...and in first place in the race to get richer is...

Guess What Country Is Getting Richer Quickest?

Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg View columnist and writes editorials on economics, finance and politics. He was London bureau chief for Bloomberg News and is the author of “Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable.”
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Credit Suisse, Switzerland's second-biggest bank, just published itsannual "Global Wealth Report," detailing how much money there is in the world, where the wealth is and which nations are up, down or sideways. Tucked inside is a surprising chart showing which country is getting richest quickest. (Spoiler alert: It's not China. Or the U.S.)

QuickTake Income Inequality

The study assessed the global adult population of 4.7 billion people and their financial and physical assets, including real estate, minus debts. The world's wealth reached a record $263 trillion as of midyear, Credit Suisse says, after growing by more than $20 trillion since mid-2013. Global riches have more than doubled from $117 trillion in 2000. North America has the biggest share at $91 trillion or almost 35 percent of the total; Europe places second with $82.5 trillion.

The biggest surprise comes in a table showing which countries posted the fastest percentage gain in wealth in the past year:

The U.K. became almost 20 percent wealthier in the year to mid-2014, according to the report, turbocharged by surging house prices to outpace Korea and Denmark. It's an odd outcome given that the U.K. political debate in the run-up to next year's national election is focused in large part on how people don't feel better off, which in turn is fanning concern about immigration; it also highlights the risk that a recent decline in real-estate values may undermine consumer confidence and hobble Britain's nascent economic recovery.

Less surprising is the wealth destruction suffered in war-torn Ukraine and perennial debt-defaulter Argentina, both of which lost more than 30 percent, with Indonesia, Turkey, Thailand, Russia and Chile also experiencing contractions.

In a nod to Thomas Piketty and his bestselling "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," the Credit Suisse report features an analysis of how the world's wealth is distributed. It makes for depressing reading, no matter what your politics:

Less than 1 percent of the world's population owns 44 percent of the world's wealth, according to Credit Suisse; 70 percent of the world gets by with assets of less than $10,000. The report notes:

Our estimates suggest that the lower half of the global population collectively own less than 1 percent of global wealth, while the richest 10 percent of adults own 87 percent of all wealth and the top 1 percent account for almost half of all assets in the world. Over time this may change, particularly if a sufficient number of low wealth countries experience rapid growth.

Looking ahead, Credit Suisse forecasts a 40 percent increase in global wealth to $369 trillion in the next five years; China's population, the report says, may become wealthier than Japan's in less than half a decade as the number of dollar millionaires there doubles to more than 2 million.

The best news, at least for those of us who worry that inequality might lead to turmoil after an economic crisis, is that everyone will benefit. The proportion of people with assets of less than $10,000 will drop to about 64 percent by 2019, Credit Suisse predicts. The middle class, with $10,000 to $100,000, will swell to 51 percent from less than 36 percent, even as the number of global millionaires expands to 53 million from 35 million. Even Piketty, I think, couldn't object to that outcome.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mark Gilbert at magilbert@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net