City of London—a playground of wealth for the rich (Picture: Wikicommons)

Sometimes our enemies tell the truth. The Global Wealth Report 2023 from Credit Suisse and UBS—the top rank of bankers and financiers—lays bare the vast inequality of capitalism. The report shows that 59 million people out of a total of 5.4 billion adults in the world had almost half of the world’s wealth in 2022. That’s only 1.1 percent of the population.

At the same time 2.8 billion adults, or 53 percent of the total, had just 1.2 percent. Wealth is defined as cash, bank accounts and other financial holdings plus property. It doesn’t include the huge sums hidden away in tax havens and other secret areas—such as Swiss banks.

The aggregate wealth of dollar ­millionaires, people with more than £800,000, has grown five-fold from £32.5 trillion in 2000 to £164 trillion in 2022. Their share of global wealth has risen from 35 percent to 46 percent over the same period. That’s a vast transfer of wealth towards people at the top from those with meagre wealth—or no wealth at all, or with ­“negative wealth”, also known as debt.

The base tier of this pyramid (below), people with less than $10,000 wealth (£7,900), isn’t just the masses of the Global South. The report says, “In advanced economies, about 30 percent of adults fall within this category. In many lower-income countries, more than 80 percent of the adult ­population fall within this wealth range.” 

They are opposed to the dollar ­millionaires who, in whichever region they come from, “tend to share similar lifestyles—participating in the same global markets for luxury goods, vacations and education opportunities for their children, for example, 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 particularly equities, bonds and other securities traded in international markets.” This is the global ruling class and its hangers-on.

Pyramid 1

The terrible rise of the ‘Ultra High Net Worth Individuals’

There are 243,060 of what the report calls “ultra-high-net worth (UHNW) individuals” who had grabbed net wealth of $50 million (£40 million) or above at the end of 2022. “This is 22,500 down on the 265,560 UHNW adults recorded at the end of 2021 and is traceable to the fall in share prices. This decline is unusual.”
But, “Adults with wealth above $50 million are now four times as common as in 2008. Despite the drop in 2022, UHNW numbers have risen by more than 60,000 in the past three years alone.” Looting has spread massively in the time of the pandemic producing a bigger—but still tiny—elite. A further breakdown of the UHNW group reveals 79,490 adults with wealth above $100 million (£80 million) at the end of 2022.
There are 7,020 people who have seized wealth more than $500 million (£400 million). Of the group who have taken more than £40 million wealth, just over half are in North America and 17 percent live in Europe.

The dominance of the imperialist Global North countries is reflected in the base countries of the super-rich. But about 14 percent of the “more than £40 million” group live in Mainland China. That’s nearly as many as in Europe, and 11 percent are in Asia-Pacific countries, excluding China and India. The rising wealth of the top layers in China, India and elsewhere has reduced the inequality between different countries.

Pyramid 2

We could change the world with that cash

What would happen if all £358 trillion of private wealth in the world was shared equally? It would have meant £66,726 per adult at the end of 2022. For almost every working class person across the world this would be a massive step forward. It would eliminate overnight poverty, malnutrition and the social roots of disease.

It would be the first step towards using global resources, and the energy and initiative of all people, for the benefit of the vast majority. But it will take a revolution to break the power of ruling classes who will stop at nothing to defend their power and profits. If the working class took power globally, it wouldn’t just mean an equal distribution of the present arrangements.

It would enable great strides in sustainable and environmentally sensitive production and the redirection of the vast spending on war and armaments. It would mean a much shorter working week and more time for democracy and debate, as well as the growth of everyone’s personality. 

New wealth flowing into rich pockets

Most of the media highlighted the report’s claim that “global wealth will rise by 38 percent over the next five years”. But there’s no guarantee that the system won’t remain stuck in low growth or even stagnation. Credit Suisse should know this. 

Its report is partnered this year with UBS. UBS rescued Credit Suisse from collapse five months ago, in a takeover orchestrated by Swiss authorities. It is the most significant bank merger since the 2008 financial crisis. Credit Suisse was founded as Schweizerische Kreditanstalt in 1856.

It rebranded as Credit Suisse in 1978 after its involvement in a mafia-linked counterfeiting scandal. What growth there is within the system will go mainly to those who have stashed away fortunes already. 

In January the charity Oxfam revealed the richest 1 percent have grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth worth £38 trillion created since 2020. This was almost twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population.

You say you want a revolution 

In an introduction to the report, Paul Donovan, Chief Economist UBS Global Wealth Management, says, “Revolutions, it turns out, are revolutionary—social as well as economic relationships will be challenged by this process.” He is talking about shifts in production that are known as the “fourth industrial revolution”. 

These are focused on the effects of digital technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet, driverless vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology and quantum computing. Much of this is guff. These changes have shaken up how—some—things are made and how capitalist corporations operate. Bigger changes will come in the future. 

And they have shaped some sectors in poorer countries as well as the United States and Europe. But the system still depends on the labour of billions of working people, not technological development. Often it is backbreaking labour involving sweat, muscles and brain power.

That’s most obvious in parts of the Global South where people work very long hours in low-tech sectors. But think of the legions of cleaners, delivery workers, bin workers, supermarket workers, hospitality workers, lower-grade office workers and so on in Britain. 

These are the people who never had a choice to work from home in the pandemic. And many of those who could are still central to the way the system operates. They are the ones who will head a real revolution.

Another Brics in the wall

The Credit Suisse report shows a class divide that runs through every country. But there are divisions at the top of society as well between contending ruling classes. The global set-up is one of brigands and beggars. Imperialism is a system of competition between powers that also sees the strongest lord over the weaker ones.

Those lesser states either have to fight back or seek to ingratiate themselves with the major powers. The tensions are greatest when the economic hierarchy shifts. When John F Kennedy became US president in 1960, US gross domestic production was 40 percent of global GDP. By 2014, the rise of other powers had cut its economic weight in half. 

The US responded by beefing up its military might. It might not be able to squeeze you so hard financially, but it could still blast you. That strategy hasn’t fully worked. Last week the Brics group of states met in South Africa. The name Brics comes from the first letters of the five countries involved—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

These states have 40 percent of the world’s population and produce 30 percent of global economic output.  They want to challenge US and European Union domination, and haven’t backed the West’s proxy war in Ukraine. 

China’s role as a producer of manufactured goods and its vast purchases of raw materials makes it a crucial economic partner to the Brics countries, but also much wider. So the summit mattered. At the end of it, Brics leaders announced they had invited Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to be part of the group. 

Saudi Arabia’s and UAE’s move underlines that they are no longer completely in line with the US’s views. Six of the nine biggest oil producers will be part of Brics—so don’t expect any great climate initiatives. In another sign of Brics’ reach, United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres attended for part of it.

He echoed Brics’ calls for reforms of the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. But the US will not calmly allow the growth of competitors or see its influence deflated. That’s why it is out to bleed Russia dry in Ukraine. 

The plan is to humiliate, weaken or remove Putin, and then move on to confront China. Economic rivalries can lead to military ones. Instead of a “multi-polar world” that is rebalanced through compromise, the strengthening of Brics is more likely to see intensified battles.

That’s accelerated by governments’ use of war to turn internal divides outwards and direct people’s anger away from themselves. The answer isn’t to defend the present grossly unequal structure. But the US versus the Brics is not the fundamental divide. The Brics countries are headed by rulers who attack their own people.

It was brilliant to see South African working class activists protesting at the Brics summit. One of those protesting, Trevor Ngwane, told Socialist Worker, “We were there to remind the world that these Brics leaders who talk about the crimes of the US and its allies are themselves oppressing and exploiting their own populations. 

“The Western imperialists are brutal robbers. But the Brics leaders are not the solution. South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa was central to the slaughter of miners at Marikana in 2012. Such people cannot be the future. Their anti-imperialism is not anti‑capitalist. Down with Ramaphosa and India’s Modi and Putin and the rest. Our allies are the workers of the whole world—in the poorer countries but also in the US and Europe and Britain.”

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