Pandemics and profits

For the world’s uber-rich, there’s no better time to rake in super-profits than during this pandemic.

From April to July this year, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by 27.5%, with their total net worth estimated at USD 10.2 TN. The wealth of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the world’s richest man, grew by almost USD 70 BN from 113 BN on 18 March to USD 182.4 BN by 25 November while Elon Musk’s net worth increased by an eye-popping 413%, from USD 24.6 BN to USD 126 BN in the same period.

To put things in perspective, Bezos’ current net worth is larger than the combined gross domestic products of the 11 poorest countries in Africa. It is also equal to the combined per capita income of 86.7 million people from India. His wealth can buy Covid-19 vaccines for 4.7 BN people.

Pharmaceutical companies are also set to earn big. Pfizer and Moderna are both projected to earn around USD 14 BN each for their Covid-19 vaccines. Preventing recurrence will bring an additional USD 10 BN in revenues yearly.

While whole national economies have grounded to a halt, while hundreds of millions of people have been rendered unemployed or are now underpaid, while hundreds of millions more are now in more danger of being impoverished or experiencing starvation, while daily cases of infections and deaths continue to rise, why do I feel that someone earning billions of dollars on other people’s pain and suffering is just plain unacceptable?

In times of emergencies, you would think that ensuring that everyone gets food and other basic necessities would be seen as a public service. In times of disasters, you would think that providing aid–whether in cash or in kind–would be considered a government obligation. In times of public health emergencies like global pandemics, you would think that ensuring everyone gets the necessary medical treatment–including medicines and vaccines–would be treated as a state responsibility.

It turns out, we thought wrong.

Governments have abdicated many of these responsibilities, at the same time allowing big companies to take over providing these services–and make big profits in the process. This privatization of public services is characteristic of our times, where people are made to compete for services based on their available funds. In these neoliberal times, social services are no longer seen as state responsibilities, to be provided to the public at no or very low costs; they are now seen as commodities to be sold by the private sector.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a glaring example of disaster capitalism. For the uber-rich, there is no better time to rake in super-profits than now.

Photo from NBC News