Skip to content

After two years of the pandemic, US and Michigan Billionaires have expanded their wealth, while millions are suffering

March 21, 2022

[Editors Note: It has recently become fashionable to use the phrase, normalize calling  billionaires in the US as Oligarchs. Of course, the Billionaire Class, the Capitalist Class, the Oppressor Class have always been Oligarchs. The fact that many people are not suggesting we call them Oligarchs demonstrates how much average Americans have internalized the Capitalist myth that rich people are rich because they work hard.]

It has now been two years since the world has lived under the COVID pandemic. Just over 6 million have died globally from the virus, with just under 1 million in the US.

The pandemic has also caused tremendous harm, especially for people who were already experiencing poverty, with communities of color being disproportionately affected. 

However, there is one class of people who have not been negatively impacted from the pandemic, in fact, they have profited tremendously in the past two years. The group, Americans for Tax Fairness, recently posted some analysis and data on how the Billionaire Class has benefited from the global COVID pandemic.

Two years into the biggest national health crisis in recent history, U.S. billionaires’ wealth continues to soar above the misery: as of March 10, their collective wealth has shot up by $1.7 trillion, or 57%, since the pandemic emergency was proclaimed in mid-March 2020. Their total wealth reached $4.6 trillion, up from $2.95 trillion on March 18, 2020, according to the latest report from Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) based on Forbes data. The number of U.S. billionaires increased by 15%, from 614 to 704. Data can be found in the table below and here for all billionaires, including a state-by-state breakdown.

There are two pieces of data that are particularly alarming, in terms of the growth of Billionaire wealth over the past 2 years:

  • The $4.6 trillion total fortune of the nation’s 704 billionaires is one-third more than the collective $3.4 trillion net worth of the entire bottom half of American society, or some 65 million households
  • The $1.7 trillion wealth gain by billionaires over the past 24 months could fund much of the 10-year $2.2 trillion cost of the Build Back Better plan of social and environmental investments passed by the House of Representatives last fall. Billionaires could pick up much of the tab and still be just as rich as they were before COVID hit. 

This kind of meaningful break down of the wealth of the Capitalist Class is important, especially if we are to make sense of the vastness of their wealth to inform and mobilize people to dismantle their wealth.

The growth of Michigan Billionaire Wealth

There are several dozen billionaires in Michigan that have seen their wealth grow exponentially during the two years of the pandemic, along with newly created Billionaires. Data can be found here for all billionaires, including a state-by-state breakdown.

Two of the more prominent Billionaires who call Michigan home are Dan Gilbert and the Meijer brothers, Doug & Hank. Gilbert is the 32nd Wealthiest Billionaire in the US, according to the most recent data. The net worth of Dan Gilbert at the beginning of the pandemic was $6.5 Billion. Two years later, Gilbert’s net worth has grown to a total of over $23 Billion, with a total growth of over $16 Billion in town years. Gilbert, is the founder of Rock Ventures and the co-founder of Quicken Loans. He also owns the NBA team known as the Cleveland Cavaliers. Gilbert moved much of his base of operations to Detroit over a decade ago, buying up lots of downtown property, contributing to the gentrification of Detroit.

Hank and Doug Meijer began the pandemic in March of 2020, with a net worth of $10.2 Billion. Today, their net worth is $16.224 Billion, which is just over a $6 billion dollar growth. Just as a frame of reference, $6.2 billion is roughly 14 times the size of the 2022 budget for the City of Grand Rapids ($546 million). Imagine how much housing, health care, education, livable wages, etc. that $6.2 billion could be spent on to actually create real equity in Kent County, where the Meijer brothers reside. This would still leave them with over $10 billion, which would be more than enough to have a grotesquely comfortable life. 

The Americans for Tax Fairness document advocates the taxing of the Billionaire Class in the US, which would be an important first step. However, taxing the rich, is not enough, as we have stated before. In January of this years, I wrote: 

“I support taxing the rich, but that is just one tactic to be used in a much larger strategy to dismantle Capitalism. Plus taxing the rich means that the government still gets to decide what to do with that money, which often means that it will go to support other projects that the Capitalist Class endorses and often benefits from. 

So, moving beyond the tactic of taxing the rich, what would a more robust strategy to dismantle capitalism look like:

Undoing the harm of the Capitalist Class would first require that they be held accountable for the harm they have caused, both legally and economically. People are members of the Capitalist Class always exploit the real wealth creators – workers, plus they exploit the use of natural resources, while at the same time producing massive amounts of toxins, pollution, carbon and other ecological catastrophes. 

Acknowledging this harm cannot just be a moral stance, but have real legal and economic consequences. Workers should be paid massive back wages, which were taken from them by members of the Capitalist Class. In addition, the richest people on the planet should pay massive fines for the ecological harm done to all of us. 

Secondly, members of the Capitalist Class should be required to pay massive reparations to Black, Indigenous and other Communities of Color for discrimination, exploitation and other forms of structural racism they have perpetrated for centuries. These reparations could take the form of giving land back, monetary reparations and giving over other assets to those they have caused harm to for centuries.

Now, the existing forms of representative democracy that we have in the US, at the federal, state and local level, will never embrace such a strategy, no matter who is elected. What we need to make the dismantling of Capitalism a reality will not be easy, but then again revolutionary work never is.

%d bloggers like this: