It's a terrible time, it's a wonderful time.
Corona has plunged the global economy into a severe crisis, but at the same time it has given many companies a special boom, especially technology giants that benefit from contactless business models - their owners are getting richer and richer on paper.
This constellation gives rise to an antagonism which, from the point of view of some observers, leads to social tensions.
“Billionaires benefit despite the pandemic, the poorest are left behind,” the non-governmental organization Oxfam headlines a study in which it complains about increasing wealth inequality.
Poorest set back by a decade
According to activists, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated social disparities around the world.
"While the 1000 richest people made up for their losses in the Corona crisis in just nine months, it could take more than a decade for the poorest to recover from the economic consequences of the pandemic," fear the Oxfam experts.
This statement relates to the following calculation: During the crisis, the savings of the poor were heavily burdened, if not depleted - in the developing countries, but also in the industrialized countries.
At the same time, the fortunes of the ten wealthiest people in the world grew by almost half a trillion dollars between 2019 and 2020 - despite the pandemic.
Most recently, these super-rich raised a total of $ 1.12 trillion.
"For the richest, the corona crisis is over," state the Oxfam activists.
And combine the statement with a suggestive demand: "The profit of the super-rich would be more than sufficient to vaccinate the entire world population against Covid-19 and to ensure that nobody is impoverished by the pandemic."
The danger of impoverishment arises from the fact that the world is experiencing the worst job crisis in more than 90 years. Hundreds of millions of people have lost work and thus income as a result of the pandemic and defense measures.
At the same time, however, the lockdown has also accelerated a trend that was there before: the digitization of all areas of life.
As a result, tech and internet companies posted strong sales and earnings gains that would not have been in the form without the lockdown.
Source: WORLD infographic
There are no fewer than seven founders of high-tech companies among the ten wealthiest people on earth.
The list of the super-rich is led by Elon Musk.
The head of the innovative electric car maker Tesla last brought it to a fortune of 201 billion dollars.
Number two is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with $ 183 billion in assets.
The creators of Facebook and Google are also among the top ten of the wealthy elite.
The richest non-tech entrepreneur is the French Bernard Arnault, who created the international luxury goods giant LVMH and led it to global success.
From Oxfam's point of view, corporate multinationals and their owners are not making a sufficiently large contribution to the common good, which is exposed to great threat from the virus, in these difficult times.
“In the short term, we need a tax policy that adequately involves companies and the super-rich in financing our community,” says Tobias Hauschild, who heads the “Social Justice” team at Oxfam Germany.
The tax money is urgently needed to support people in poverty, especially in developing countries, to expand the education sector and the social and health system.
Source: WORLD infographic
Economists largely agree with Oxfam that the wealth spread has widened.
Last year, the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) stated with a view to Germany: "The richest ten percent do not, as previously assumed, have 59 percent of total net assets - but 67 percent."
Above all, the upper percent is probably richer than expected: Instead of the previously estimated almost 22 percent, these comparatively few people combine more than a third of private net wealth with a good 35 percent.
The poorer half of the population, on the other hand, only accounts for around one percent of prosperity.
The year 2020 is likely to have increased this inequality, not only in Germany but also internationally.
It is undisputed that the wealth spread in the USA has increased in particular.
This is where the Internet giants are based. In addition, top earners in the United States have to pay comparatively low income taxes.
Source: WORLD infographic
Oxfam itself interviewed 295 economists from 79 countries for the report “The Inequality Virus”.
According to the organization, 87 percent of scientists, including leading inequality researchers such as Jeffrey Sachs, Jayati Ghosh and Gabriel Zucman, expect income inequality to rise or rise sharply in their country as a result of the pandemic.
If the forecast turns out to be true, more people could still live in poverty in 2030 than before the pandemic, estimate the World Bank experts.
“Income and wealth inequality is likely to have risen significantly again during the pandemic,” says Gunther Schnabl, Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Leipzig.
This applies above all to the situation in the individual countries, but also increasingly to the relationship between developing and industrialized countries, with China being an exception.
The economy there did not shrink last year, but grew by 2.3 percent.
At the same time, Oxfam's demands are met with incomprehension, if not rejection.
“At least in western countries, Corona does not differentiate according to income, but affects people of all income groups.
But in Germany, the pandemic mainly affects the self-employed and entrepreneurs who had to stop their business because of the lockdown, "says Jörg Krämer, chief economist at Commerzbank.
Source: WORLD infographic
Without a doubt, the employees would also have suffered if they were affected by short-time working or even lost their jobs.
But on average, the disposable income of private households in Germany rose in 2020, by 0.8 percent.
"In contrast, corporate and property incomes have slumped by 7.5 percent."
The question arises as to how the state is going to determine whether an individual company has benefited from the pandemic or not.
"If a company happens to make more profits in the Corona year 2020 because of good products or services, then you cannot charge it with a special tax," criticizes Krämer.
In addition, the economist points out, the tax burden in Germany is already high.
"Taxes for companies in particular are now higher than in most other industrialized countries." If they now have to pay more, this would also do the employees a disservice.
Higher taxes could hit German SMEs in particular, where many business owners are rich on paper, but need their capital for investments that in turn create jobs.
It should not be forgotten that owners of medium-sized industrial companies suffered heavy losses during the initial lockdown, which they had to offset by injecting equity or by bank loans.
Private assets are often tied up in the company
But a special tax for the corona profiteers among the international technology companies could also prove to be problematic.
By withdrawing money from a technology company like Tesla, funds for innovations may not be available in the future.
A levy on a huge private fortune like that of Elon Musk would have a similar effect, since most of the billions are invested in Tesla.
The same goes for almost all the super-rich.
The bulk of reported wealth is working capital, which continually creates wealth.
According to economists, the real problem is often a regulation that favors the big ones and digs the little ones off the ground.
"Corona measures have hit many, especially small, companies such as restaurants, retailers, hotels and travel agencies, while some large corporations, for example from the Internet or pharmaceuticals, have benefited greatly," explains Schnabl.
Companies in developing countries are often the ones who suffer.
In contrast, the headquarters of the international corporations are predominantly located in the old industrialized countries.
Large companies can also use lobbying to exert more influence on the design of regulation and the level of rescue programs.
Decisive for overcoming the crisis is therefore a reduction in restrictions, not an increase in state intervention.
Central bank policies could also be at least partly responsible for the increasing inequality of wealth.
An already loose monetary policy to support clinging states resulted in a large flood of liquidity during the Corona crisis.
The massive easing with large-scale bond purchases has a direct impact on the distribution of wealth.
“Such a monetary policy drives up the prices of all assets, especially stocks and real estate.
Of course, the richest people in the world benefit from this, ”says Krämer.
That is the problematic side effect of the loose monetary policy.
Since large companies and their owners are mainly based in the industrialized countries, this also leads to more international inequality.