As over 2.8 million people have died globally from COVID in the past year, the wealth of the world’s billionaires has surged.
The planet’s 2,365 billionaires have seen their wealth increase $4 trillion, or 54 percent, during the pandemic year. Their combined wealth rose from $8.04 trillion to $12.39 trillion between March 18, 2020 and March 18, 2021.
Thirteen billionaires saw their wealth increase over 500 percent (see the “500 Percent Club” below). Many of them are connected to companies that benefited enormously from the conditions of the pandemic, including having their competition shut down or diminished.
There are 270 new billionaires on this year’s global list, while 91 billionaires fell off the list.
The analysis was conducted for the Patriotic Millionaires (and their affiliated UK Millionaires) and Millionaires for Humanity by the Institute for Policy Studies –Program on Inequality, drawing on research from Forbes, Bloomberg, and Wealth-X.
At the global level, the wealthiest 20 billionaires have a combined $1.83 trillion in wealth –with an increase of $742 billion, or 68 percent, over the pandemic year. In comparison, the 2019 GDP of Spain was $1.3 trillion.
While billionaires were getting richer, the pandemic caused the global economy to shrink by 3.5 percent in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund. COVID-19 has been an accelerant on global inequality, with acute adverse impacts on women, youth, the poor, the informally employed, and those who work in contact-intensive sectors.
The Need for Wealth Taxation
If global billionaires had paid an annual wealth tax in 2020, modeled on the “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” levy proposed by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, they would have paid an estimated $345 billion in wealth taxes. Based on the current expectations of wealth growth, a small wealth tax such as this would raise $4.14 trillion over the next decade. Of course, there is no institutional body to levy such a global wealth tax and this is for illustrative purposes.
The “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” would levy an annual 2 percent wealth tax on assets over $50 million — and a 3 percent tax on assets over $1 billion. Our estimates track this law by exempting wealth under $50 million and tax assets between $50 million and $1 billion at a 2 percent rate.
The annual revenue from this wealth tax would be more than twice the estimated $141.2 billion cost of delivering COVID-19 vaccines to every person on the planet, according to estimates from Oxfam.
The U.S. accounts for less than one-third of billionaire wealth on the global list. In the U.S. alone, if this tax was applied to U.S. billionaires on the Forbes Billionaires List, this would generate $120 billion a year, or $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
Wealth in the United Kingdom:
In the UK, between March 2020 and 2021, the 54 UK billionaires saw their wealth increase £40 billion ($54.9 billion), a gain of 36 percent. Their combined wealth increased from £112.3 billion ($154 billion) to £152.36 billion ($208.9 billion).
In the same year the UK economy shrank by a record 9.9 percent and the number of people on Universal Credit – a welfare payment that supports people out-of-work or on a low income – increased by 98 percent to 6 million people.
In December 2020, the UK Wealth Tax Commission recommended that a one-off wealth tax in the UK, of 1 percent over 5 years, could generate £260 billion if applied to individuals with wealth over half a million pounds. If the 54 billionaires in the UK paid a one-time 5 percent wealth tax, exempting £500,000, it would raise an estimated $8.6 billion, or £6.28 billion.
Pandemic Wealth Gainers: The 500 Percent Club
Fourteen global billionaires have seen their wealth increase more than 500 percent over the pandemic. Here they are, with a summary of their percent gain and amount of wealth increased over past year.
- Zhong Shanshan (3300 percent/$66 billion gain), China. Saw his wealth rise an eye-popping 3,300 percent during the pandemic year, from $2 billion to $68 billion. The wealth surge was the result of two of his companies going public in 2020, Nongfu bottled water and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy.
- Tatyana Bakalchuk (1,200 percent/$12 billion gain), Russia. Founded the e-commerce apparel company, Wildberries. Her wealth increased by $12 billion over the pandemic, rising from $1 billion to $13 billion.
- Zuo Hui (714 percent/$15.9 billion gain), China. Chair of Homelink, China’s largest real estate brokerage company. Wealth increased $15.9 billion, from $2.2 billion to $17.9 billion
- Bom Kim (670 percent/$6.7 billion gain), U.S. Wealth has increased 670 percent, from $1 billion to $7.7 billion over the pandemic year. Founder of the e-commerce giant Coupang, the Amazon of South Korea. Kim’s fortune surged as high as $11 billion after the company’s IPO in early March.
- Dan Gilbert (642 percent/$41.7 billion gain), US. Owner of Quicken Loans, which capitalized on cloistered citizens tapping online financing. His wealth increased 641.5 percent, from $6.5 billion to $48.2 billion over the pandemic year.
- Cheng Yixiao (614 percent/$13.5 billion gain), China. Co-founder of Kuaishou, a video platform based in Beijing. His wealth increased $13.5 billion, from $2.2 billion to $15.7 billion during the pandemic year.
- Su Hua (583 percent/$16.9 billion gain), China. Also a co-founder of video platform and live-streaming app, Kuaishu. Hua’s wealth increased $16.9 billion during the pandemic year, from $2.9 billion to $19.8 billion.
- Ernest Garcia II (567 percent/$13.6 billion), US. Wealth increased 566.7 percent, from $2.4 billion to $16 billion during the pandemic year. Biggest shareholder of Carvana, the online car sales and auto-financing giant.
- Elon Musk ($559 percent/$137.5 billion gain), US. Musk is now the third wealthiest person in the world as his shares in Tesla, Space-X and other companies that he owns continue to climb. His wealth increased $558.9 percent, from $24.6 billion to $162.1 billion during the pandemic year (down $9.9 billion from March 17, 2021, so fluctuating wildly).
- Brian Armstrong (550 percent/$5.5 billion gain), US. Chief executive of Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the country. Wealth increased 550 percent, from $1 billion to $6.5 billion during the pandemic year.
- Chan Tan Ching-Fen (540 percent, $8.1 billion gain), Hong Kong. Wealth comes from Hang Lung Group, a large real estate founded by her late husband. Wealth increased $1.5 billion to $9.6 billion, an increase of $8.1 billion over the pandemic year.
- Bobby Murphy (531 percent/$10.1 billion gain), US. Wealth increased 531 percent, from $1.9 billion to $12 billion during the pandemic year. Co-founder of Snapchat, with his Stanford fraternity brother, Evan Spiegel (490 percent/$9.3 billion gain).
- Forrest Li (500 percent, $9.5billion gain), Singapore. Li’s wealth increased $9.5 billion, from $1.9 billion to $11.4 billion during the pandemic year. He is owner of the online gaming and e-commerce platform, Sea.