Link of the Day 021108: Can the world afford a middle class?[LATimes]

From the LATimes: Can the world afford a middle class?

Homi Kharas, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, estimates that by 2020, the world’s middle class will grow to include a staggering 52% of the total population, up from 30% now. The middle class will almost double in the poor countries where sustained economic growth is fast lifting people above the poverty line.

While this is, of course, good news, it also means humanity will have to adjust to unprecedented pressures. The rise of a new global middle class is already having repercussions. In January, 10,000 people took to the streets in Jakarta to protest skyrocketing soybean prices. And Indonesians were not the only people angry about the rising cost of food. In 2007, pasta prices sparked street protests in Milan. Mexicans marched against the price of tortillas. Senegalese protested about the price of rice, and Indians took up banners against the price of onions. Argentina, China, Egypt, Venezuela and Russia are among the nations that have imposed controls on food prices in an attempt to contain a public backlash.
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Prices are soaring not because there is less food (in 2007, the world produced more grains than ever before) but because some grains are now being used as fuel, and because more people can afford to eat more. The average consumption of meat in China, for example, has more than doubled since the mid-1980s.
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The public debate about the consequences of this global consumption boom has focused on what it means for the environment. Yet its economic and political effects will be significant too [Emphasis added]. The lifestyle of the existing middle class will probably have to drastically change as the new middle class emerges. The consumption patterns that an American, French or Swedish family took for granted will inevitably become more expensive; driving your car anywhere at any time, for example, may become prohibitively so. That may not be all bad. The cost of polluting water or destroying the environment may be more accurately reflected.