Pandemic Profiteering

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Photo by Jernej Furman, published under Creative Commons license.

Big banks, billionaires, and small-time grifters: all are out for themselves, and profiting from the pandemic at the cost of small businesses, health care workers, and people suffering from COVID-19.

The Institute for Policy Studies calls it a “billionaire bonanza,” tracing a wealth surge of billionaires in 2020, as unemployment rises and the economy tanks. “We’ve seen this happen before, in the recovery from the 2008 economic meltdown,” reports CNN. By the time the pandemic hit, only 20 percent of U.S. households had fully recovered the wealth they had before the 2008 recession. The billionaires in the Forbes 400, however, fully recovered from that recession within three years.

The Institute for Policy Studies has several action recommendations, including a Pandemic Profiteering Oversight Committee and an emergency millionaire surtax.

Big banks, after handing out to big businesses much of the Payroll Protection Program money designated for small businesses, raked in $10 billion in fees for themselves:

“For example, on April 7, RCSH Operations LLC, the parent company of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, received a loan of $10 million. JPMorgan Chase & Co., acting as the lender, took a $100,000 fee on the one-time transaction for which it assumed no risk and could pass through with fewer requirements than for a regular loan.”

Banks and billionaires took big money, but small-time grifters abound. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has taken action against price gouging on. products ranging from eggs to rice and personal hygiene products to N95 masks. In even more disgraceful profiteering, hucksters peddled “cures” and “protection” products that were worthless or even harmful. The New Republic noted:

“One day after the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus a pandemic, New York’s attorney general sent a cease-and-desist letter to a number of vendors hawking colloidal silver as a treatment. They included the Silver Edge Company, whose Micro-Particle Colloidal Silver Generator ($250) had already sold out, and the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose special silver toothpaste, he promised, would obliterate ‘the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range.’ Other coronavirus remedies still available from various “holistic” practitioners include oil of oregano and ‘Spirit Dust,’ an ‘adaptogenic’ concoction of powdered mushrooms and roots from the LA cult brand Moon Juice.”

With the highest unemployment ever, with small businesses going out of business, with emergency unemployment insurance still not reaching most people after two months of crisis, with an estimated 13 million people now without health insurance because they lost their jobs, we need to hold both the Trump administration and Congress accountable for continuing to make billionaires and banks richer at the cost of the rest of us.

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