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This Is Uncomfortable

It’s official: The 1% own half the world’s wealth

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Oct 13, 2015
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Credit Suisse has released 2015’s annual global wealth report. The report says the top 1 percent now own half of all household wealth worldwide, and more of that wealth is coming from stocks and bonds.  

During the housing bubble, investments in things like real estate did better than stocks and bonds. Then the bubble burst, the financial crisis began and stocks took a tumble.

But they’re back, and they are now a bigger slice of global wealth. Unfortunately, in the U.S., “half the public doesn’t own stock at all,” said Dorothy Brown, a law professor at Emory University.

She said even fewer minorities own stocks: “I’d say about one in 10 people of color may own stock.”

Which leads to an inescapable conclusion: If the richest people in the world get more of their wealth from financial assets like stocks and bonds, the wealth gap gets even wider.

And consider this: Sixty to 70 percent of people in poorer countries have no net assets, according to Branko Milanovic, an economist at the Graduate Center at City University of New York. 

“If the financial assets do really well, then surely the gap between those who are at the very top and those who are at the middle goes up,” he said.

But don’t forget — stocks go up and down. 

Gene Steuerle is an economist and fellow at the Urban Institute. He maintains if the stock market tanks, it’ll narrow the wealth gap.

“At a point in time, it definitely will,” he said. “Just as when the stocks went up relative to real estate or other types of assets, it increased the wealth gap.”

The Credit Suisse report says if the stock market just goes up more slowly, wealth inequality may rise more slowly, too. 

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