Have you read Oxfam’s methodology document? It specifically addresses the assumption that highly indebted Europeans and North Americans are also income rich. In fact, India, China, Asia-Pacific and Africa make up the largest share of the poorest 50 percent.

In the global wealth distribution, some people we may not think of as being poor show up among the very poorest, as they are in net debt. These people may be in debt but be income-rich, thanks to well-functioning credit markets (think of the indebted Harvard graduate). A number of such cases will exist. However, in terms of population, this group is insignificant at the aggregate global level. Figure 1 shows that just 1% of people in the bottom 50% are from North America, while 70% live in low-income countries.

The only decile that has net debt — that is, more debt than assets — is the bottom 10%. The total net debt of the bottom 10% of the global population is also just 0.4% of overall global wealth, or $1.1 trillion. It is true that most of this debt comes from indebted people in North America ($371bn) and Europe ($612bn). However, it would be incorrect to conclude that these are all high income earners with student debt or other similar productive investments. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report analyses this group in detail and finds that “The results show that the “risk factors” most associated with the bottom wealth quintile are being young, single, or poorly educated. Secondary factors are having three or more children, or being in the “other not working” category (i.e. unemployed or disabled, rather than retired).”

So I think it’s valid to point out the data have flaws, but it wouldn’t be fair to say the report is “debunked.”

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