Of late, two news items have drawn global ---by import local too ---attention. One is the dire prediction that 207 million or 5.9 per cent of the working hands the world over are likely to remain officially out of work this year. The other one is bitingly scathing in that it holds the doubling of wealth of the world's top richest people blameable for stoking inequality that in its turn contributes to the death of 21,300 ordinary people each day during the pandemic. The first disconcerting development has been projected by the International Labour Organisation on the basis of its new study on the subject. Similarly, the Oxfam arrives at the second conclusion on an analysis of the Global Risks Report 2022 released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) last week. Even the WEF has warned that the lopsided recovery from coronavirus rampage, which has mostly depended on the volume and pace of vaccine roll-out, has already "deepened division within and between nations".
The unemployment rate, according to the ILO, was the highest in the year 2020 at 6.6 from which dropped to 6.2 per cent in 2021 and compared to it the situation will improve further but only far less than was predicted. Originally, the projection was that by the end of this year, the world economy would make a recovery to reach almost to its pre-pandemic state. The fresh surge of Omicron and the big pharmaceutical companies' refusal to let go their monopoly hold to the vaccine technology have once again thrown the fate of the poor ordinary people all across the world and least developed and developing countries' economic recovery into uncertainty.
In this context, the hawkish wealth acquiring by the rich will get a further boost with the Covid-19 taking a turn for the worse or returning in yet another mutated form of deadly strain. It is not for nothing that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has made a fervent appeal in his address at the virtual Davos forum for vaccination of every person on this planet in order to ensure protection of life and a full and speedy recovery of global economy. It is not that the leaders of the big powers and the pharmaceutical companies or the rich people do not know how the world can get rid of coronavirus. But commercial interests get the better of humanitarian considerations.
In its "Inequality Kills" report, the Oxfam convincingly argues that the current level of extreme global inequality is a form of "economic violence" against the poorest people and nations. The international body working for poverty alleviation further elaborates that the 'structural and systemic policy and political choices' in an overwhelmingly unequal world are unfortunately skewed in favour of the richest and the most powerful. The vaccine divide could not demonstrate it more explicitly.
In the early days of the pandemic when there was no vaccine, reigned the economic divide under which the poorest and the poor gasped for breath. Once people started receiving the jabs, the defence against the disease slowly but surely brought down both infections and death. Even today when Omicron, the strain that can skirt around the defence, is spreading at a breakneck pace, experts are assuring that vaccinated people are unlikely to be hospitalised least of all dead even if they get infected with this strain ---unless of course they have other serious complications.
Clearly, poverty, joblessness and vaccine divide are integrally related. Those who have lost employment and those who were looking for fresh employment in poorer countries find themselves once again vulnerable to the spread of the new strain. Even workers forced to receive reduced wages at a time when inflation is on the rise can count them worse off.
Then what prospect is there for the poorer people within a country and the nations discriminated against in terms of vaccine availability? The answer is not hard to find but the richest people and nations pretend as if they do not know how to overcome the problem. It is simple, though, if they are willing to bring an end to the vaccine divide by clearing the way for dismantling the monopoly of inoculation, the redress is there. At the same time, the business tycoons and the rich all across the world can perform their social responsibility by opting for less profit and payment of increased taxes.
In this connection, an initiative undertaken by a group of millionaires who brand themselves as "patriotic millionaires" may show the way. These millionaires have expressed the desire to pay more taxes than they now do. They voluntarily propose to pay wealth tax. The rates of payment they suggest are 2.0 per cent on those possessing wealth to the tune of 5.0 million dollars and 5.0 per cent on the owners of $10 million or above assets. In an open letter to leading governments and political leaders, 102 such millionaires have made their intention clear. They are confident if their suggestion is implemented, a fund of $2.52 trillion could be formed, which is enough to free 2.3 billion people from poverty. Hopes have not diminished altogether, they spring eternal in human bosoms.