Philanthropists don't like to talk about this issue and certainly we don't seem to be doing much about it. Looking at the enormous gaps in wealth around the world, however, seems to me to be a starting point from which to think about the role of philanthropy in our societies. Great philanthropy, has, after all, been a result of the very forces that also create the disparity.
On December 6th the Financial Times reported that 2% of the world's population owns 50% of the wealth. The poorest 50% of the world's population owns 1% of assets.
To put this in perspective for Americans, in order to be in the world's top 1% of wealth owners an individual must have a net worth of $500,000 or more. That figure, unattainable by most of the world, is less than the median home price in San Francisco and about equal to the average value increase in San Francisco home values since 2000. The average American has a net worth of about $144,000, whereas, globally, an adult with $2,300 worth of assets would be in the top half of the charts.
The data come from a new report released by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University.
How can we hold these figures in our heads when we think about philanthropy? What do the forces that create these gaps mean for the limitations of philanthropy? How can we incorporate this reality into the conversations about markets, philanthropy, and the public sector?