The world’s most expensive dog was sold last week to an undisclosed coal magnate in China for $1.5 million or 10 million yuan. Hong Dong, or Big Splash, is an 11 month-old red Tibetan mastiff, a breed thought to bring luck and blessings on your home, health, and security. It’s rumored that Genghis Khan traveled with an army of over 30,000 mastiffs. Even Buddha owned this holy animal. Hong Dong’s breeder ensured his puppy’s luxury status from the beginning, raising him on a diet of beef, chicken, and abalone. Big Splash now towers at three feet and weighs a hefty180 pounds. Mastiffs have become the new status symbol for China’s elite, taking their place among other ostentatious luxuries including exotic wines and sports cars. The breed is so popular that expositions are held weekly to showcase and sell Mastiffs to ambitious social climbers and dog lovers.

While this story of wealth and excess is incredible, it made me reflect on China’s wealth gap and the drastic income disparity this country faces. The Gini coefficient measures a country’s wealth distribution, with zero representing perfect equality and one signaling perfect inequality. China’s Gini coefficient is creeping dangerously close to .5. Most economists agree that a score over .4 should serve as a warning sign, possibly predicting social unrest.

In an effort to combat this troubling dilemma, Beijing recently announced that outdoor ads promoting high-end lifestyle brands would be banned or the advertisers would be fined heavily. However, China is expected to become the largest luxury goods market in the world by 2020. Will this regulation actually hinder the elite’s taste for luxury items and level the playing field? I’m guessing probably not, judging by Hong Dong’s $1.5 million price tag.

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