Here is a case of getting seduced by the numbers and sucked into the wrong thinking. This article is looking for interesting ways to measure the growth of the global middle class. It does a generally poor job of it. The whole article is a bit of a dodge. Using made up numbers to render a quantifiable mark for an abstract concept, concluding in a blithe statement about a billion car pile up.
But the money quote I think is in the conclusion, about what this materialist and upwardly mobile trend in the world says:
The people of this burgeoning middle class also expect their governments to be representative and accountable, and they are sure to put increased pressure on the nondemocratic systems in many developing countries. Seen in this light, the rising incidence of protests and dissent in China, Russia, Thailand, and the Arab world is not surprising.
Which is actually interesting. And a little understated. Because I think one of the implications of the growing “middle class” is the fact that the world can become much more connected through alternatively mediated means. You have power and water, a mobile phone and an internet connection and you join a very interesting club, globally speaking. Furthermore, people can not only demand accountability from their own governments but from governments whose foreign policies affect them. I mean, look at the famous photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the Vietnamese girl running scared and naked from her village, which had just been napalmed. 40 years ago no one could do anything about this situation. These days, photos like that could provoke a massive decentralized response of outraged middle class people. Such people might learn how to fly planes, for example. Or leak documents. Or go all Anonymous.
On a smaller scale, the growing middle class can use its material wealth to do things other than buy cars. For example, a newly middle class Egyptian could buy food to support an occupation of a park in New York. The new models of philanthropy can be many to many, inverting the idea of “giving to the poor.”
The article has a pretty narrow and outdated view of its own subject (“First World” – really?) and it ignores the deeper, dare I say, foreign policy implications of a middle class that may yet reach the critical mass needed to slow the 1% and redirect that serious wealth to needier parts the rest of the 99%.
In the rest of the world, I wonder if this is what the new middle class is doing. In North America we do a whole lot of “I’ve got mine.” Class mobility in this continent is woeful, and class nobility, especially among the local 85% (of which I am a member) even worse.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many of us there are. It matters what we do with these numbers.