Flat White

Meet the Covid billionaires

16 July 2021

4:00 AM

16 July 2021

4:00 AM

While the peasantry lick their wounds and shake the dwindling remnants of childhood piggy banks, there are plenty within the Covid economy polishing the noses of private jets. 

Redistribution of wealth is alive and well within the Covid pandemic. Just like old school socialism, the loose change of the working class has been siphoned into the pockets of global bureaucracies, big business, politicians, and union heavyweights. 

Scott Morrison and his National Cabinet omnishambles have transformed Australia’s thriving business ecosystem into an oligarchy of government favourites. Whether it was deliberate or an act of sheer negligence peddled out by morons, the fact remains that some businesses have been deemed ‘illegal’ while others are given exemptions to operate. 

Woolworths, Coles, Bunnings, Kmart, Dan Murphys and others have been given a monopoly over the Australian market. Not even Communist China interferes this severely. 

No one from the government has been able to define ‘essential’ without getting themselves in an embarrassing mess, and yet this undefined word has been used to ruin lives and harass citizens. Laws should never be written based on subjective opinion, as they leave the citizenry at the mercy of interpretation. 

While Victorians are right to rage at the Federal government for coming to New South Wales’ aid with a band-aid rescue package, plenty of conservative commentators are shaming the entire concept. 

Covid relief has its problems, but packages like #JobKeeper – and whatever tacky nickname they’ve given this one – are not welfare. They are compensation for economic damage created as a direct result of government policy. 

If the government had let the virus run through the economy then allowed businesses to rise and fall in the natural environment of competition, conservative commentators who are loathed to spend public money would have had a valid point. However, the moment the government prevented people from doing business under threat of force, they became solely responsible for the damage. 

Unfortunately, Australia’s caretakers are a collection of bureaucrats and inbred public servants who have rarely seen a paycheque that wasn’t cut from the state coffers. Survival for them involves raising taxes and increasing their salaries without regard for the apocalypse. They are partying in the Palace of Versailles while telling everyone else that they cannot ‘browse’ for bread. If those in charge of the economy were forced to pay the true cost of lockdowns, they would never implement them. 

In many ways the drip-feeding of #JobKeeper packages has made the situation worse, as they do little to save the employer from folding yet employees pocket cash from the state, masking the problem. The end result is little objection to the death of the nation’s small business employers. By the time the state money runs out – and it will – it’s too late to complain at a landscape dominated by a cabal of extremely powerful corporations. 

This situation suits politicians, who have always hated negotiating policy with thousands of unaffiliated individuals, but it won’t be much good for Australia’s economic future. 

Silicon Valley is profiting from the death of Australian family businesses. 

Millions of people are trapped in their homes and therefore forced to use the digital world as their primary source of contact – both for basic services and social interaction. Whether it comes in the form of advertising revenue or the purchase of real goods, companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and others have increased their fortunes during the pandemic. 

They have converted their (quite literally) captive audience into billions of dollars. 

Amazon posted its first fiscal quarter earnings for 2021 at $108.5 billion – a 44% rise on last year. Its Prime Video service rose 70% while advertising gained 73%. Amazon Web Services, which is their cloud business that hosts many of the world’s company data, rose 32% to $13.5 billion. 

Although Covid dramatically increased Amazon’s delivery costs and its physical stores took a hit, dropping 16%, the sheer scale of their near-monopoly allowed them to bury the costs while absorbing the customer base of ruined small businesses. 

The result is Amazon’s market capitalisation sitting at $1.75 trillion while Australia’s economy is looking at a projected debt of $1 trillion. 

According to Forbes, billionaires in the US have increased their wealth by $1.2 trillion during the Covid pandemic. Roughly one billionaire was created every seventeen hours resulting in 493 new billionaires. 

Arguably the least surprising revelation is that plenty of these freshly minted billionaires built their fortunes on Covid. 

People’s Vaccine Alliance reported that $19.3 billion has been split between nine brand new Big Pharma billionaires. These billionaires include Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, Uğur Şahin the chief executive and co-founder of BioNTech, and three members of China’s CanSino Biologics. Another eight preexisting billionaires who invested in Covid industries increased their wealth by roughly $32.2 billion. 

Forty of Forbes’ additions to their billionaire list could trace their wealth directly to Covid-related industries such as personal protective equipment, testing kits, pandemic software, and vaccines. The richest of these was 64-year-old Li Jianquan, president of Winner Medical, who holds a 68% stake in the company. The Chinese manufacturer has been producing masks and other PPE for the global market. 

Most of the Covid wealth comes from a dramatic increase in pharmaceutical share value in the last twelve months. As governments around the world roll out nationwide vaccination programs, vaccine passports, and toy with the idea of mandatory vaccination – demand is high. The market is being played by giants propped up by public money. 

Moderna’s share price has gone from roughly $19 in 2020 to a high of $234.30 in July 2021. BioNTech went up 600% and CanSino Biologics 440% at the time that this list was published by Forbes. This staggering wealth of Big Pharma has not gone unnoticed. Even the World Health Organisation described the current vaccine situation as a monopoly. 

In an attempt to level the playing field and open up vaccine development to other nations and companies, a  patent waiver was proposed by India and South Africa in 2020. Popular among nations left out of vaccine production, it is now supported by the US Biden administration, the World Health Organisation, and the Pope – because, why not? He seems to have an opinion on everything these days. 

If passed, the waiver would see a temporary suspension of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights related to Covid technologies for the remainder of the pandemic. In other words, vaccine producers would come under pressure to share their intellectual property to diversify vaccine manufacturing in order to speed up the roll-out. 

The proposal has been sitting on the table for eight months where it has been routinely glared at by Europe. Home to AstraZeneca and BioNTech, the European Union has repeatedly opposed the request or offered up unsatisfactory alternatives. Governments do not want vaccine tax revenue diluted by international producers. Increased pressure throughout June has seen the proposal move ahead to the negotiation phase with an expectation that a decision will be made at the WTO Ministerial Conference in November 2021. 

It does not look like everyone is playing fair. Moderna, one of the major vaccine producers, has been accused of opening operations in Switzerland and the US state of Delaware where it will be able to avoid notoriously high taxes. The European Union has hundreds of millions of doses on order which it pays for via Moderna’s Swiss subsidiary. 

Jillian Deutsch, writing in Politico, has said: ‘The Research on Multinational Corporations cited a leaked contract between the company and the European Commission, which “indicates that the company’s vaccine profits will end up in some of the world’s worst tax havens”.’ 

It is the first profitable quarter in Moderna’s history with sales of $1.7 billion between January and March of 2021 with Goldman Sachs predicting the company to turn $13.2 billion in Covid vaccine-related revenue. Moderna received billions from the US government. 

Concern over the vaccine situation is spreading. 

“It doesn’t make sense for the entire world to be dependent on just a handful of pharmaceutical corporations that cannot make enough vaccines for everyone,” said Oxfam Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott. 

Heidi Chow, Senior Policy and Campaigns Manager at Global Justice Now, has also raised her concerns. 

“As thousands of people die each day in India, it is utterly repugnant that the UK, Germany and others want to put the interests of the billionaire owners of Big Pharma ahead of the desperate needs of millions. The highly effective vaccines we have are thanks to massive amounts of taxpayers’ money so it can’t be fair that private individuals are cashing in while hundreds of millions face second and third waves completely unprotected,” she commented.

“It is a sad indictment of the loyalties of some current governments that a handful of people working for pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to become billionaires off the back of publicly-funded efforts to end the pandemic.”

BioNTech made a net profit of $1.3 billion in the opening three months of 2021 compared to a $75.9 million dollar loss at the same time in 2020. They received $397 million from the German government to develop a Covid vaccine. 

China has been the real economic winner out of Covid. Not only did they corner the market on PPE distribution, they got to sit back and watch the world adopt communist-style politics on unwilling citizens. 

This will no doubt be a future point of reckoning for angry nations who are tired of being bullied by the communist dictatorship. They watched China create a virus in a third-rate lab, manipulate the World Health Organisation into failing to both control the spread and investigate the incident, and then escaped the situation without a scratch. 

China has posted an 18.3% economic growth – the biggest on record – which feels awfully like the proceeds of crime. One thing remains certain, no matter how many Greek letters health bureaucrats give the Wuhan Flu, ordinary people will always remember where it came from and how ineffectual global bureaucracies proved to be in a time of crisis. 

The League of Nations empowered global criminals. We must wait and see if the United Nations has made the same mistake. 

Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at Ko-Fi.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments