In his Paper of February, 2017, Homi Kharas, a senior fellow and deputy director of the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution, outlines the unprecedented expansion of the global middle-class, 88% in Asia.
The following are extracts from his report -
• There were about 3.2 billion people in the middle class at the end of 2016, 500 million more than .... previously estimated. This implies that in two to three years there might be a tipping point where a majority of the world’s population, for the first time ever, will live in middle-class or rich households.
• The rate of increase of the middle class, in absolute numbers, is approaching its all-time peak. Already, about 140 million are joining the middle class annually and this number could rise to 170 million in five years’ time.
• An overwhelming majority of new entrants into the middle class— ..... 88 percent of the next billion—will live in Asia.
• The absolute market size of middle-class spending is larger than previously estimated. In 2015, middle-class spending was about $35 trillion (in 2011 PPP terms), roughly 12 percent higher than ... previous estimate. It now accounts for one-third of the global economy.
• The global middle-class market is now clearly bifurcated: a slow-growing developed country middle class, and a fast-growing emerging economy middle class—with growth in both instances measured in terms of either numbers of people or total spending.
• The most dynamic segment of the global middle-class market is at the lower end of the scale, among new entrants with comparatively low per capita spending.
• Big geographic distributional shifts in markets are happening, with China and India accounting for an ever-greater market share, while the European and North American middle class basically stagnates.
• At a growth of about 4 percent in real terms, the middle-class market is growing faster than global GDP growth, but not as fast as it did in the 1960s and 1970s, the boom years for the middle class.
A larger middle-class population and market has significant environment and social implications. Naturally, assuming technology does not change, the carbon footprint per person will rise as the middle class expands.
Two mitigating factors could limit the extent of this. First, middle-class growth is associated with migration from rural to urban areas and, for a given level of income, households in urban areas tend to have a smaller carbon footprint than households in rural areas, especially for transport. Second, middle-class households tend to invest more in their children’s education and this, in turn, can reduce fertility rates and decrease the long-term population trajectory for the world.
The social implications of a larger middle class are also important. There is considerable evidence that a larger middle class will also imply a happier population, at least for new entrants into the middle class (Kahneman and Deaton, 2010). But there is little evidence to suggest that this will create pressures for more democratic governance or for better delivery of public services, both of which are required for sustained growth. In fact, governments may find themselves unable to meet the growing expectations for middle-class enhancing programs, such as universal health care, public education, pensions, and affordable housing, without resorting to deeply unpopular tax increases.
Getting the right balance between taxes on the middle class and services to support them likely presents the greatest source of uncertainty for this paper’s forecasts.