Saturday, February 9, 2008

Think about it

Can the world afford a middle class?
The middle class in poor countries is the fastest-growing segment of the world's population. While the total population of the planet will increase by about a billion people in the next 12 years, the ranks of the middle class will swell by as many as 1.8 billion -- 600 million just in China.

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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