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I read this claim in Quora:

The "richest" country in the world (the u.s.) would assuredly lose that place if you excluded just the top 5% of wealth holders

Is this claim true? Is there any evidence to back it up?

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    This question seems poorly defined. If "richest" is defined by highest GDP, the US is top, but that's not to do with how much money the people have, but how much goods and services are produced. If it is highest income per capita, US isn't top. If it is highest wealth per capita, US isn't top. – Oddthinking Aug 23 '12 at 7:43
  • @Oddthinking: The US economy is only highest by nominal GDP if one excludes the European Union's economy (nominal GDPs of $15 trillion and $17.6 trillion in 2011, respectively). – Brian M. Hunt Aug 23 '12 at 15:20
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    @Brian: I don't want to split hairs there, so I'll accept that. GDP remains the wrong measure if we are asking what happens if you remove the top 5% of wealth holders. If you ignore the wealthy owner of a mining company's shares, do you discount the produce of the corresponding mines from the GDP? What if their wealth is tied up in gold, and hence doesn't contribute (much?) to the GDP? The question is ill-considered. – Oddthinking Aug 23 '12 at 16:35
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    Is it being suggested that there is a country whose total wealth is more than the poorest 95% of the US, or that there is a country whose poorest 95% are wealthier than the poorest 95% in the US? – DJClayworth Aug 24 '12 at 3:19
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    Why is the exclusion of the EU "arbitrary"? It is in no sense a "country" (state). – singletee Sep 25 '15 at 16:30
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EDIT:I found better figures so I'm updating the wealth values. This does change my conclusions somewhat.

The MacKinsey Global Institute conducted a study of the wealth of the world . Wealth was defined in the economic sense of assets minus liabilities. All figures are for the year 2010.

  • Global wealth amounted to $200 trillion. That includes household, government, corporate and financial assets.
  • The US owns more than a quarter of that - around $58 trillion. (It has around 5% of the population)
  • Japan has the next most with $27 trillion
  • China has around $20 trillion
  • Western Europe has around $54trillion, but of course it's divided between many countries.

Household wealth accounts for about $27trillion in the US. The top 10% of households own about 70% of that, or $19trillion - logically the top 5% must own at least $10 trillion and probably much more - say $15trillion.

So the wealth of the US minus its top 5% of households is around $43-48trillion.

The next richest country is Japan, with a wealth of $28trillion.

TL;DR This statement is probably not true. The uncertainty in the figures make it impossible to be definitive

Clearly to be a fair comparison you should also exclude the wealthiest 5% of Japanese households. Japan has nearly as much of its wealth owned by its top 5% of households as the US.

Interestingly, government assets make up only a few percent of total national wealth. After household wealth institutional investors are the next largest bracket, then corporations.

I should confess that I am not sure how these studies handle an asset that is owned by a company whose shares are owned by a thousand different household. I would welcome input from someone who understands this.

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    It would be interesting to add public (as well as private) assets to the picture, since infrastructure is a benefit to individuals despite having shared ownership. – Useless Aug 24 '12 at 11:00
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    ... for example this suggests the Netherlands has about 1/3rd the infrastructure value of the U.S. federal government, which would imply massively more shared assets available for use to each citizen. (I'm ignoring U.S. state governments and unknown quality of that ranking, for the sake of argument) – Useless Aug 24 '12 at 11:09
  • @Useless: but wouldn't most of that infrastructure be canals and dykes? they are necessity, but I fail to see how that makes people any "wealthier" that people living 50m higher. – vartec Aug 24 '12 at 13:09
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    Roads, mass transit, hospitals, schools; however they're owned in each country, they affect the effective quality of life of the inhabitants, and were paid for out of the inhabitants' GDP. The ability to benefit from shared infrastructure could reasonably be counted towards an individual's "wealth" irrespective of how ownership is accounted for. Simple example: a car will count as "wealth" but access to a mass transit system won't. So densely-populated countries with good infrastructure are penalized on this metric for choosing to pool their assets. – Useless Aug 24 '12 at 15:26
  • @Useless The US would probably fare very, very well if we accounted for that. According to this USA Today opinion piece (and it matches other values I've seen) our Interstate Highway system cost about $425 billion. That's an extra ~$1300 per person from just one piece of infrastructure. usatoday.com/news/opinion/columnist/neuharth/… – William Grobman Aug 28 '12 at 20:28
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The United States isn't necessarily the richest country even with the top 5% wealth holders.

I'm not sure if GDP is a perfect measure of wealth, but it should be closely correlated.

If you go by nominal GDP, then Wikipedia lists Luxemborg as the highest, with the US in 14th place. If you go by purchasing power parity GDP, then Wikipedia lists Qatar as the highest, with the United States in 7th place.

If you think Luxemborg and Qatar are too small to count, then Norway does better than the United States on both counts, and has a population of approximately 5 million.

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    I would point out that Wikipedia is not a terribly well respected source on this site. – user3344 Aug 23 '12 at 9:47
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    @woodchips: however, in this case Wikipedia only aggregates rankings from more reliable sources. On given page it's IMF, World Bank and CIA Factbook. – vartec Aug 23 '12 at 10:19
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    GDP != richest from an american standpoint. The US is big on Individuality. The claim would be read to me as having the most individual wealth... ironically as a whole. – Chad Aug 23 '12 at 13:58
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    Those figures are for highest GDP per capita. That's very different from highest GDP. – DJClayworth Aug 23 '12 at 13:59
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    Chad: "The US is big on Individuality" is that sarcastic? :-P Anyway, I'm not sure if GDP is good measure of wealth for various reasons. a) it's more a measure of industry output, rather than what people earn, b) it's assumes that wealthiest == highest earning, which is obviously wrong, as it completely ignores current wealth. – vartec Aug 23 '12 at 14:40

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