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1 percent of the world's people control 50 percent of its wealth

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Think about all the household wealth that exists in the world: all the houses and retirement savings and rainy day funds and rapidly depreciating cars. Now subtract all the household debt: the unpaid credit card bills, the mortgages, the student loans. Now take half of what's left.

That's how much wealth the top 1 percent of the world controls. According to a new Credit Suisse report, the group — which is limited to adults worth at least $759,900 — controls fully half of the household wealth in the entire world. And their share has grown. The yellow line below tracks what share of total wealth the top 1 percent controls; you can see it gradually increasing after falling during the 2000s:

The bottom line tracks the 1 percent.
The global distribution of wealth, over time.
Credit Suisse

The report also finds that the US is, by far, the world leader in both millionaires (46 percent are American) and "ultra-high-net-worth individuals," worth at least $50 million (48 percent are American). On the latter measure, China comes in a distant, distant second:

China is waaaaaay back in second place.
The US has a LOT of superrich people.
Credit Suisse

One thing to keep in mind with reports like this is that many people on the wealth distribution actually have negative wealth — and that doesn't necessarily mean they're living in poverty. They include people like Jérôme Kerviel, the rogue trader who owes his old bank $6.3 billion. You have to be really rich to get that poor, to borrow a phrase from my colleague Matt Yglesias; actual poor people aren't able to take out the kinds of loans or engage in the kinds of financial transactions that make such extreme low net worth possible.

But that's mostly an issue when you're comparing the bottom of the distribution — including people like Kerviel — with the top. If you're looking just at the top, the picture is much clearer. You really do have to be rich to be worth $759,900 or more. And the fact that people in that bracket own half the world's household wealth is astounding.

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