What Would Global Wealth Equality Look Like?

The Oxfam charity grabbed headlines this week with a report on global wealth inequality. Their primary data source was the (much more in-depth) Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, which in 2014 specifically focused on the same subject.

(Credit Suisse is a Swiss holding company with nearly a trillion dollars in total assets.)

While the Oxfam report deals mainly in percentages and proportions, the Credit Suisse report (and its accompanying data sheet) has page after page of hard numbers. And those numbers got me thinking . . . how much money are we talking about here? If wealth inequality didn’t exist—if somehow wealth were perfectly distributed among every adult human on earth (and leaving aside the many serious possible consequences of such a redistribution)—how much would everybody have?

 Image credit: Public Domain/NASA

Every adult on earth would have $56,000 to their name

As of mid-2014, in a world of perfect wealth equality every adult would have a net worth of $56,016. The majority of that ($35,197) would be financial assets, including roughly $900 in cash and about $13,000 in stocks.

Each adult would have another $30,076 in “tangible” assets: property, vehicles, consumer electronics, Pokémon cards, etc.

That’s $65,273 . . . but unfortunately, spreading around the wealth also means spreading around the debt, and each adult’s share of the global household debt (not government ) would come to $9,257. (Public debt would add another $11,000 each.) I guess at this point we’re essentially all borrowing from each other? Or maybe wealth-equality-world is like an Usula K. Le Guin story, and there’s one lonely child locked up somewhere with 70 trillion dollars in IOUs.

We’d all be making the equivalent of $21,000 a year

If there was global income equality and employment equality as well as wealth equality, each adult on earth would take home (before taxes) a whopping $21,000. This figure isn’t directly comparable to the wealth numbers, as it comes from the World Bank’s data page instead of Credit Suisse, and uses PPP (“Purchasing Power Parity”) dollars. (As with all calculations on this page, I used Credit Suisse’s “number of adults in the world” figure from their data sheet: 4,699,383,000.)

Using PPP is actually better in many ways for this kind of comparison . . . that $21,000 is equivalent to the purchasing power of $21,000 in the USA. So if you went somewhere where $21,000 USD could be stretched a little further, you’d have a proportionately lower income, leaving your domestic purchasing power the same.

($21,000/year is equivalent to having a full time job paying $10/hour, $2.75/hour more than the current US Federal Minimum Wage.)

The wealthiest household in the world would be in India

Between Ziona Chana and his 39 wives, the Chana family of Mizoram, India would have a total net worth of $2,240,000. They would also be the most indebted family on earth, owing a cumulative $370,000. But assuming all 40 of them were fully employed, they’d bring home a combined $840,000 every year!

Swiss pain would be Malawian gain

The average adult in Switzerland has a net worth of $581,000 USD. Average. A good chunk of that has to do with the value of the Swiss Franc compared to the US dollar, but still . . . the country that birthed Helvetica isn’t doing too badly. With such a wealthy baseline, dropping to $56,000 USD would leave the average Swiss adult with less than 10% of their former wealth.

The biggest beneficiary of this hypothetical wealth equalization would be Malawi, which currently averages per capita adult wealth of only $176. For the average person living in Malawi, having $56,000 USD would mean an increase of roughly 32,000%.

This post originally appeared on the Observation Deck.