Pioneering Study Shows Richest 2% Own Half World’s Wealth

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 41, Pentecost 2007

Robert Consedine

At the beginning of the 21st century we are, once again exposed to the terrifying outcome of colonization and its contemporary facade, globalization: a continuation of the raping and pillaging of the world by the wealthy few who also control the democracies and the media. It is a grotesque picture and has immense challenges for all those committed to social justice.

According to a path-breaking study released just released by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University, the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of the household wealth. Described as the ‘most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken’ it also reports that:

the richest 1% of adults owned 40% of global assets in 2000

the richest 2% owned 51%

the richest 5% own 71%

the richest 10% of the world’s people owned 85% of the world’s assets

50% of the world people own barely 1% of the world’s assets

The geographical spread of wealth is very narrow with 37% of the world’s wealthiest people residing in the USA and 27% in Japan.

North America has only 6% of the world’s population and accounts for 34% of household wealth. Most of the world’s richest individuals live in North America, Europe and rich Asia/Pacific countries.

The way the system is loaded against the poor is also highlighted.

Any person with a cursory knowledge of history knows that most of the world’s wealth was and continues to be, stolen by governments, armies, invaders, colonizers – generally the loot of conquest. This theft is subsequently legalized by political systems controlled and legitimated by the beneficiaries. The wealth is then used to create more wealth. This is the naked face of capitalism.

One does not have to look further than Iraq to name the beneficiaries of the invasion – paid for, in cash by the American taxpayers. One company alone, Halliburton, given a blank cheque by the Bush administration, has stolen millions of dollars. One major shareholder is Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. The American Government has given $20b to companies for work in Iraq – no accountability required. The profits are breathtaking!

In the midst of this wealth 800 million people go to bed hungry every night.


World Distribution of Household Wealth

World Institute for Development Economics

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