How the ultra-wealthy use charitable giving to avoid taxes and exert influence — while ordinary taxpayers foot the bill.
Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes, and Pandemic Profiteers
The net worth of eight American billionaires — the 'pandemic profiteers' — surged by over $1 billion in 2020.
Read our regular updates on U.S. unemployment and billionaire wealth during the pandemic here.
As the pandemic-fueled U.S. unemployment rate approaches 15 percent, America’s billionaire class is experiencing a wealth surge, according to our new study, Billionaire Bonanza 2020.
Between March 18 and April 10, as the U.S. employment rate approached 15 percent, the combined wealth of America’s billionaires increased by $282 billion — nearly a 10 percent increase. After a brief decline, the combined wealth of U.S. billionaires is greater than their 2019 levels.
Jeff Bezos’s wealth surge is unprecedented in modern financial history. As of April 15, his fortune had increased by an estimated $25 billion since January 1, 2020. This is larger than the Gross Domestic Product of Honduras, which was $23.9 billion in 2018.
Between January 1, 2020 and April 10, 2020, 34 of the nation’s wealthiest 170 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by tens of millions of dollars.
Eight of these billionaires — the “pandemic profiteers” — have seen their net worth surge by over $ 1 billion. They are: Jeff Bezos (Amazon), MacKenzie Bezos (Amazon), Eric Yuan (Zoom), Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), John Albert Sobrato (Silicon Valley real estate), Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX), Joshua Harris (Apollo Global Management), and Rocco Commisso (Mediacom).
Our report looks at several longer term trends:
- Between 1990 and 2020, U.S. billionaire wealth soared 1,130 percent in 2020 dollars, an increase more than 200 times greater than the 5.37 percent growth of U.S. median wealth over this same period.
- Between 1980 and 2018, the tax obligations of America’s billionaires, measured as a percentage of their wealth, decreased 79 percent.
- The billionaire share of America’s increased wealth has risen throughout the past four decades. Between 2006 and 2018, nearly 7 percent of the real increase in America’s wealth went to the country’s 400 wealthiest households.
We make a number of recommendations to ensure that this pandemic doesn’t lead to a further concentration of billionaire wealth and power. These include:
- Establish a Pandemic Profiteering Oversight Committee that goes beyond oversight of stimulus funds.
- Discourage wealth hiding through passage of the Corporate Transparency Act.
- Levy an emergency 10 percent Millionaire Income Surtax.
- Unleash a Charity Stimulus to mandate payouts of donor-advised funds and emergency 10 percent payout for private foundations for three years.
- Make the federal estate tax more progressive and institute a wealth tax.
- Shut down the global hidden wealth system.
Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he also co-edits Inequality.org. Omar Ocampo is a researcher for the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. Sophia Paslaski is a researcher and writer with the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies.