poorer.

“Very soon, Oxfam predicts that we will have a trillionaire within a decade, whereas to fight poverty, we need more than 200 years,” he added. The term trillionaire, for those doing the math, would refer to a person whose wealth amounts to a thousand billion dollars—that’s twelve zeroes.

Currently, Musk is believed to be the richest man on the planet, with a personal fortune of just under $250 billion, according to Oxfam, which used figures from Forbes.

By contrast, nearly five billion people have become poorer since the pandemic, with many of the world’s developing nations unable to give the financial support during lockdowns that richer nations could provide.

“Sharply increasing billionaire wealth and rising corporate and monopoly power,” the report declared, “are deeply connected.” Its analysis shows that the profits of mega-corporations are used to benefit shareholders at the expense of workers and ordinary people.

The paper spends significant attention examining how corporate and monopoly power has exploded inequality—and how corporate power exploits and magnifies inequalities of gender and race, as well as economic inequality.

Oxfam says that the world is in “a new era of monopoly,” in which corporations control markets, set the terms of exchange, and “profit without fear of losing business.”

If there is to be any hope for the world, Oxfam says an “inequality-busting” agenda must be pursued, which includes permanent taxation of the wealthiest in every country, more effective taxation of big corporations, and renewed efforts to stamp out tax avoidance.

The organization said governments should consider setting up their own “public monopolies” or “public options: in sectors that are prone to capture by corporate power, including energy, transport, and finance.

It also pointed to anti-trust efforts against corporations like Amazon and Apple in the U.S. as examples that should be copied. “Radical increases in taxes” on corporations and super-rich individuals are also on the to-do list.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!