The top 1 percent of families in the world own nearly half of the world's wealth, according to a recent report by Oxfam, and nearly three-quarters of the global population live in countries where income inequality is rising.
While you might think the rich are just fine with being on the right side of a widening wealth gap, 53 percent of the richest 1 percent express serious concern about the concentration of wealth at the top. That compares with 46 percent overall who say they are concerned, up from 40 percent who said that at the beginning of last year, according to a survey by Harrison Group and American Express Publishing.
To uncover why the rich are worried, "you have to look at where they come from," says Jim Taylor, vice chairman of Harrison Group. "Ninety percent of wealthy families grew up in the middle class, and most of their families are still in the middle class. The gap is very obvious in their lives -- they see it."
Rich feel scorned
As a result of the widening gap, the rich are pulling back on spending for fear of being scorned, according to the survey. "They're very sensitive about how they spend money," Taylor says. "Ironically, we've seen a withdrawal from the community because they don't want to listen to polemics against their lifestyle. Gated communities, for example, have come back into style."
In addition to reining in discretionary spending, which could have an adverse effect on the luxury-goods market, the rich have sidelined their money. "They've accumulated approximately 35 percent of their portfolios in cash, with about 70 percent of that in money market accounts," says Taylor.
But Taylor says it's a mistake to think the rich are hated by the middle class. In reality, they see the realization of the American dream that anyone can build wealth. "One of the urban myths is that the middle class finds fault with the rich," he says. "But they actually see there is huge opportunity for their kids to grow into professions like medicine and law."
As for a solution for narrowing the gap, Taylor says both Democrats and Republicans in the survey indicated they would vote for a "reasonable" tax increase aimed at deficit reduction.
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