Problem

Personal wealth


Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Concentration of individual wealth
Richness
Excessive wealth
Unnecessary personal wealth
Nature:

Those with more wealth are able to make more out of it, to extend their power through investments which give them control over important economic decisions.

Incidence:

In the UK, a 1990 study found that 5% of the population owns over 50% of total personal wealth, and 38% of total marketable wealth; 25% owns 75% of total marketable wealth. Personal wealth in real terms has been steadily rising in the UK, increasing by three quarters between 1976 and 1988. During this period, the proportion of adults with net assets worth more than £5,000 in 1988 values increased from one half to two thirds of the population, and the proportion with more than £50,000 doubled. Since 1979, the top 1% and bottom 75% have seen their share fall, while the 24% in between have seen their share rise significantly, up from 52% to 58%, or £78 billion at 1988 prices. The increase in the moderately wealthy seems largely to reflect the rise in house prices, which represented over half of the marketable wealth held by individuals during the period. Other constituents include bank deposits, company shares, consumer durable goods and life insurance policies.

The family income for the top 1% of American families was 13% of all personal income in 1989, swelling from an average $315,000 per family in 1977 to $560,000 in 1989 (a 77% gain in 12 years compared with 4% for the typical American family). Similar trends have been noted in other rich countries, including Germany and Britain, since the 1960s. One reason is that the pay of chief executives soared during the 1980s. By 1989, bosses were making 120 times as much as the average worker, compared with about 35 times as much in the mid-1970s. The cumulative wealth in 1991 of 400 richest Americans was $288 billion, and equalling the savings that rest of the Americans have in commercial banks. There were 71 billionaires. The richest 10% of Americans controlled 68% of the nation's wealth in 1983.

Claim:

In the first place, it is obvious that not only is wealth concentrated in our times but an immense power and despotic economic dictatorship is consolidated in the hands of a few, who often are not owners but only the trustees and managing directors of invested funds which they administer according to their own arbitrary will and pleasure. This dictatorship is being most forcibly exercised by those who, since they hold the money and completely control it, control credit also and rule the lending of money. Hence they regulate the flow, so to speak, of the life-blood whereby the entire economic system lives, and have so firmly in their grasp the soul, as it were, of economic life that no one can breathe against their will. This concentration of power and might, the characteristic mark, as it were, of contemporary economic life, is the fruit that the unlimited freedom of struggle among competitors has of its own nature produced, and which lets only the strongest survive; and this is often the same as saying, those who fight the most violently, those who give least heed to their conscience. This accumulation of might and of power generates in turn three kinds of conflict. First, there is the struggle for economic supremacy itself; then there is the bitter fight to gain supremacy over the State in order to use in economic struggles its resources and authority; finally there is conflict between States themselves, not only because countries employ their power and shape their policies to promote every economic advantage of their citizens, but also because they seek to decide political controversies that arise among nations through the use of their economic supremacy and strength. (Papal Encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, 15 May 1931).

Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Date of last update
16.04.2019 – 15:57 CEST