How the world views the 1 percent

Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich “deserve their wealth,” according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.    The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement “most rich people in my country ...

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Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich "deserve their wealth," according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.   

The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement "most rich people in my country deserve their wealth," found that this year nearly 15 percent strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed versus 12 percent and 27 percent respectively in 2008.  The slight increase was driven by improved perceptions of deserved wealth in Australia and Indonesia, with an eight and 11 percent increase of "agree" statements respectively. In the United States, ground zero for the Occupy movement, 58 percent believed the rich deserved their wealth.

The study found that in 6 of the 23 countries surveyed-- Australia, the United States, Canada, China, and Indonesia and India -- the majority of respondents believe that the rich deserve their wealth.

Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich “deserve their wealth,” according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.   

The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement “most rich people in my country deserve their wealth,” found that this year nearly 15 percent strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed versus 12 percent and 27 percent respectively in 2008.  The slight increase was driven by improved perceptions of deserved wealth in Australia and Indonesia, with an eight and 11 percent increase of “agree” statements respectively. In the United States, ground zero for the Occupy movement, 58 percent believed the rich deserved their wealth.

The study found that in 6 of the 23 countries surveyed– Australia, the United States, Canada, China, and Indonesia and India — the majority of respondents believe that the rich deserve their wealth.

This group represents almost half of the world’s population and includes the world’s three largest democracies, India, the United States and Indonesia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the countries with pro-wealthy perceptions are the two largest economies, the U.S. and China, and countries in the upper tiers of fastest growing economies — China, Indonesia, and India.

However, the countries in this group run the gamut in terms of prosperity levels: India and the United States occupy opposite ends of the GDP-per-capita spectrum.  Also notable is the absence of any European or Latin American state in the pro-rich category.  Six European states, five of which are in the OECD, and five Latin American countries all pooh-poohed their country’s wealthy.  The only African countries surveyed, Kenya and Ghana, showed unfavorable views of the rich and their wealth, though there was a significant jump in approval in Kenya from 2008.

Below is a side-by-side comparison between each country’s GINI coefficients-a commonly-used measure of inequality– and their attitudes towards the rich.

*CIA World Factbook Figures (higher numbers indicate greater inequality)

Lilian Timmermann is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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