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Jomo Thomas

Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)

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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” Mar 26, 2021)

As the world economy crashed around us, a group of people, the very rich, known as the billionaire club, profited handsomely from the pandemic. The Billionaire’s Club, which has a worldwide membership of about 2,200, saw its wealth grow by over $2.2 trillion in the last 12 months. They have a combined wealth of $12 trillion.

As the world muses at the first anniversary of the coronavirus plague, the International Labour Organisation reports that 93% of the world’s workers reside in countries with some form of workplace closure measures. More than 200 million persons lost their jobs, while the amount of income lost was estimated at $3.5 trillion. It said the world economy faced high levels of uncertainty and noted that the lockdown had its most significant impact on young workers, women, the self-employed and persons who occupied low and medium-skilled jobs.

The plague has not only killed millions and maimed more, but it has also had its most devastating effect on poor, small and developing countries. The impact is significant here in the Caribbean because of our vulnerable, tourism-dependent economies.

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Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada and Jamaica are in a state of complete lockdown while the other countries in the region, like SVG, muddle through in a delicate balance act to ensure we protect citizens, save lives, as well as guard the economy to allow for a healthy living.

Because we, in the region, are resourced starved and don’t have the money to dole out stimulus package after stimulus package, our leaders are extensively tested.

For most people, wherever they might be in this world, these are not the best times to be alive. It is equally valid for the political class. These are dangerous times to occupy the seat of power.

Not so with those who occupy the Billionaire Club. The pandemic has served them well. In a system where capitalist rules of economic organisation predominate, the rich, well to do and well connected, will always do well. At the same time, the lower classes of people will catch hell. The last 12 months have graphically brought home this truism to the most naive or anyone engaging in wilful denialism.

The Institute for Policy Studies published a report entitled Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes and Pandemic Profiteers. The report looked at the wealth gains of the very rich and contrasted that with the surge in unemployment.

The Policy Institute found 657 billionaires in the United States as of March 18, 2021, and their combined wealth grew by more than $1.3 trillions or 44.6%. During this same period, 29 million Americans contracted the coronavirus, and more than half a million died from or with it.

In contrast to this ravenous wealth growth among the wealthy, more than 75 million people lost their jobs across the United States and close to 20 million continue to collect unemployment insurance. At the same time that people across the world marked the dreaded anniversary of this plague, 43 persons smiled their way into the billionaire’s club.

French and Chinese billionaires also did well. The French superrich is now worth more than 500 million. The Luxury goods titan Bernard Arnault wealth increased by $35 billion, and L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt added $14 billion to her fortune. Chinese billionaire Zhong Shanshan wealth grew from 2 billion to 62.2 billion. Colin Zheng Huang owns $32.4 billion, while Jack Ma of the famed Alibaba chain clocked in at $61.7 billion.

The combined wealth of the 15 American billionaires with the enormous growth in wealth is staggering. The development represents an increase of $563 billion or 82%. The wealth growth of the top 15 represents over 40% of the wealth growth among all billionaires. Topping the list are Elon Musk ($137.5 billion richer, 559%), Jeff Bezos ($65 billion, 58%) and Mark Zuckerberg ($47 billion, 86%).

In this world of big money, the top ten investors enjoyed an average increase of 300%. Their fortunes grew because of their dominance in the world of online goods, services and entertainment, as locked down Americans shopped online, invested or searched for creative ways to pass time during this prolonged isolated lockdown. Owners of the social media sites Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter; online streaming platform Roku that allows for at-home entertainment, grew exponentially.

Since March 2020 and now, Elon Musk wealth grew by more than 559% or an eye-opening $137 billion to leapfrog him over Bill Gates of Micro-Soft and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to snatch the title as the richest man in the world. The combined wealth of American billionaires grew by more than $1 trillion to more than $4 trillion.

For those among us who have sufficient money to invest in the stock market, the good fortune of the following persons may worth tracking as you choose stocks:

1. Bom Kim (670%/$7.7 billion): A U.S. citizen and founder of the e-commerce giant Coupang, the Amazon of South Korea. Kim’s fortune surged as high as $11 billion after his company went public earlier this month.

2. Ernest Garcia II (567%/$13.6 billion): Biggest shareholder of Carvana, the online car sales and auto-financing giant.

3. Elon Musk (559%/$137.5 billion): Musk is now the second wealthiest Americans—at nearly $138 billion—as his shares in Tesla, Space-X and other companies that he owns continue to climb.

4. Bobby Murphy (531%/$10.1 billion): Co-founder of Snapchat, with his Stanford fraternity brother, Evan Spiegel.

5. Evan Spiegel (490%/$9.3 billion): Co-founder of Snapchat with his other billionaire super-gainer, Bobby Murphy.

6. Jack Dorsey (396%/$10.3 billion): Co-founder and CEOs of both Twitter and Square, the small business payment app.

7. Anthony Wood (331%/$5.3 billion): Founder of Roku, which enables online TV video streaming.

8. The co-founder of video-conferencing technology, Eric Yuan, Zoom, saw his wealth rise by $8.4 billion during the pandemic year, a gain of 153%. A year ago, Yuan had $5.5 billion which increased to $13.9 billion. Last year Zoom paid no federal taxes on its $660 million in profits, which increased by more than 4,000%.

However, while American plutocrats grabbed the headlines for their increasing fortunes, Chinese billionaires have gotten the riches this year in dollar term. They added $750 billion to their net worth in 2020.

We predict a turning point is not too far ahead. The world cannot go on much longer with this grotesque income gap.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

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4 replies on “An orgy of wealth”

  1. Avatar Of Dave Curt HendricksonDave Curt Hendrickson says:

    I do not accept that the economy of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and those of the Caribbean are poor vulnerable economies as stated by Jomo. Like Africa, it is poor leadership that has the entire Caribbean region suffering from dismal economic growth.
    Jomo is in his wisdom years, a phrase I would like to borrow from the Hon. St. Clair Leacock and instead should use his intellectual writings to inspire our young people. Not having them believe that hey are victims of the Billionaires Club.
    President of the Republic of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo has rightly pointed that corruption and poor leadership have stifled the African countries economies for decades and the Caribbean is exception. His bold leadership have seen the Ghanaian economy recording a growth rate of over 6 percent during the pandemic. Refusing to accept France’s hand out and to start storing Ghana’s cocoa beans for the purpose of producing its own byproducts are a few examples of his bold leadership.
    The Caribbean over dependency on tourism can only be attributed to our leaders lazy-mindedness, believing all they needed to do is befriend those same billionaires and invite to build anything at our beach fronts and call it development. We voted an incumbent Prime Minister who put his ego up for reelection; make him a Five Star General because he is the world’s boss. We had no interest in issues addressing the pandemic because as far as he was concerned, we had escaped pandemic. When you are writing Jomo, please! use your intellectual capacity to inspire our youths and stop thinking the rich owe us something.
    Finally, let me suggest areas to help create some billionaires of our own, we can embark on a massive promotional drive detailing to the world we are indeed the home of NON GMO grains and root crops. Our grains and root crops have passed down from generation to generation for decades. How about doing the same for our hard-working women North of the Dry River, who extract the coconut oil in a unique process that giving it a smoky flavour.
    You wrote of the growing success of Bobby Murphy, Evan Spiegel and Jack Dorsey just to name a few, what is stopping our trained IT professionals and web designers from pooling their knowledge to be more innovative. Those guys should be used to inspire our youths in the technological field to start developing Apps of their own. Just to add, what about using our T20 cricket stars in our movies industry in the Caribbean, especially in advertising of our region’s products.
    Let us get our nations in the Caribbean our of this mind set that we are from poor and vulnerable economies when it suits us, we are where are and we are only to be blamed.

  2. Avatar Of Dave Curt HendricksonDave Curt Hendrickson says:

    In paragraph two it should read; President of the Republic of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo has rightly pointed that corruption and poor leadership have stifled the African countries economies for decades and the Caribbean is no exception.

  3. Note.1. China gets rich by exploiting the capitalist system, which is state sponsored and controlled.
    2. Those entrepreneurs involved in the making of goods and facilitating their movement and technology have come out on top. 3.Those depending on the movement of people ( like the Caribbean) have done worst. One state senator in SVG once said that ‘agriculture was a thing of the past’ and suggested that the only future was in tourism. During the pandemic 100000 people in SVG and over 7 billion worldwide had to eat eat each day. Sad, we are a people that to lack the capcity to learn from experience. Don’t envy those that do.

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