We have more this week on pandemic profiteers and the community leaders pushing the wealthy to put people and the planet over profits, both in this crisis and the next.
This Memorial Day weekend has offered up some dramatic contrasts. U.S. news outlets have alternated photos of packed beaches with bleak updates on the pandemic’s progression to nearly 100,000 Covid-19 deaths.

Another grim contrast: The number of Americans applying for unemployment over recent months now tops 38.5 million. Over the same span, American billionaires have added a collective $434 billion to their personal portfolios. Their net worths, as we note in our latest Billionaire Bonanza update, have increased an average 15 percent.

This pandemic didn’t have to widen our already cavernous economic gaps. Political choices have put us in this situation, and different political choices can get us out. We have more this week on pandemic profiteers and the community leaders pushing the wealthy to put people and the planet over profits, both in this crisis and the next.

Chuck Collins, for the Institute for Policy Studies Inequality.org team
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Virtual Assembly Takes On BlackRock’s Big Problem
Earlier this year, in his influential annual CEO letter, BlackRock’s Larry Fink predicted that climate change would upend the financial world order and announced that his giant asset-management firm would from this point forward “place sustainability at the center” of its investing agenda. But activists are charging that Fink’s noble rhetoric may just be so much hot air. Last week, at a virtual People’s Assembly timed to coincide with BlackRock’s virtual annual shareholders meeting, these activists sought to firm up Fink’s commitment to sustainable investing. Activist leaders from across the world spoke out against BlackRock investments that are undermining communities and exacerbating the damage that climate change and Covid-19 are inflicting upon them.
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Some Messes This Billionaire Can’t Vacuum Away
The UK’s richest man has just sighed in a Sunday Times profile that “life isn’t easy.” And to what “huge sadness and disappointment” was James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner king, referring? Covid-19? Mass unemployment? Not quite. Dyson’s mourning the failure of his $610-million stab at creating an electric car, an effort skeptics labeled a “vanity project” at its launch six years ago. But Dyson insists he’s had a “viable” product all along. So why did he pull the plug on the 2.6-ton electric SUV his company developed? Dyson hadn’t understood that traditional automakers like BMW are willing to take “huge losses on every electric car they sell” because they need to lower their fleet’s overall average emissions to comply with EU standards. He realized too late that “I don’t have a fleet.” The whole sad episode, sums up the Times, offers “a salutary reminder that in a world where billionaires tend to get richer in their sleep, they can still screw up royally.”

World Bank-IMF Overhaul For a Just Recovery
Two new reports by the International Trade Union Confederation are documenting how the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have increased inequality and weakened social protections in developing countries, making them more vulnerable to the Covid-19 crisis. We have an alternative, says ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow, to these institutions’ dogmatic fixation on policies that range from deregulation and financialization to austerity and privatization. To build a more resilient and equitable world, global financial institutions should move on five key fronts and support progressive taxation to fund transformative public investment, industrial policy to drive low-carbon innovation, coordinated wage hikes to raise demand, prudent regulation to stop speculation, and strengthened labor rights to foster full, quality employment.
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The Incredibly Lucrative Chase for a Covid Vaccine
Knowledge only efficiently advances, historians of science like to remind us, when investigators can share notes and build upon each other’s insights. As Sir Isaac Newton explained way back in 1675: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The biotech corporations that dominate coronavirus vaccine research have no interest in sharing information. Their singular focus: gaining the patents that let them price new drugs at whatever the market can bear. Any sharing they do, these firms figure, would merely help other companies beat them to the patent punch. Who ultimately benefits from this patent preoccupation? Moderna Inc. — a biotech start-up almost totally unknown before last week — neatly offers up one object lesson. Moderna hasn’t yet manufactured a Covid-19 vaccine. But the firm has manufactured three billionaires. Inequality.org co-editor Sam Pizzigati has more.
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This week on Inequality.org 

Lewis M. Steel, Racism Has Undermined the U.S. Safety Net, Making the Crisis More Painful and Reconstruction More Challenging. New York Times reporter Eduardo Porter's new book, American Poison, scathingly explores misguided white antagonism toward social welfare programs.

Negin Owliaei, Reopening the Economy is a Death Sentence for Workers. The wealthy may be fine with sacrificing the vulnerable, but workers are fighting for the sanctity of human life.

Elsewhere on the Web

Lizzie Wade, From Black Death to fatal flu, past pandemics show why people on the margins suffer most, Science. Inequality has always made plagues much worse than they had to be.

Jesse Eisinger, The Bailout Is Working — for the Rich, ProPublica. Understanding for the Federal Reserve has backstopped the “risks” rich people take.

Nicholas Kristof, Crumbs for the Hungry but Windfalls for the Rich, New York Times. Billions are going to zillionaires under the guise of pandemic relief.

Jake Rosenfeld, Welcome to the Jungle, Again, American Prospect. The meatpacking industry may well offer us the clearest case study of why the United States has become staggeringly more unequal and what this inequality has meant — for our stomachs and our souls.

Marina Koren, The Cult of Elon Is Cracking, Atlantic. The Tesla CEO’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is starting to alienate his fans.

Dean Baker, Can You Make Stagnating Incomes Go Away? The New York Times Wants You! Center for Economic and Policy Research. A delicious demolition of the argument we don’t need to worry about inequality.

Wendy Keats, How to build an economy for the 99%, Co-operative Enterprise Council. A Canadian activist explores five steps that can reward those people and businesses that create actual value for society.

Heather Perlberg, How Private Equity Is Ruining American Health Care, Bloomberg. Private equity kingpins have been buying up doctor’s offices, cutting costs, and pressuring physicians in ways that hurt patients. The pandemic could make things even worse.
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