Capitalism has generated the highest level of economic inequality in human history.
According to the latest World Wealth Report, published annually by French consultancy company Capgemini, the wealthiest 2.1 million people—just 0.027 percent of the world’s population—in 2020 had a combined wealth of more than $45 trillion.
The ten richest people in the world own more than the bottom 3.1 billion people, according to the latest research by Oxfam, a British charity, and their fortunes have doubled during the pandemic.
Yet for most of the world’s population, the pandemic has been disastrous. It’s not just the millions of deaths; more than 160 million extra people have been forced into poverty, and incomes have fallen for almost everyone.
Nearly 700 million people are in extreme poverty—living on less than US$1.90 per day. According to the United Nations Development Program, more than 850 million people are undernourished.
The inequality appears worst in the Global South, where millions of landless labourers in Asia, Latin America and Africa fight for the right to work for a pittance. Factories producing components for Western export markets employ millions of workers for a fraction of the retail price of the goods that they make.
In the Middle East and North Africa, entire generations of young university graduates complete their studies only to find no jobs left for them. In India, where more than 400 million peasants and landless labourers live in poverty, the countryside is scarred by an epidemic of suicides among farmers who cannot repay their debts.
But it’s not only in underdeveloped countries that we find economic inequality and injustice. In the West, whole sections of the population have been devastated by unemployment, stagnant wages and ever rising prices for accommodation.
Unemployment in the European Union is officially 14 million. Government austerity over the last fifteen years has slashed social security and pensions. In the United States, nearly 40 million live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.
In Australia as well, the so-called lucky country, it’s a tale of two classes. During the pandemic, the country’s 47 billionaires increased their combined wealth by $2,376 per second, or more than $205 million a day. Their fortune of $255 billion is more than that of the poorest 7.7 million people in the country.
Meanwhile, wages have stagnated for a decade, more than 100,000 are homeless, and millions struggle to pay the bills.
The reality is that, despite the enormous wealth being generated every year, the capitalist system simply cannot meet the basic needs of the world’s population.