List of the World’s Richest Countries; America’s Special Role in It

Eric Zuesse

The world’s richest countries are the ones where the median wealth per person is the highest. This system ranks nations truly according to the most-representative person in each given nation — the person who is in the exact middle of that nation’s population in terms of per-person wealth. Consequently, for example, if a Bill Gates or other billionaire relocates into a certain country, no matter how small its population is, this won’t change that country’s ranking, whereas it could raise the country’s ranking if the ranking-system were according to the mean wealth per person (i.e., dividing everybody’s total wealth by the total population-number). If a billionaire moves into a town where the median person’s wealth is $100,000, then that town’s mean wealth can increase by a huge multiple, but the town’s median wealth would remain unchanged by the addition of that new resident. (Similarly, if the billionaire moved away, the town’s per-person wealth wouldn’t be affected by it.) To rank countries according to mean wealth would enable a country with only relatively few wealthy people to rank very high as a ‘wealthy’ nation, even if the vast majority of people there live in poverty and squalor. Only by using median wealth as the indicator of a country’s wealth can a ranking system produce rankings that reflect the vast majority of people in each of the ranked nations. It’s the only fair international ranking-system for the various nations’ wealth: it shows the wealth of the typical person in each country.

The most authoritative calculation of per-capita wealth within nations has been performed by the team of world-respected specialists on such matters, who produce the annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook. The latest edition was just now published, their Global Wealth Databook 2014. Following is the rank-order of the richest 33 countries, the only nations (other than a few tiny places such as Andora and Monaco, which aren’t even calculated there) that can reasonably be called “First World,” rather than simply “developing” or “outright poor.” This is not to say that such a nation as China, which has a median per-person wealth of only $7,033, or Brazil, with $4,772, or Russia with $2,360, or India with $1,006, might not become major economic powers; but the average person in such nations is extremely poor by current First-World standards; and what will be listed below is that First World, as of today, not ten or twenty years from now.

The rank-order on this list is according to median wealth. Then there is a dot, followed by a second number, which represents the given nation’s ranking in Credit Suisse’s 2013 list. There is considerable change among the rankings from year-to-year, and some of this change results from methodological refinements, but there can also be real wealth-changes occurring, such as when the 2008 crash destroyed the values of people’s houses, more in some countries than others, and of their retirement accounts. Then, in the listing below, comes the nation’s name, followed by the median per-capita wealth there. Then comes a slash (/) followed by the mean per-capita wealth there. The mean per-capita wealth is always higher than the median per-capita wealth, because, even if there were total equality in wealth, the mean would be identical to the median; the mean can never be less than the median; it’s always more than the median.

The higher the ratio is of the mean/median, the more heavily skewed that nation’s wealth-distribution is. The lowest such ratio on this list is Slovenia, $33,395/$21,855, or 1.53. Malta’s is 1.71. Belgium’s is 1.75. Italy’s is 1.84. Luxembourg’s is 1.98. Spain’s is 1.99. All others are above 2. The highest wealth-inequality is found in U.S., 6.60; Denmark, 6.57; and Switzerland, 5.71. However, Denmark is one of the most-equal countries in terms of annual incomes. The U.S. is the only country that is extremely skewed in terms of both wealth and income. What’s shown below relates only to wealth; not at all to income.

Here is the list:


1.8.        Iceland $104,109 / $234,785

2.2.        Luxembourg $93,267 / $184,228

3.7.         Japan $92,236 / $191,877

4.3.        Belgium $84,526 / $147,824

5.6.        UK $76,958 / $162,999

6.5.        Italy $65,140/ $119,773

7.1          Australia $54,426 / $103,151.

8.22.      Taiwan $48,635 / $107,028

9.14.      Netherlands $46,020 / $106,872

10.4.      France $44,998 / $103,619

11.9.      Switzerland $40,697 / $232,548

12.33.    Hong Kong $36,614 / $117,371

13.13.    Canada $35,631 / $108,464

14.12.    Singapore $33,814 / $112,757

15.16.    Ireland $34,651 / $91,334

16.10.    Finland $33,517 / $78,532

17.30.    Israel $32,456 / $92,507

18.17.    Spain $32,443 / $64,521

19.27.    U.S. $31,688 / $209,022

20.28.    Malta $31,611 / $54,120

21.21.    Greece $28,748 / $$57,716

22.11.    Norway $25,650 / $110,805

23.20.    Austria $24,588 / $91,321

24.23.    Sweden $23,246 / $126,304

25.23.    UAE $22,736 / $56,794

26.26.    Slovenia $21,855 / $33,395

27.25.    Germany $21,663 / $89,779

28.30.    Portugal $20,663 / $48,008

29.28.    Kuwait $18,349 / $52,260

30.35.    Bahrain $17,021 / $36,400

31.15.    New Zealand $16,871 / $47,748

32.48.    Chile $16,536 / $46,697

33.19.    Denmark $15,959 / $104,865


That’s national wealth, and now it will be related to national power:

If the global power-ranking of countries depends upon each country’s super-rich — the billionaires in it — then the U.S. (with its superabundance of billionaires) will have vastly more power than it has wealth, because it will have a disproportionately large number of the people who are the world’s “movers and shakers,” the people who fund political campaigns, and who hire former and future government (and NGO) employees (“the revolving door”). The U.S. therefore vastly disproportionately dominates the Forbes list of a thousand people with net worths of $1.8 billion or more. In fact, America’s having 1,568 billionaires, or about half of the “movers and shakers” who are eagerly sought out by politicians in every country, gives the United States Government an international clout that is far beyond our nation’s wealth, because this is not only vast wealth, but it is also extremely concentrated wealth.

This helps to explain U.S. President Barack Obama’s phrase referring to our country as “the one indispensable nation.” He was indirectly praising the extreme economic inequality in the United States. (He doesn’t praise it directly, because he is a ‘Democrat.’) As was mentioned, this nation is the most unequal among the wealthy ones; so, he proudly insisted, in his speech, that not only has our country been “the one indispensable nation” for “the century passed [sp.: ‘past’],” but that “it will be true for the century to come.” He bragged: “By most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise — who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away — are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.” It sounded much like George W. Bush. This speech at West Point went on to assert: “America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader — and especially your Commander-in-Chief — to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.”

Especially the Central Intelligence Agency has been important in achieving bigger bang for the buck than the military, by secretly (though always violently) overthrowing national heads-of-state in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, and Ukraine in 2014 — just to mention the CIA’s proudest accomplishments. Our President was saying that not every nail needs the same big and expensive hammer such as the U.S. applied, for example, in Iraq in 2003 — an all-out invasion. He told these graduating cadets: “Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare on the quiet banks of the Hudson. You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim. You do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces, for in the course of your service you will work as a team with diplomats and development experts.” Of course, those “diplomats and development experts” work with the CIA, but he didn’t mention the CIA in his speech. After all, it’s a secret agency, and it’s always trying to do things cheaply that the military charges a lot more money and American blood to do. (The CIA might be as costly in foreign blood, but that’s another story entirely. America’s KGB isn’t much more popular abroad than theirs was.)

This is Obama’s vision of how to develop America, when the U.S. Government deals with other nations. NATO relies upon it. If this country weren’t the most inequitable of the wealthy countries, his plan wouldn’t be able to succeed; it wouldn’t be practically feasible. So, Obama is committed to keep things the way they are; he’s a national leader who is determined to project his nation’s past onto its future, “for the century to come.” He has a vision for the country, and it’s focused on the past, which he likes just fine.

Every conservative should admire him. He is a classic conservative, though not in his campaign rhetoric (remember, he was the candidate of ‘change’). However, any intelligent conservative can see that he is actually one of them, despite the liberal phrases. Unfortunately, there aren’t many intelligent conservatives. If they understood what conservatism is, they’d probably get a heart-attack before they’d embrace this man. But conservative leaders always rely upon their followers not understanding what they are doing. So, that too is normal for a gifted conservative leader, such as Obama is. Funneling wealth from the public to the aristocracy isn’t the kind of operation that politicians want to talk about, unless they are progressives who oppose it; but politicians who do that don’t get much support from America’s 1,568 billionaires.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010,  and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.