29/11/2016

The one percent

Ranking topics: Income inequality

IF YOU had only $2,222 to your name (adding together your bank deposits, financial investments and property holdings, and subtracting your debts) you might not think yourself terribly fortunate. But you would be wealthier than half the world’s population, according to this year’s Global Wealth Report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute. If you had $71,560 or more, you would be in the top tenth. If you were lucky enough to own over $744,400 you could count yourself a member of the global 1% that voters everywhere are rebelling against.

Unlike many studies of prosperity and inequality, this one counts household assets rather than income. The data are patchy, particularly at the bottom and top of the scale. But with some assumptions, the institute calculates that the world’s households owned property and net financial assets worth almost $256trn in mid-2016. That is about 3.4 times the world’s annual GDP. If this wealth were divided equally it would come to $52,819 per adult. But in reality the top tenth own 89% of it.

That lucky tenth now includes over 44m Chinese, about 4.4% of the country’s adult population. A far greater number (almost half of China’s adults) cluster in the next three deciles down. Closer to the bottom of the ladder, there is a similar bulge of Indians with wealth between $30 and $603.

Below them, the bottom tenth is a peculiar mix. It is populated by poor countries, where many people have nothing, and rich ones, where people can own very much less than that. It includes a surprising number of Americans (over 21m), whose debts outweigh their assets. But most Americans are much better off. Over 40% belong to the top tenth of the global wealth distribution (and over 18m belong to the global 1%). Some of those railing against the global elite probably do not even know they belong to it.

This article is from our print edition.