Surging BRIC middle classes are eclipsing global poverty
By 2022, those living in poverty will be a minority for the first time, as the global middle class – particularly from BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations – surges. Does new affluence signal shifting global power?
Touting tigers, the Taj Mahal, and the towering Himalayas, India opened the 21st century with its "Incredible India" campaign to attract tourists from around the world. But the unexpected happened. A surprising new face showed up on the Indian tourism scene to fill hotel rooms and tour bus seats: Indians themselves.Skip to next paragraph
They were people like Ash Narian Roy, who grew up in a rural hut but today has a PhD and works in Delhi. They are the new Indian middle class, who have begun exploring new horizons of education, culture, and leisure.
"Ten years ago," muses Dr. Roy, whose increasing ability to travel parallels the past decade's explosive growth of the middle class, "we may have gone near Shimla in our own car." But now he hires a driver to take his family into the heart of that cool summer resort in the Himalayas. And he even jets off to the beaches of Goa in the south.
The curious and free-spending domestic traveler like Roy, says Amitabh Kant, an Indian development official who wrote the book "Branding India: An Incredible Story," is an "economic savior" for India. And, to boot, Mr. Kant says, middle-class Indians are a powerful market abroad, now outspending Americans in London, for example, by 10 percent.
The "Incredible India" surprise is part of a surge of prosperity that is rapidly expanding the world's middle classes. By 2030, the global middle class is widely projected to at least double in size to as many as 5 billion – a surge unseen since the Industrial Revolution. This boom, however, is more global, more rapid, and is likely to have a far different – and perhaps far greater – impact in terms of global power, economics, and environment, say economists and sociologists.
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"This dwarfs even the 19th-century middle class explosion in its global scale," noted economists Dominic Wilson and Raluca Dragusanu in a 2009 Goldman Sachs report. And they predicted, "the pace of expansion ... is likely to pick up."
The world will, for the first time in history, move from being mostly poor to mostly middle-class by 2022, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development projects. Asians, by some predictions, could constitute as much as two-thirds of the global middle class, shifting the balance of economic power from West to East. Already, some analyses of International Monetary Fund data suggest that the size of the Chinese economy could eclipse that of the United States in just five years.