Pathways to a worldwide middle class

Territories currently administered by two stat...

Today's Irish Times has an interesting article by Richard Whelan, which counter points Gerard O'Neill's article from yesterday concerning the disappearance of the working class in Ireland.

Whelan writes about the rise of a world wide middle class, and cites a paper (here) which predicts that half the world's population will be middle class by 2020. This has several implications. Middle class people tend to have less children per family, and they tend to be better educated, live longer, and pollute more. The living standards of middle class people in India in 2020 will be almost unrecognisable from their grandparents only two generations before. This is the power of economic development.

The Brookings Institution paper, written by Sheng Li, focuses on China.

Li breaks down three plausible scenarios for the Chinese economy in 2020:

  • The emergence of a democratic China β€” A wealthier and better-educated middle class, a stronger currency, and a more robust civil society, among other phenomena, lead to greater cultural and political pluralism.
  • Prolonged chaos β€” Economic disparities among urban and rural populations, rampant corruption among the elite, health crises, and environmental degradation trigger intense socio-political and economic crises that undermine the stability of the Communist regime.
  • A resilient, authoritarian China β€” Problems among the world's democratic countries make democracy less appealing to the Chinese people, while stable development strategies by the party-state are necessary for growth and economic stability, further entrenching the ruling power of the CCP.

Li's paper is a good exercise in taking trends and working them up and down into plausible scenarios, which, if you're me, makes for interesting reading.

I'm also interested in the different pathways to a middle class people can take. It's not simply farm->call centre->education->computer programmer. There are many pathways to a worldwide middle class, so understanding the path we took in Ireland is enlightening and useful.