Wealth Pyramid

Sometime around the spring of 1999, I stepped into my first day of a class that would change my life forever. It was African-American politics at William Paterson U, and in walked a polite and mild mannered man who would later become one of my most valued friends and mentors.

In my fuzzy memory, the first thing Yemane did, after telling us his name, was to draw a pyramid on the board. He divided that pyramid, a tiny line near the narrow top, which he labelled — 80% of the world’s wealth. Then he circled the rest of the pyramid, pointing especially to the large bottom part — 20% of the world’s wealth.

Actually I think it was more dramatic than that… Yemane was (and is) excellent at breaking down the world around us. From that point on politics, understanding who gets what, why, and how, became an obsession.

This week I see a familiar statistic… the global concentration of wealth report reveals that in the last 5 years… that pyramid has gotten worse. The people at the top, the small group, have gotten richer than ever before. And the rest of the people in that pyramid, the majority of people in our world, have gotten poorer.

The updated and more accurate statistic from the report is as follows:

  • 0.7% of world’s population control more than 1/3 of the world’s wealth.
  • Where? Half of that group are in North America, while 1/4 are in Europe.

I’ve always believed that this statistic is one of the best places to start if you want to pick apart what is wrong with the world. If you want to spark people’s concern and interest in figuring out why this has happened and the tremendous price humans pay because of this mind boggling inequality.

Later this week I’ll have a podcast on this topic, with guests. So stay tuned.