Sun, Jan 26, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Poverty of the new middle classes

A UN agency has identified the rise of ‘the developing middle class,’ a group earning between US$4 and US$13 a day

By Paul Mason  /  The Guardian, LONDON

However, the ILO trend suggests that, by the second quarter of the century, the typical social dynamics of a medium-developed country will be a mixture of “workplace” conflicts and the more networked, sporadic and volatile ones we saw in Turkey and Brazil last year.

The Western left has lived through decades of angst over the decline of the manual workforce, and its ideology of resistance, sometimes softened by the hope that it would all be recreated somewhere else. The ILO survey suggests not.

What was unthinkable 20 years ago is now becoming tangible: that the real incomes of skilled workers, knowledge workers and managers in “developing countries” are overlapping with those at the bottom of the heap in Western society.

However, where once this prospect was understood to foretell stability, it does not. As World Bank lead economist Branko Milanovic has shown, when it comes to causing inequality, the impact of class and location have reversed: “Around 1870, class explained more than two-thirds of global inequality. And now? The proportions have exactly flipped: more than two-thirds of total inequality is due to location.”

Milanovic calls this the “non-Marxian world,” in which class struggle becomes less useful as a strategy and the logical thing to do is migrate: “Either poor countries will become richer or poor people will migrate to rich countries.”

Perhaps, on the contrary, the upsurge of unrest is a signal that the rising, poor, new middle class — which cannot migrate en masse — has decided to force poor countries to become richer in democracy, sustainability, urban infrastructure, healthcare.

They are choosing signal issues — corruption, transport, green space as in the Gezi Park occupation in Istanbul — but across the world their determination to make life on US$13 a day less arbitrary and insecure is clear.

Paul Mason is culture and digital editor at the UK’s Channel 4 News.

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