We often hear that the U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world, but is it really?

The Global Wealth Databook recently measured both the mean and median wealth of countries around the world. Measuring mean wealth, which is the total wealth of the country divided by the number of adults, the U.S. does pretty well. We rank fifth in the world behind only Switzerland, Australia, Norway and Japan.

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Measuring median wealth, which is the wealth owned by the middle class, tells a very different story. The middle class of virtually every developed country is wealthier than ours. Even financially troubled countries like Spain, Ireland and Italy have more middle class wealth than we do.

I have no doubt that if this study had been done in 1950, 1960, 1970 or 1980, the U.S. middle class would have been by far the world's wealthiest. So what happened to all that wealth? Our total wealth still ranks very high — what has changed is that all the wealth that used to go to the middle class now goes the very richest people in our society. This did not happen by accident.

Roland Kayser