Interview by Raquel Luna – Interview with Christian B. Hallum1,  one of the main authors of Oxfam International’s report “Survival of the Richest” released the 16 of January 2023 on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The in-depth research dwells on two aspects. On one hand, the report develops the necessity of taxing the rich to address the unprecedented multiple crises and the increasing inequality. On the other hand, the report provides recommendations for taxing the rich to reach a viable sustainable and equal world.

Findings of the report:

  • Since 2020, the richest 1% have captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth – nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population.
  • Billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7bn a day, even as inflation outpaces the wages of at least 1.7 billion workers, more than the population of India.
  • Food and energy companies more than doubled their profits in 2022, paying out $257bn to wealthy shareholders, while over 800 million people went to bed hungry.
  • Only 4 cents in every dollar of tax revenue comes from wealth taxes, and half the world’s billionaires live in countries with no inheritance tax on money they give to their children.
  • A tax of up to 5% on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could raise $1.7 trillion a year, enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty, and fund a global plan to end hunger.


  1. Why is the report named “Survival of the Richest”?

Our society is organized in a way that creates an enabling environment for the rich to keep getting richer no matter what happens with the rest of society. In the last decade, the wealth of billionaires has doubled, and during the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, their wealth grew even faster than before. This shows that the system is rigged in their favour.


  1. What is the “unprecedented moment of multiple crises” we are living right now?

For the first time in decades, we are seeing a rise in extreme poverty, while at the same time, the extreme wealth of the top 1 percent is also rising. The World Bank has talked of the biggest rise in extreme poverty and global inequality since World War II. These are attributed to a series of interconnected, overlapping, and intertwined crises. One of the major crises that has increased poverty and inequality is the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, we saw a sharp rise in food and energy prices, worsening the situation and leading to a further rise in poverty and inequality. The climate crisis is at the same time increasing in intensity, with particularly damaging impacts on developing countries that are least responsible for it. Rising food prices, climate change, and poverty also mean that we are facing historical levels of hunger, with somewhere between 702 and 828 million people affected by hunger in 2021, almost a tenth of the global population. With the multiple crises that the world is currently facing, there is a need for a massive response.


  1. How are the richest benefiting from each one of these crises (covid crisis, energy crisis, climate crisis, war) to the detriment of the rest of society?

One way is through the massive profiteering that the food and energy crises are creating for big corporations. Our report shows that 95 companies in the food and energy sectors have seen their profits increase by 256% in 2022 compared to their 2018–2021 average. This has created windfall profits of $306 billion for these companies, of which 84% have been paid out to their shareholders. We know that in a country like the US, the richest 1% own more than 50% of shares, so this is a very concrete way that a small elite is profiting from the crisis. And it’s not just energy and food companies. Some companies in the pharma industry cashed in massively from the pandemic, and the shipping industry and logistics companies have in many cases made fortunes from higher freight rates due to supply chain disruptions. Our report points out that there is growing evidence from a number of countries that big corporations have contributed to inflation through their massive profits. That’s why we are calling for the immediate introduction of windfall taxes on excess profits.

The second way that the richest have benefited from the crisis is through the effects of quantitative easing and other government and central bank efforts to navigate the crisis. These policies have helped keep our economies running but have also pushed up stock prices, housing prices, and other assets at an unprecedented speed. This is why many of the world’s billionaires saw their wealth skyrocket, particularly in 2020 and 2021, through no effort of their own. Governments had to move fast to stabilise their economies when the pandemic struck, but they should claw back these excessive gains that the richest have experienced from their crisis response through wealth taxes.

The wealth gained by the different income groups in the last decade and since the start of the pandemic. Copyright: Oxfam International
  1. What is the “soaring wealth for the few” compared to the “mounting crises for the poorest people”? Does the increase in inequality affects us in Europe?

Inequality is affecting all parts of the world, including Europe. Both income and wealth inequality are rising across many European countries while taxes on the top 1% and big corporations have been falling. Even in some of the richest and most equal countries in Europe, such as Denmark, income inequality has been rising fast, and the rising cost of living has seen a record-breaking number of people applying for food assistance during Christmas, at the same time that the richest have grown richer. Such a situation is not tenable and needs to be reversed immediately.

The graph shows the decrease of the top personal income tax rates in every region in the world in the last decade. Copyright: Oxfam International.


  1. According to the report, progressive taxation has historically been a lever for governments to reduce economic inequality but since early 1980s the tax rates that mainly apply to the richest have been falling.

The neoliberal argument used to justify tax cuts for the richest was the « trickle down » effect, which implied that the richest would create more jobs, invest, and innovate, which would ultimately benefit all of society. What has been the role of governments in the global North, governments in the global South, international organisations like the IMF, and tax havens in this development? How do billionaires avoid paying taxes?

Our report documents a strikingly similar trend across different parts of the world, where the tax rates on the richest and corporations have been falling. Europe has played a particularly damaging role in this race to the bottom by having the most aggressive tax competition of any region on the corporate income tax. Europe is also home to some of the world’s worst tax havens, which have been used not only by European citizens and companies but by citizens and companies from everywhere, including from developing countries. The EU has a special responsibility for stopping the race to the bottom and cracking down on its tax-haven member states.


  1. How can increasing the taxes on the rich address social inequality (such as gender and race), global North and global South inequality (the gap between high and low-income countries for which wealth, especially in Europe, can be traced back in part to slavery, colonialism, and empire), and the climate crisis?

Taxes on the rich are not just a tool to fund poverty reduction, education, health, the green transition, and more, as important as this is. It is about the redistribution of power and correcting the historical inequalities and injustices created by colonialism, patriarchy, and racism. When we tax consumption through VAT, it tends to impact women more than men and low-income groups more than high-income groups. When wealth is undertaxed, we allow those that have benefited from the system to get even richer and more powerful. If we want to see a more equal future where everyone—regardless of gender, race, or where they live—has equal opportunities despite the systemic oppression of the past, we need to redistribute power and resources into the hands of those that have been oppressed, and taxation is one of the ways that this can happen.


  1. How can countries make the wealthiest pay more taxes?

We have outlined a comprehensive list of recommendations. We call for one-off solidarity taxes on the rich and windfall taxes on the excess profits of corporations to address the immediate crisis-profiteering. On a more permanent basis, we are calling for much higher taxes on the income of the richest 1%, for example, 60% on their income from both work and capital gains such as income from stocks. In addition to taxing their income, we are also calling for wealth taxes for the richest 1% in the form of inheritance taxes, property and land taxes, and net wealth taxes. Lastly, we call for a crackdown on tax havens and a strengthening of the role of citizens and marginalised groups in tax policy making.



  1. Senior Tax & Extractives Specialist, Oxfam IBIS