Covid-19 Profiteers Are Making a Killing

Here are some of the most outrageous capitalist responses to the pandemic.

Amber Colón Núñez May 21, 2020

Amazon head Jeff Bezos appears at a company event Sept. 25, 2019. Thanks to Covid-19's sales boosts, in the first quarter of 2020 Bezos made back the $10 billion he lost in 2019 more than twice over. Photo: Andrej Sokolow/dpa (Photo by Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Two months after the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion (WHO) declared coro­n­avirus a glob­al pan­dem­ic, the Unit­ed States stands as the nation with the most con­firmed cas­es. The WHO warns that the worst is yet to come. Yet Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has sig­naled that he wants the econ­o­my to reopen as soon as pos­si­ble, despite count­less warn­ings from pub­lic health experts that open­ing too soon can cause a spike in deaths.

In the first 23 days after the initial lockdowns began, America’s billionaire class raked in over $282 billion in personal wealth.

Big cor­po­ra­tions and their head hon­chos have joined the pres­i­dent in down­play­ing the dan­gers and gun­ning for a reopen­ing. Elon Musk told SpaceX employ­ees that it’s more dan­ger­ous to dri­ve a car than to be exposed to coro­n­avirus. Hob­by Lob­by founder David Green made head­lines when he claimed keep­ing his stores open was a part of God’s plan, and ini­tial­ly defied state shut­downs. Cor­po­rate-fund­ed con­ser­v­a­tive groups like Free­dom­Works are lob­by­ing fed­er­al and state leg­is­la­tors and orches­trat­ing astro­turf anti-lock­down protests at state capi­tols. In April, Ama­zon CEO Jeff Bezos and Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg joined the pres­i­dent on phone calls to dis­cuss reopen­ing the econ­o­my as soon as possible.

Per­haps denial is easy when you can afford to sequester yourself.

While Ama­zon work­ers across the coun­try are now fight­ing to keep their $2 haz­ard pay raise, the nation’s wealth­i­est are hid­ing out in apoc­a­lyp­tic bunkers and mak­ing requests for pri­vate, at-home doctor’s vis­its that cost upwards of about $1,500. In mid-April, when doctor’s offices nation­wide still faced a short­age of test­ing kits, Flori­da res­i­dents of Fish­er Island — the rich­est ZIP code in the nation—pur­chased 1,800 anti­body tests for them­selves just in case Covid-19 pen­e­trat­ed their very gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty. In New York, 40% of res­i­dents were unable to pay rent in April, accord­ing to The New York Times. In New York City, the most afflu­ent fled in droves, emp­ty­ing out well-to-do neigh­bor­hoods like the Upper East Side, the West Vil­lage, SoHo and Brook­lyn Heights by 40%.

It’s clear that the 1% are play­ing by an entire­ly dif­fer­ent set of rules.

84-year-old bil­lion­aire Ken Lan­gone, co-founder of Home Depot, called up his bud­dies at NYU Lan­gone in Feb­ru­ary to get a feel for the sever­i­ty of coro­n­avirus. What I’ve been told by peo­ple who are smarter than me in dis­ease is, As of right now it’s a bad flu,’” Lan­gone told Bloomberg News from the com­fort of his North Palm Beach, Fla., home.

But it’s become clear that the coro­n­avirus is very, very dif­fer­ent from the com­mon flu. The WHO has deter­mined that Covid’s repro­duc­tive num­ber is sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er: One infect­ed indi­vid­ual can infect 2 to 2.5 more peo­ple than the flu, whose suf­fer­ers typ­i­cal­ly only infect up to 1.3 oth­ers. (Lan­gone has since changed his tone on reopen­ing, telling CNBC, Our part as cit­i­zens should be stay home, obey sep­a­ra­tion.” Home Depot has insti­tut­ed tem­per­a­ture checks for work­ers, short­er hours, cus­tomer lim­its, paid leave, haz­ard pay and no-co-pay healthcare.)

Due to the nation­wide short­age of test­ing kits, it’s hard to know exact­ly how many peo­ple this pan­dem­ic is affect­ing. America’s top infec­tious dis­ease expert, Antho­ny Fau­ci, is cer­tain the approx­i­mate­ly 80,000 report­ed Covid-relat­ed deaths is a sig­nif­i­cant under­count. Some experts esti­mate that total deaths in the U.S. may be twice as high as reported.

What can be more eas­i­ly mea­sured are the ways some com­pa­nies are prof­it­ing from the changes wrought by the virus. As Amer­i­cans eager­ly san­i­tized every nook and cran­ny of their homes, cars and shop­ping carts, sales of Clorox clean­ing sup­plies rose by 32% in the first quar­ter of 2020. Zoom and Slack Tech­nolo­gies have also seen increas­es in their prof­its as work­ing from home has become the new nor­mal. Slack has added 80% more cus­tomers com­pared to the pre­vi­ous quar­ter, while Zoom hosts more than 300 mil­lion par­tic­i­pants each day — boost­ing its stock price by 150%. In the first 23 days after the ini­tial lock­downs began, America’s bil­lion­aire class raked in over $282 bil­lion in per­son­al wealth, accord­ing to the Insti­tute for Pol­i­cy Studies.

Prof­i­teer­ing on Covid began almost as soon as the cri­sis hit. The mak­ers of air puri­fi­er Molekule pro­claimed in Feb­ru­ary they were very con­fi­dent that this tech­nol­o­gy will destroy coro­n­avirus,” and rival Air­pu­ra claimed on its web­site in March that its devices are 99.99% effec­tive in remov­ing coro­n­avirus. How­ev­er, sci­en­tists hadn’t test­ed the purifier’s effi­cien­cy at elim­i­nat­ing coro­n­avirus mol­e­cules — only that of sim­i­lar dis­eases, like small­pox and Ebo­la. Experts say that coro­n­avirus par­ti­cles are too small to be blocked by the fil­ters in air puri­fiers. (Air­pu­ra lat­er removed the claim).

In March, third par­ty sell­ers on Ama­zon began jack­ing up the prices on hand san­i­tiz­er. Sniff­ing out the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a wind­fall, prof­i­teers bought out scarce sup­plies at gro­cery stores and resold them at exor­bi­tant rates. It wasn’t long before Ama­zon cur­tailed the prac­tice by ban­ning new list­ings for masks and san­i­tiz­er. But Ama­zon hap­pi­ly con­tin­ued to turn its own prof­it: The company’s earn­ings increased by $33 mil­lion every hour of the first quar­ter, even as its ware­hous­es suf­fered coro­n­avirus out­breaks and work­ers walked out over unsafe con­di­tions. Bezos, the world’s rich­est man, has accu­mu­lat­ed an addi­tion­al $25 bil­lion since the begin­ning of this year, putting him on track to become the first-ever trillionaire.

With a vac­cine a year or more off and a pres­i­dent who keeps dis­miss­ing the sever­i­ty of the pan­dem­ic, U.S. con­sumers will con­tin­ue to pour their mon­ey into emp­ty or uncer­tain promis­es. Online sales have spiked over the last sev­er­al weeks. In-store sales have declined while online shop­ping has peaked to almost 40% after the first round of stim­u­lus checks went out.

Door­Dash, whose dri­vers are paid with a tipped min­i­mum wage, is hold­ing its foot on the necks of oth­er meal-deliv­ery ser­vices like HelloFresh and Blue Apron. Instacart is com­ing out on top and leav­ing major com­pa­nies like Ama­zon and Wal­mart in the dust with a near­ly 500% increase in sales in mid-April. Still, Instacart work­ers said the com­pa­ny was slow to hand out PPE.

Mean­while, with non-essen­tial” busi­ness­es ordered closed in many states, more than 33 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have filed for unem­ploy­ment since ear­ly March. The bil­lion­aires who own many of those busi­ness­es are pan­ick­ing. As they push for the econ­o­my to reopen, they’ve made one thing very clear: They aren’t the ones mak­ing their own wealth, their work­ers are.

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