Can The World Afford a Global Middle Class?

I don’t buy his argument, but here’s Moisés Naím with a “yes, but…” in Foreign Policy:

The middle class will almost double in the poor countries where sustained economic growth is lifting people above the poverty line fast. For example, by 2025, China will have the world’s largest middle class, while India’s will be 10 times larger than it is today.

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. Last 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, higher pasta prices sparked street protests in Milan. Mexicans marched against the price of tortillas. Senegalese protested the price of rice, and Indians took up banners against the price of onions. Many governments, including those in Argentina, China, Egypt, and Russia, have imposed controls on food prices in an attempt to contain a public backlash.

These protesters are the most vociferous manifestations of a global trend: We are all paying more for bread, milk, and chocolate, to name just a few items. The new consumers of the emerging global middle class are driving up food prices everywhere. The food-price index compiled by The Economist since 1845 is now at an all-time high; it increased 30 percent in 2007 alone. Milk prices were up more than 29 percent last year, while wheat and soybeans increased by almost 80 and 90 percent, respectively. Many other grains, like rice and maize, reached record highs. 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.

The impact of a fast-growing middle class will soon be felt in the price of other resources.