The collective wealth of the world’s billionaires exploded by more than 60 percent last year, from $8 trillion to $13.1 trillion, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of global billionaires, released on Tuesday.
“COVID-19 brought terrible suffering, economic pain, geopolitical tension—and the greatest acceleration of wealth in human history,” Forbes writes.
The number of billionaires in the world grew by 660 to 2,775, the biggest total number and the largest annual increase ever. A new billionaire was minted every 17 hours.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk lead the pack with $177 billion and $151 billion, respectively. They are followed by Bernard Arnault and family ($150 billion), who control the French luxury goods company LVMH, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ($124 billion) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ($97 billion).
Press reports discuss how Zuckerberg “earned” $50 billion and Elon Musk “earned” $130 billion last year. But the very term is an absurdity. One cannot “earn” a figure equivalent to the gross domestic product of a mid-size country.
This wealth is socially appropriated. First, through the exploitation of the working class in the process of production.
When President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the plan he was introducing to “rebuild the backbone of America” would “bring everybody along,” he meant it. “Regardless of your background, your color, your religion, everybody gets to come along,” he said. What that means is billions of dollars to be invested in communities of color that haven’t just been ignored for generations of federal lawmakers, but harmed.
It’s a start at correcting those wrongs, with $20 billion dedicated specifically to “reconnect” communities of color that were bulldozed, paved under, and cut into parts by previous “redevelopment” and “urban renewal” programs that emphasized building highways to bring white suburbanites into cities by plowing through existing neighborhoods. “These highways were essentially built as conduits for wealth,” Eric Avila, an urban historian at the University of California, Los Angeles told The New York Times. “Primarily white wealth, jobs, people, markets. The highways were built to promote the connectivity between suburbs and cities. The people that were left out were urban minorities. African-Americans, immigrants, Latinos.” That’s one festering wound Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are committed to addressing.
“A lot of previous government investment in infrastructure purposely excluded these communities,” Bharat Ramamurti, a deputy director of Biden’s National Economic Council, told the Times. “So if you look at where we need to invest in infrastructure now, a lot of it is concentrated in these communities.” That includes the communities like Flint, Michigan, poisoned by the lead in their drinking water; Black, Hispanic and tribal communities existing alongside Superfund sites; and urban and rural Black, Latino, and tribal communities who have less access to affordable high-speed internet. The plan also dedicates $20 million to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for upgrading facilities, research infrastructure, and laboratories. The funding includes the creation of a new national lab at an HBCU.
To grasp the sheer magnitude of U.S. economic inequality in recent years, consider its two major stock market indices: the Standard and Poor (S&P) 500 and Nasdaq. Over the last 10 years, the values of shares listed on them grew spectacularly. The S&P 500 went from roughly 1,300 points to over 3,800 points, almost tripling. The Nasdaq index over the same period went from 2,800 points to 13,000 points, more than quadrupling. Times were good for the 10 percent of Americans who own 80 percent of stocks and bonds. In contrast, the real median weekly wage rose barely over 10 percent across the same 10-year period. The real federal minimum wage fell as inflation diminished its nominal $7.25 per hour, officially fixed and kept at that rate since 2009.
Sixty-two million people in the United States make less than $15 an hour. And here’s the truth: the fight to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 is as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For Black people, it’s taken us 400 years to get to $7.25 an hour. We can’t wait any longer. People in Appalachia can’t wait any longer. Poor white people, brown people, we cannot wait any longer. And we won’t be silent anymore.
You know that your country is caught in an endless loop of repetitive thinking when, almost 20 years after you invaded and occupied a distant land, beginning a war you’ve been incapable of winning despite massive “surges” of troops, contractors, CIA operatives, as well as air power, the Afghanistan Study Group, a congressionally mandated crew led by a retired Marine general who once commanded U.S. forces in that very land, recommends that the official date for the withdrawal of all American troops (but not planes, drones, or contractors), May 21st, be abandoned in the name of peace and the war fought on. (Consider that, by the way, a sentence worthy in length of such a never-ending war.)