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Luxury CEO: The poor should stop whining

Wednesday, 12 Feb 2014 | 11:08 AM ET
Nicole Miller CEO to 99%: Quit bellyaching
Wednesday, 12 Feb 2014 | 7:24 AM ET
Bud Konheim, Nicole Miller co-founder & CEO, says the U.S. poverty level is wealth in most of the world, so people should stop complaining.

Bud Konheim has a message for all of the 99 percenters: You're luckier than you think.

Konheim, CEO and co-founder of luxury-fashion company Nicole Miller, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday that Americans not in the top 1 percent would be considered wealthy in most of the world. He said the 99ers should stop complaining and understand how lucky they are.

"We've got a country that the poverty level is wealth in 99 percent of the rest of the world," he said. "So we're talking about woe is me, woe is us, woe is this." He added that "the guy that's making, oh my God, he's making $35,000 a year, why don't we try that out in India or some countries we can't even name. China, anyplace, the guy is wealthy."

(Read more: Minimum wage hike: 'What we went on strike for')

Konheim's comments are sure to provoke the inequality crusaders. After all, here is the wealthy CEO of a luxury company that sells $800 sequined dresses and $250 clutches saying that people who make $35,000 a year should be grateful.

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But he happens to be correct. In the U.S., you need around $500,000 in annual income to be in the top 1 percent. Globally, income of $34,000 a year gets you in the top 1 percent, according Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist.

(Read more: How do you become a millionaire?)

In China, it takes only $91,000 to be in the top 1 percent—equal to about the the top 25 percent in the U.S., according to stats from the Internal Revenue Service and China's Southwestern University of Finance.

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An income of $35,000 would put you at around 60 percent in China, so roughly in the upper middle.

(Read more: Record number give up US citizenship)

India is similar to China as far as the 1 percent goes. In India, it takes more than $87,000 to make the 1 percent, according to the most recent figures available from the World Top Incomes Database. It's unclear where $35,000 a year would get you, but the top marginal tax rate in India starts at income of around $16,000 per year. So clearly, you'd be in the upper middle or better with $35,000 a year.

But as we all know, wealth is relative to those around you—and the costs of the country and city or town that you live in. Even Konheim would admit that $35,000 may go a long way in rural India or China, but it would be a struggle in many parts of the U.S.

—By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank.

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