In the midst of the pandemic, one of the richest men in the world, Jeff Bezos, traveled to space on a private ship. When he came back, he thanked all the Amazon customers for paying for the experience. Only with the wealth that Bezos has achieved since the beginning of the pandemic could the entire world population be vaccinated, according to the latest report of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (Oxfam, for its acronym in English), founded in the United Kingdom in 1942.
Simon Ticehurst, Oxfam’s regional director for Latin America, maintains from Mexico that inequality causes political instability and violence at a global level and that it has been proven that austerity recipes do not work. “The austerity recipe for development is totally anachronistic. We have already experienced it. It may be that it achieves some macroeconomic balance, but the economy cannot be above people’s lives,” he says.
According to the report, since the start of the pandemic, a new billionaire has emerged in the world every 26 hours, the ten richest men have doubled their wealth and more than 160 million people have fallen into poverty. In a conversation with elDiario.es from the most unequal region on the planet, Ticehurst assures that the pandemic has increased the inequality gaps in the world.
Are we heading towards a more unequal world?
Yes, there is a global trend of greater inequality. For the first time in a generation, the inequality gap is reopening after a period in which we saw that the difference between the richest and poorest countries and also within each country was narrowing.
How did the pandemic contribute to increasing inequality?
The majority of the population, in one way or another, has lost their jobs, especially in the informal work sector. Among the unemployed, more women than men lost their jobs. This pandemic has affected people who were already living in a precarious situation, but also the broad layers of the middle class.
Has the pandemic created new billionaires?
The pandemic has seen an increase in the earnings of billionaires. We have new billionaires associated with pharmaceutical companies.
What do you think about the fact that many of the world’s richest people, most of them men, present themselves as philanthropists?
We do not want to focus on people, we are not questioning particular individuals. Inequality is the result of a system that is broken, that needs to be fixed. It is not a product of what these billionaire people have done. But they are part of the system and that system must be corrected, it must be fixed. What we need are systemic solutions.
And how can it be corrected?
For example, with a more progressive fiscal system, policies of universal access to education and health. This economic model is not sustainable globally. One of the measures, in addition to the idea of a tax on extraordinary profits, is the exemption on intellectual property that allows breaking the monopolies of a few to give rise to the generic production of medicines.
However, in the report they point out that the growth of economic inequalities begins from 1995…
Yes, there are cycles. For example, in Latin America, the increase in inequality coincides with the neoliberal period of the 1990s, when the State was shrinking, the market was privileged and austerity policies were applied. Then came the progressive governments, which have reduced inequality gaps but have had to live with the remnants of that neoliberal period, without radically modifying that logic. And yet they showed that with public policies, with more effective public spending, the change is significant, as in the case of Brazil, before 2015, which is the most successful example of reducing poverty and inequality that we know of in Latin America with Bolivia. .
Does inequality kill people?
Yes, it contributes to killing people. The poorest population is more exposed, more likely to die from the pandemic than the rich population. The Afro-descendant population has a lower life expectancy than the white population. So yes, inequality kills.
Do the richest pollute more?
Yes, the consumption patterns of the richest countries and the richest people more than double the generation of greenhouse gases by people living day to day. However, it is these people who suffer the most from the impact. If you have money, you have ways to avoid the problems of climate change, but people living in marginal conditions can not do anything. In the migrant caravans that leave Central America, for example, most of this population comes from what is called the “dry corridor”, a prolonged drought of their lands, as a result of climate change, and that is why they choose a very dangerous road to try to reach the United States.
Why should the richest countries and people worry about growing inequality?
Inequality generates political instability, generates violence. This explosion of inequality caused by the pandemic has not been seen before. But the measures we are proposing have been implemented. There have been unique solidarity taxes on very wealthy companies or individuals. This happened after the Second World War in England and in the United States.
The report mentions that at least 73 countries are facing potential IMF-backed austerity measures, do you think such policies can help?
The recipe for austerity for development is totally anachronistic. We have already experienced it. It may be that it achieves some macroeconomic balances, but the economy cannot be on top of people’s lives. The pandemic has shown that we need a change of chip. We cannot return to the policies of yesteryear, another boldness is required to face the double challenge posed in the United Nations development agenda for 2030. I am referring to inequality without breaking planetary limits. Inequality with sustainability. We can’t do it with the recipes of the past.
Is there any continent or region in the world that does not follow this trend?
No, I think not. Latin America is at the top of inequality and poverty worldwide. We have seen a significant improvement in this century, but now we see how that recovery is being lost.