A recent Oxfam report has found that the world’s 10 richest men have increased their fortunes by $540 billion during the pandemic. Instead of appealing for philanthropy from these fat cats, we need to expropriate the super-rich.
“COVID Billionaires should help starving people, says charity boss” ran the headline of a recent Guardian article. In the article Barron Segar, the president and chief executive of the World Food Program USA, presents inequality and poverty as ‘moral’ issues. He suggests that simple acts of charity by the rich can avert the damage of the COVID-19 crisis.
But appealing to the generosity of the capitalists overlooks the fact that their pursuit of profit, the motorforce of the capitalist system, necessitates poverty and increasing inequality. They and the system they represent are ultimately to blame for the crisis we find ourselves in.
The rich get richer
If it was simply a case of softening the capitalists’ hearts, you would think the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic would be enough to spur them into action. After all, according to a recent Oxfam report, the combined wealth of the world’s richest 10 men rose by a staggering $540bn during the pandemic – enough to easily pay for vaccines for the entire global population, and much more. In total, the world’s billionaires have increased their wealth to almost $12 trillion.
But far from being persuaded to share their fortunes during this disaster, they are hoarding more than ever. Indeed, Segar points this out:
“There are more billionaires in the US than we have ever had before, and many billionaires are successful because of COVID… Imagine one person [standing up to] say they have heard the call, they will donate $5bn.”
Even if the likes of Bill Gates were to give up half their wealth, they would still own more than most of the rest of us combined. Acts of charity on their part are intended to promote their brands, salve their consciences, or blunt the worst symptoms of the capitalist crisis in order to prevent a backlash. They do not fundamentally threaten the foundations of the system that serves them very well.
In fact, the same Oxfam report estimates that Mr Bezos’ wealth has climbed so much that he could give all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus, and still have as much wealth as he had before the pandemic.
Appealing to the world’s billionaires to solve the problems of the working class and poor is akin to politely asking criminals to compensate the victims of their crimes!
The poor get poorer
While wealth accumulates at one pole, at the other, millions of workers are facing eviction and hunger, even in the advanced capitalist countries. Many of those who are still employed or furloughed are unable to meet their monthly bills.
The flow of wealth is overwhelmingly in one direction: from the poor to the rich. For instance, businesses that have gone into administration – like Debenhams, for example – have distributed massive payouts to their wealthy investors, whilst passing on the losses to their workers in the form of unemployment.
Tycoons like Sir Philip Green and Sir Richard Branson refuse to make use of their wealth to support their workforces, but are happy to go to the state for support. You could say they are making their own appeals to ‘charitable donations’ – from the public purse!
His net worth is over 4 billion , sued various NHS trusts and pays no tax from money gained.
His airline should not be given tax payers money to Virgin Atlantic
Explained: Richard Branson’s dispute with the NHS as Virgin Atlantic seeks government bailout https://t.co/9SvsY9GssK
— RedSue, #StrongerTogether #UBI Socialist (@dsue1441_re) May 3, 2020
Furthermore, although the government has borrowed billions to pay for furlough schemes to avert a total collapse, much of this will still flow back into the pockets of the wealthy in the form of rent, living expenses, etc. And eventually, the Tories will expect workers to pay for public borrowing in the form of austerity.
Expropriate the billionaires
Capitalism has been in a state of crisis and stagnation for years. The gulf between the richest and the poorest has been growing wider and wider. Moralistic pleas from the liberal press about charity and taxing the wealthy are no solution for the working class.
The immense wealth sitting in the private bank accounts of the billionaires was not created by these parasites, but by the labour of the working class. The UK economy was worth nearly £3 trillion in 2019. But the lion’s share of this wealth is in the hands of a tiny minority, who are incapable of putting it to good use.
The labour movement must fight on a radical socialist programme. We shouldn’t settle for crumbs from the elites’ table.
Instead of appealing to a small number of billionaires to hand over some of their accumulated fortunes – to whichever charitable project takes their fancy – this wealth should be placed under the democratic ownership and control of those who produce it: the working class. Only on this basis can these immense resources be used to transform society, and ensure a decent life for all.