THE “elephant chart” began life in 2012, hidden in the middle of a World Bank working paper by Branko Milanovic, an authority on global inequality. It turned a few heads in the New York Times in 2014, then graced Mr Milanovic’s well-received book on global inequality earlier this year. Somewhere along the way it acquired its name, which helped it stampede across social media, brokers’ notes and even a ministerial speech this spring and summer. “I’m about to bring an elephant into the room. A wild, angry, and dangerous elephant,” joked Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch trade minister, last month, before unveiling the chart to her audience. Now, its critics are trying to shoot it.

The distinctively shaped chart summarised the results of a huge number (196) of household surveys across the world. It was created by ranking the world’s population, from the poorest 10% to the richest 1%, in 1988 and again in 2008. At each rank, the chart showed the growth in income between these two years, an era of “high globalisation” from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the fall of Lehman Brothers.

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