The Occupy Wall Street movement that sprung up in New York City’s Zuccotti Park three years ago this month helped catapult the issue of income inequality into the global consciousness.
The somewhat scattershot protests took on many issues, but a central theme was the massive wealth gap between society’s richest individuals and everybody else. This was particularly pertinent in Occupy’s birthplace of the United States, where the wealthiest one percent of residents own over 35 percent of the nation’s total wealth. Globally, we see that the richest one percent controls almost 50 percent of the world’s wealth and that the world’s 85 richest individuals control as much wealth as half of the entire global population.
Income inequality has been on the rise in Denmark as well, and although it remains below the OECD average, the nation is not without its own ‘one percent’ problem.
A new analysis from the think-tank Cevea shows that the wealthiest one percent of Danes – about 46,000 individuals – own nearly one third of the country’s total wealth.
In cold hard kroner, those roughly 46,000 people control 512 billion of the 1,600 billion kroner owned by Danes in the form of their homes, stocks and bonds.
“When looking at the distribution of wealth, there is something seriously awry in our cosy little corner of the world. In international comparisons, Denmark is still seen as a fairly egalitarian country. But it is going the wrong way,” Cevea wrote on Facebook.
According to Cevea’s figures, the wealthiest one percent owns 32 times more wealth than the average Dane.
Cevea’s analysis also shows that Danes’ opinions on income inequality don’t match reality. In a survey of 1,000 Danes, eight out of ten said that the richest 20 percent should own less than 40 percent of the nation’s combined wealth. In reality they own 113 percent due to the debt levels of the poorest Danes.
And the gap is increasing. Since 2002, the income of the wealthiest Danes has increased by nearly 30 percent while the poorest Danes have ten percent less wealth than they did 12 years ago.
Cevea analyst Jens Jonatan Steen told Politiken said that the richest one percent is making its money off of “inheritance and lucky investments” and that a change in tax code is in order.
“Everyone talks about high taxes in Denmark, but the Danish tax on stocks and inheritance are low in relation to the countries we normally compare ourselves with,” he told Politiken.
That viewpoint was challenged by Bo Sandemann Rasmussen, an economics professor at Aarhus University, who pointed to a 2012 study by Ernst & Young that showed that Denmark had the highest taxes in a number of areas.
Meanwhile, another Danish think-tank, Cepos, argued that growing income inequality isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that everyone benefits from the country’s highest earners.
“You should remember that the richest one percent pay so much in taxes that it amounts to the salaries of over 100,000 public employees,” Cepos’s head economist, Mads Lundby Hansen, told Politiken.
A video from Cevea on income inequality in Denmark can be seen below (in Danish):