US Billionaires Made $434 Billion During Pandemic But Would Gladly Give It Up ... For More
“Eat the rich" isn't just an expression. The record 38 million newly unemployed might have no other dietary options, especially as Republicans attempt to cut their benefits. Of course, the wealthy are the ones in the best position to hunt us down for sport. They've been doing this for decades now. It's called the market-based economy.
The impossibly naive have suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic is a great equalizer. But while small businesses shuttered permanently and livelihoods vanished in fields that might never fully recover, the fortunes of those plucky American billionaires grew by $434 billion since
Wally World the country closed in mid-March. I'm not an expert on folksy sayings, but I think you're supposed to make lemonade from your own lemons not 99 percent of the population's.
The $434 billion is spread out among a whopping 607 people in the United States. That might not seem like a lot, but the country's billionaires won't be able to gather in one place until at least Phase 5 of most states' reopening plans.
According to a report from Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies' Program for Inequality, everything's coming up the most Milhouse for Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Bezos added $34.6 billion to his money mountain and Zuckerberg added $25 billion for sloppy seconds. The COVID-19 era feels like a lifetime, but it's just been two months. Most Americans couldn't make a single billion in multiple actual lifetimes. The bald guy and the sociopath have averaged roughly half a billion a day. That rising tide did not lift any boats that I can see. Most folks were left bone dry.
According to the report, the net worth of America's billionaires grew 15% during the two-month period, to $3.382 trillion from $2.948 trillion. The biggest gains were at the top of the billionaire pyramid, with the richest five billionaires — Bezos, Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Larry Ellison — seeing combined wealth gains of $76 billion.
Elon Musk had among the largest percentage gain of billionaires during the two months, seeing his net worth jump by 48% in the two months to $36 billion. Zuckerberg was close behind, seeing his wealth surge by 46% in the two months, to $80 billion. Bezos' wealth increased by 31% to $147 billion. Bezos' ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, who received Amazon shares in their divorce, also saw her wealth increase by a third, to $48 billion.
Even pre-pandemic liberals are now building altars to Bezos because Amazon keeps them in toilet paper, diapers, and Harley Quinn figures (hey, I need retail therapy as much as anyone else). Of course, the frontline employees whose physical labor provides all those goodies had to fight for safe working conditions and hazard pay. They risk their health every day to keep society afloat and they aren't walking away from this with private island money. They likely won't even afford a trip to Hawaii because airplane tickets might cost about $2,000.
It doesn't take a Bernie bro to loathe Bezos. He's notorious for his disinterest in philanthropy. If you're involved in the arts in Seattle, you know there's a stark difference between Amazon and Boeing. Amazon doesn't even match employee donations to charity. A post-coronavirus Seattle with an even more powerful Amazon is a sobering prospect: Every bankrupt corner store now an Amazon Go; the few remaining independent book stores all branches of Amazon Books. In a couple years, they might rename the city “Bezos-ville."
Elon Musk increased his net worth by 48 percent yet he's still whining about shutdowns. He threatened to bail on California because of the state's public health measures, and equally scuzzy business owners have “cheered" him for refusing to conduct only minimum operations at the plant in Fremont, California. He can afford to pay his staff to stay safe at home. He wants to spin this as a false choice between the “fascism" of stay-at-home restrictions and people paying their rent.
If you divided our billionaire besties' pandemic profits by the number of unemployed, it would come to roughly $11,421 per person or almost $6,000 for each month in lockdown. Most of the households hit hardest by the crisis earn far less than this. Our economy doesn't have a COVID-19 problem. It has an income inequality problem. If only someone was telling you fools this during the recent Democratic primary.
Elizabeth Warren in Las Vegas, NV on Billionaires | February 20, 2020 www.youtube.com
But it hasn't all been puppies and sunshine (supposing you like either) for some billionaires who profit from the labor of workers in the travel, hospitality or retail business. Ralph Lauren's wealth dropped by $100 million to $5.6 billion during the past two months. That's around 2 percent. I hope he's OK. Hotelier John Pritzker “lost" $34 million because no one is hoteling right now. He will have to content himself with $2.56 billion while 7.7 million people in the hospitality industry lost their jobs, likely forever.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."