The 2015 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report confirms that global capitalism has created and, looking to the future, is premised on two remarkable—both awe-inspiring and horrific—pyramid schemes.
The first pyramid is the unequal distribution of wealth across the world’s population. Thus, for example, while 71 percent of the world’s poorest adults (some 3.4 billion individuals) own only 3 percent of global wealth, the group at the top—comprising only 8.1 percent of the population (or 383 million individuals)—owns 84.6 percent of global wealth.
This group includes 34 million US dollar millionaires, who comprise less than 1% of the world’s adult population, yet own 45% of all household wealth. We estimate that 123,800 individuals within this group are worth more than USD 50 million, and 44,900 have over USD 100 million.
Then there’s the other pyramid scheme, at the very top—the group of high-net-worth (HNW) and ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individuals.
While the base of the wealth pyramid is occupied by people from all countries at various stages of their life cycles, HNW and UHNW individuals are heavily concentrated in particular regions and countries, and tend to share more similar lifestyles, for instance participating in the same global markets for luxury goods, even when they reside in different continents. The wealth portfolios of these individuals are also likely to be more similar, with a focus on financial assets and, in particular, equities, bonds and other securities traded in international markets.
For mid-2015, Credit Suisse estimates there are 33.6 million HNW adults with wealth between $1 million and $50 million, of whom the vast majority (29.8 million) fall within the $1–5 million range. There are 2.5 million adults worth between $5 million and $10 million, and 1.3 million more who have assets in the $10–50 million range. Finally, there are 123,800 UHNW individuals worldwide, defined as those whose net worth exceeds $50 million. Of these, 44,900 are worth at least $100 million and 4,500 have assets above $500 million.
Like the original pyramids, which the mass of Egyptians were forced to build, the unequal wealth pyramids we are witnessing in the world today represent the accumulation of the work performed by billions of people across the world, which they are forced to gaze upon—with a mixture of awe and horror—at a distance.