American Elephants

The Richest One Percent in the World by The Elephant's Child

                                                                                 (click to enlarge)

If you made as much as $34,000 last year, you are now part of the world’s richest 1%.

World Bank economist Branko Milanovic puts it all in perspective:

The true global middle class, falls far short of owning a home, having a car in a driveway, saving for retirement and sending their kids to college. In fact, people at the world’s true middle — as defined by median income — live on just $1,225 a year. (And, yes, Milanovic’s numbers are adjusted to account for different costs of living across the globe.)

In the grand scheme of things, even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off financially than two thirds of the entire world.

Each one of those little human figures represents one million people. Just something to think about.

(h/t: Neatorama)

8 Comments so far
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Something doesn’t match up here. According to the U.S. Census, there were some 43 million males and 26 million females in the United States with incomes of $40,000 or greater in 2009; the total of both sexes with incomes of $34,000 or greater would have been around 80 million. I can’t imagine that the numbers were substantially less in 2011. So either the cut-off point is higher than that (likely, given the numbers for other countries), or the graph is wrong.

My guess is that the threshold income is $64,000, not $34,000.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

The figures are not from the U.S. Census, but from the World Bank. They refer to the entire world, not just the U.S. The median income for the world is, according to the World Bank economist, $1,225 a year. Doesn’t mean much to the Occupy people, but in its way, it is a celebration of the American free market.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

EC: I realize that the numbers are from the World Bank. I am saying, look at the official data for the USA: it shows that the number of people with incomes over $34,000 a year is more like 80 million, rather than the 29 million showed in the WB’s graph.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I simply have to trust that the World Bank economist knows what he’s talking about. I don’t have the figures for the world, and I’m sure I’d mess up the math if I did. As you said, I’m a big-picture person, and you get caught up in the details.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

I’m a big-picture person, and you get caught up in the details.

Wow. That’s rich. Imagine if a climate scientist said something like that.

Unfortunately, your link is to another, similar article, not to the original source. So I have no way of verifying the $34,000 estimate. So I look for a primary source. And that does not conform to the $34,000 figure (unless one means per-capita; but the graphic refers to people, not households). Indeed, given that there are 80 million individuals in the US who earn at least $34,000 a year, that alone would constitute more than 1% of the world’s population. A cut-off point of something twice that level would make more sense.

It is certainly an important point in terms of the message: put the cut-off point at $34,000 and you capture half the adults in the United States. Put it at twice that and you are looking at maybe the top quintile.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

You said:
“When you and I get in these dialogues, you constantly want to expand the discussion to your view of the “big picture”. If your remarks at (sic) aimed at me, you are wasting your breath. I am interested in discussing specifics of each policy, but not in engaging in a wide-ranging debate on the science of climate change or whether or not Obama hates the oil industry.”

I am just echoing your comment. It is quite true. I am always looking for the big picture, and trying not to get caught up in the details. If you find that off-putting, I’m sorry. I’m not sure that I always get the big picture right, but that’s my aim, and how my mind works.

If you had clicked on the graph to enlarge it, you would have seen the original source which is: “The Haves and Have Nots” by World Bank Economist Branko Milanovic.

I don’t know from what year he extracted his figures, nor whether it is 2011 or long before the world financial crisis. It is a snapshot of a moment in time, but we don’t know which time. You can only take this kind of thing as a generality. If you want to talk to the World Bank, have at it. I can’t help you. I just found it interesting.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

In short, I believe the graphic (29 million U.S. citizens), not the $34,000 number. You need to find the original source for that, or it is not credible.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I don’t mind focusing on the big picture, though debating the big picture can easily become epistemological.

What I don’t go along with is excessively inductive reasoning. There is such-and-such an example, and therefore it is yet another proof of the stupidity of the administration, or the myth of climate change, or what have you. Since I am not interested in debating the “myth” of climate change with you, I will generally not be drawn into generalizations.

However, since your blog has certainly at times taken scientists to task for bending the facts, I would have thought that you would be concerned about getting the facts here right, especially as these facts determine the message that can be drawn. In my initial comment, I pointed out — in what I thought was a rather neutral manner — an apparent inconsistency.

Of course, if the only message is that virtually all Americans fall within the top single-digit percentages of world wealth or income, that would come as no surprise. But if only 29 million (out of a total working-age population of some 240 million) fall into the “top 1%” category, then we are looking at the top quintile or even decile, not the median worker.

I still cannot verify the $34,000 a year threshold (and, I gather, neither can you), as the study is not publicly available. Perhaps it refers to incomes from 10 years ago, in which case your assertion that “If you made as much as $34,000 last year, you are now part of the world’s richest 1%” is simply wrong.

Notheless, there are other points that can be made. According to this review from the New York Times:

Notice how the entire line for the United States resides in the top portion of the graph? That’s because the entire country is relatively rich. In fact, America’s bottom ventile is still richer than most of the world: That is, the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

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