Pandemic this, pandemic that. I understand that we’re all pretty tired of it, especially now that we’re one year into the thick of it. But I want to pose a question. A deep, important question. Why the hell did billionaires get so wealthy during the worst pandemic in a century? 

While people have suffered and labored through the brunt of the pandemic, these parasites have accrued massive amounts of capital, reaching the widest gap between the rich and the poor in 50 years. It’s absolutely unacceptable. Why is it that elites’ wealth inflated so much? Why did we have to wait so long for pittances from the government while these people continue to live in opulence? Why do I have to stare at Elon Musk’s ugly mug any longer?

In the United States, billionaire wealth has increased a whopping $1.3 trillion since the beginning of the pandemic last March. The nation’s 664 billionaires possess $4.3 trillion as of February 2021. The bottom half of earners in this country possess $2.4 trillion, a tad over half of the aforementioned billionaires. Six hundred and sixty-four individuals hold nearly double what 165 million people hold. This is simply astounding. Only three billionaires out of the top 50 even saw their fortunes atrophy during this whole disaster. Things haven’t been this bad since the Gilded Age. It’s nearly dystopic. While the average person is being sequestered in their home due to fear of illness, the rich benefit.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, plummeting employment rates have left nearly 75 million people without work, and  most of the jobs that have been lost have impacted workers already earning low wages. Things became dire. There’s a historical precedent for the government disproportionately allocating aid to banks and corporations rather than the people, like the $700 billion dollar Emergency Economic Stabilization Act in 2008 and Trump’s COVID-19 relief bill that gave $2.3 trillion of a $4 trillion bill to businesses without even requiring proof of damages. It’s asinine that we prop massive corporations up without giving aid to our most essential workers and citizens of this country. 

There have been many fiascos surrounding Wall Street lately, including but not limited to things like the GameStop short. But one thing I want to touch on is the explosion of the stock market, despite COVID-19 raging beyond the safe walls of the NASDAQ stock exchange. The S&P index is up 15.8% in the past 6 months, which means that the top 500 most valuable stocks increased in value by about 16%. Business Insider states, “The Small Business Administration made $349 billion available to small businesses with the Paycheck Protection Program. But like in 2008, $243 million of that was snapped up by large, publicly-traded corporations, some of which were valued at over $100 million. Even hedge funds submitted claims to try to tap into what they saw as free money.” 

Much of the relief expected to go to small businesses and individuals went to the wealthiest of us, giving the traders and billionaires more opportunities to trade imaginary capital and accrue more money than many of us will see in our entire lives. The stock market grew because of an infusion of money from the government. This imaginary capital naturally accumulates to the top 1%.

So, long story short, money that should go to individuals and small businesses is snatched up from or willingly given by the government to fuel parasites. It’s appalling, and frankly, I think the fortunes of said parasites should be forcefully taken and just plain redistributed. People like Elon Musk contribute nearly nothing to society. Someone can take over Tesla or SpaceX and do it for him without requiring slave labor in the cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or a coup in Bolivia. This is a bit mask-off, but the situation is dire and there shouldn’t be any hesitation. 

The American government has failed its people, and it’s truly saddening. The material conditions have not improved, and all the while these rich assholes parade their shiny new toys.

Sam Fogel can be reached at samfogel@umich.edu.

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