Pew Charitable Trusts : Can a Growing Middle Class Save the World’s Economy?

In 1851, Britain hosted the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations showcasing the art, industry, and science resulting from the fastest expansion of wealth and the largest increase in economic opportunity that the world had ever seen. This was the Industrial Revolution, a time when new technologies increased productivity in ways previously unknown.Just as revolutionary was another change-in the functioning of British society. The old world of aristocrats, craftsmen, and laborers was not suited to 19th-century business. Contracts and invoices were needed, bank loans had to be written, and lawsuits adjudicated. Government services, such as railways and post offices to serve industry, were expanded. A new occupation arose-the clerks who could pen the needed papers, their numbers skyrocketing in England from 44,000 in 1851 to over 119,000 20 years later. And since the new breed of worker needed to read, write, and understand arithmetic, as well as stay healthy enough to work regularly, teachers and nurses were needed-thereby fueling further professional growth.These new occupations changed economic and social structures. Neither elite nor working class, clerks and others were referred to as ‘the middling sort.’ They saved and invested for the future, educated their children, and took responsibility for improving their lives and those of their families. As their numbers grew, they used their discretionary income to indulge in entertainment, vacations, and travel, and consumed goods of higher quality and greater variety. The Harrods store opened in 1849 selling tea and groceries to this new middle class.And so the middle class became a consumer class, driving the economies of countries that embraced the Industrial Revolution. It ushered in an age of mass development that swept the Western world in the 20th century and is now spreading to emerging economies, especially in Asia and Latin America.Today, this spread of the middle class across the world is one of the primary forces sustaining the global economy. In 2015, the global middle class numbered about 3 billion people who spent $33 trillion, amounting to two-thirds of the world’s consumer spending.In the United States, European countries, and other developed nations, the debate about the middle class has recently centered on issues of equality, mobility, and which policies can promote further growth and stem stagnation. Yet for the rest of the world, the debate is different. Despite disparities, other countries remain focused on growing out of poverty or moving beyond the category of ’emerging.’ A robust middle class is central to this effort.Yet what is the future of the global middle class if some countries seek expansion and others experience contraction? What benefit does such a middle class bring to the world economy? What environmental, social, and political considerations exist? How is this growth balanced with the need to combat climate change? And how are the social and political changes that would result from a more educated, richer population to be managed? How these questions are answered will very likely determine the health of the planet and the financial security of billions of people.Data Points3 billion people make up the global middle class

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