We Are the World’s Richest 1%

by Kyle Woodley | January 5, 2012 9:11 am

Some debated whether Wall Street — and not corporate headquarters or even the White House — was the best place to protest “the 1%.”

As it turns out, you could have plopped your picket sign down just about anywhere in the country and been fine.

World Bank economist Branko Milanovic took a look at the world’s richest people in his book The Haves and the Have-Nots, and at least as of the most recent data available (2005), almost half the richest 1% live in the United States. The threshold: $34,000 per person in a household. Translation: If you got a job out of college with anything better than a philosophy degree, you’re living the global dream.

The rest of the world doesn’t come close. The richest 1% is made up of about 60 million people. The U.S. sits at 29 million, and Germany is a tarnished silver medal at just about 4 million. China, for all its recent economic advancement, doesn’t even register as a blip, grouped in with the rest of the horde under “others.” The chart below, created by CNNMoney[1], illustrates the country-by-country breakdown.

Milanovic’s telling statement refers to the respective view of the emerging global “middle class.” He says, “It doesn’t seem right to define as middle class, people who would be on food stamps in the United States.”

The U.S. certainly has its share of problems, and poverty and hunger shouldn’t be swept under the rug regardless of how much worse the rest of the world has it. Starving is starving. But the statistics should provide a humbling dose of perspective to those of us who do have stable jobs that put us in the “global 1%.” We should strive to be richer. We should strive to better ourselves. But before opening our mouths to gristle about a line at the bank or slow download speeds on our iPhones, it’s worth realizing how hollow such a gripe would ring elsewhere.


  1. CNNMoney: http://money.cnn.com/2012/01/04/news/economy/world_richest/
  2. [Image]: http://money.cnn.com/2012/01/04/news/economy/world_richest/

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