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A measure of oligarchy

The results allow us to identify the world’s most oligarchic societies. Number one (for which we have data) is Ukraine, where just 4 individuals own over a fifth of all wealth. Not far behind is neighbouring Russia, where 14 oligarchs together own a sixth of all assets.

Surprisingly, however, Anglo-Saxon societies fall far down the list. Broad-based asset ownership, fast-changing, innovation-based economies, and marriage decisions based on individual choice, rather than family dynasticism, may be a part of the answer. Also notable is the low position of China – in contrast to India, where wealth inequality is far greater.

If there is any conclusion to draw from the results, it is that in accordance with Piketty – and perhaps more distantly, Karl Marx – the ultimate source of inequality is monopoly profit. Where wealth comes from the ground (as in Latin America or Saudi Arabia), or from political connections (as in India or Egypt), a few individuals can capture all the gains. Yet as long as power and wealth can be contested – whether in the market for goods, or the competition for votes – there is a chance to avoid such concentrations.

* For countries with less than 10 million people, we took a fraction of the top individual’s wealth.

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