Also, I live in a small city in a developing country where this phenomenon was quite visible; certainly people have a lot more material wealth than they did, say 20 years ago, but education and public health have not improved significantly, and possibly even declined for the lower middle-class. And while people used to be poor here, nobody was malnourished in the bad old days, but now, with their new industrialized middle-class diets, they are getting "starving fat" like American inner city kids. If people are really better off is debatable.
And all those new middle-class consumers are doing a real number on the environment, probably more so than a "first world" consumer of similar means because of the crappy infrastructure (proper waste management anyone?) and because the consumer goods here are of significantly lower quality (and so need to be replace more frequently).
Why does it matter that a middle-class tipping point has been reached and that the middle class is the most rapidly growing segment of the global income distribution? Because the middle class drive demand in the global economy and because the middle class are far more demanding of their governments.
FWIW, I agree that reaching 50% globally is of little importance, but it's certainly very meaningful locally. China's meteoric rise in the last two decades was born from the rise of the middle class, and the same is now starting to happen in India and Indonesia.
Also, And while the rise is not without it's downsides (pollution, obesity, whatnot), as the authors note that it's quite well established that escaping poverty/vulnerability makes people a lot happier. Risking a heart attack from a bad diet 30 years down the road is preferable to starving now due to a lack of food.
The middle class would be driving choices at 49% too.
I think you have it backwards. The rise of china's middle class was born from china's meteoric economic growth in the last two decades.
In 2017 it was 4.6%. Still horrifically high, but a staggering achievement in the history of our species. 
Think of all the people spared from having to deal with a child, sibling, or friend dying young.
I think it's sometimes hard to fathom just how bad the human condition has been for most of our history.
 Source: https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2019/06/Mortality-rates-o...
It really is not. All it takes is non-zero curiosity and picking up a book or two. Every single person of sound mind that has some history knowledge or evolutionary biology will confirm that life in 2020 is remarkably easy.
The things that we have at our disposal are remarkable!
Too many people take everything we have now for granted. I blame two institutions: school and parents. Sure, there are market forces that thrive on greed, but that's not an acceptable excuse!
Schelling described no acceleration associated with it.
> The phrase was first used in sociology by Morton Grodzins when he adopted the phrase from physics where it referred to the adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object until the additional weight caused the object to suddenly and completely topple, or tip. Grodzins studied integrating American neighborhoods in the early 1960s. He discovered that most of the white families remained in the neighborhood as long as the comparative number of black families remained very small. But, at a certain point, when "one too many" black families arrived, the remaining white families would move out en masse in a process known as white flight. He called that moment the "tipping point". The idea was expanded and built upon by Nobel Prize-winner Thomas Schelling in 1972.
As one would guess from the common usage of the phrase, as well as the physical analogy itself, a tipping point is indeed a threshold that causes an acceleration (sometimes described as the specific case of a binary flip).
I'm left wondering: if it ends at insulin, where does solidarity begin for you?
I say this as someone with libertarian ideals who does not identify with the majority of self professed libertarians.
That's an entirely different discussion from whether or not violent coercion can ever be a moral good, whether or not power is fungible, etc. If the state threatens to throw you in a cage if you don't buy my insulin, and then you buy my insulin, it doesn't make you a good person.
They are enjoying life, good for them!
There’s an upper limit to the proportion of the population that can do doctoral/professional/executive level work because people’s capacities are limited. If you bump up against that limit further attempts to increase qualifications or learning will fail or the qualifications will be debased. If there is a single first world country where life expectancy has declined from 20 years ago to now I haven’t heard of it.
> And while people used to be poor here, nobody was malnourished in the bad old days, but now, with their new industrialized middle-class diets, they are getting "starving fat" like American inner city kids.
Starving fat doesn’t exist. If people choose to eat bad food that’s their choice. We can lament it; we can take action to encourage healthier diets but that doesn’t mean “starving fat” isn’t an oxymoron.
You need a very monotonous diet to get a deficiency disease on any first world country and most developing ones, in part because so many foods, and salt, are fortified. Eating nothing but pizza or nothing but McDonald’s will not leave you in great health unless you’re very active but you’ll get enough minerals and vitamins unless you eat nothing but fries.
We can't place blame fully on consumers. "Food deserts" are spreading while quality, variety and abundance of fresh food is decreasing. Meanwhile fast food is cheap, heavily marketed, and engineered for its addictiveness. In many areas poor people don't actually have much choice.
The second point I want to make is that you have a mis-placed emphasis on "fresh food". Frozen or canned vegetables, fruits and legumes are actually more nutritious than fresh produce. And the cost, variety and quality of canned and frozen produce has been improving steadily for decades.
The food desert hypothesis sounds compelling, but simply doesn't jibe with the evidence. Obesity among the lower classes is almost certainly driven by cultural and/or genetic factors, not lack of access to healthy food.
Your own link does not support your point, and contains a detailed analysis of why that particular experiment failed (it was completely ineffectual at actually restricting fast food).
Focusing on physical locations of supermarkets is missing the forest for the trees. As your link points out, the problem is that healthy food costs more. A "food desert" is just as real if you can't afford it, as if the food weren't there.
>Obesity among the lower classes is almost certainly driven by cultural and/or genetic factors
Ouch. Lower classes genetically inferior? That's a real dangerous road you're on pal.
Decades of twin studies have consistently shown that IQ, obesity, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings all have significant components of genetic heritability. These are among the most replicated results in all of psychology.
GWAS have also found that intelligence is highly polygenic, involving at least 500 SNPs. GWAS has confirmed that obesity is also highly polygenic, involving at least 400 SNPs. The majority of those SNPs occur on genetic loci relating to brain function.
Given the fact that intelligence (a major determinant of SES in modern industrial economies) and obesity both involve a huge number of genes specifically related to neurological development, it would be shocking if there wasn't at least some overlap between the respective genetic structure of the two traits.
Now, let's say our philanthropic anti-baldness initiative notices that men go bald at significantly higher rates than women. So, we come to the conclusion that we have to figure out the sociological factors that make men bald. Maybe video games contributes to baldness, or maybe it's the stress of having looser ties to family, or maybe its the rate of military service?
As we both know, baldness, including the higher rate of male baldness, is driven by genetic-biological factors. If we refused to even consider this hypothesis it would lead to some pretty absurd conclusions and policies. But knowing that the problem has a biological basis lets us direct our humanitarian efforts at the root cause. We know that to treat baldness we need to target biology, with things like Rogaine and hair transplants, not sociology.
> The Geography of Poverty and Nutrition: Food Deserts and Food Choices Across the United States
> We study the causes of “nutritional inequality”: why the wealthy tend to eat more healthfully than the poor in the U.S. Using two event study designs exploiting entry of new supermarkets and households’ moves to healthier neighborhoods, we reject that neighborhood environments have economically meaningful effects on healthy eating. Using a structural demand model, we find that exposing low-income households to the same food availability and prices experienced by high-income households would reduce nutritional inequality by only 9%, while the remaining 91% is driven by differences in demand. In turn, these income-related demand differences are partially explained by education, nutrition knowledge, and regional preferences. These findings contrast with discussions of nutritional inequality that emphasize supply-side issues such as food deserts.
That's just not true. It's cheap to you. It's actually terribly expensive compared to a bag of rice and potatoes, which you can buy in bulk and cook easily with a hot plate and a pot.
This is a problem elites constantly have. They keep projecting their mindset onto everyone else.
>In many areas poor people don't actually have much choice.
They don't have a Whole Foods a mile away, so they can't get a bag of rice? Everyone is a victim these days.
Free shipping anywhere in the US. If you keep telling people they're a victim soon they'll agree.
What about the time cost?
To make food from fresh, you need significantly more time to prepare and cook the ingredients. You also need more frequent shopping trips to ensure fresh food is ready for cooking.
If you're working long hours or working shifts, or are living on your own, this becomes significant.
Also of course rice and potatoes on their own are not very nutritious. Brown rice is better than white rice, but that takes longer to prepare again.
Preparing a meal from fresh also takes more willpower and energy than selecting more immediately available calories. I'm pretty sure that's a lot easier after coming home from an office job rather than a 12-hour factory shift.
Again, we're right back to where we started with elitist mentality.
You think poor people care about brown rice VS. white rice? What next, are you going to say, "yeah, but organic, free range, free trade, hand picked, carbon neutral rice costs 5x more, and what, no salad?". No one cares but you.
What I see here is a bunch of rich people projecting their difficulty making a simple meal on to poor people.
It takes rather more effort to make an appealing and nutritious meal than microwaving a potato.
[Edited to avoid pointless arguing]
The cultures that have for thousands of years depended on rice for most of their calories have used mainly white rice.
Again, YOU wouldn't. You're projecting.
The argument is that a poor person (in the US) can't buy unprocessed food because they don't have a grocery store nearby.
Apart from that, if people eat nothing but the foods that can be stored unrefrigerated for long periods, they're going to end up with health problems, even some of the same ones caused by processed foods.
True food deserts are very rare. I've been poor in many parts of the US. All food deserts per the conventional definition, while never lacking in plenty of healthy food options in reality. Asserting that the vegetables that poor people eat are not hipster enough to count as "vegetables" is a bizarre way to demonstrate that one cares about the welfare of poor people.
First off, buying groceries and cooking is a huge money saver - if you're worried about the cost of public transport, the savings you get from cooking are also on your mind - you can easily eat healthy meals with plenty of meat and vegetables and still come out x3 cheaper than fast food here(never mind having to eat out - you're looking at x5-x10!)
It doesn't take a lot of effort to cook, once you get over the mental hurdle. Most of the meals I know how to make are a variation of "put stuff in container, apply heat", all taking 10-15 minutes to prepare. Another 10 minutes of chopping up a variety of vegetables for a salad and you have meals for several days straight, if you're living alone.
Speaking of living alone, that's just not my experience. My family grew up poor, and lots of my friends lived on shoestring budgets. Everyone lived with their parents, their roommates, their new family. They shared stuff and helped each other out. The parents around the block I grew up at saved a lot of time by taking turns to invite all the neighbourhood kids for a dinner at a single place. My roommates would take turns cooking, and we'd all go on a single shopping trip during the weekend, everyone carrying bags home because taking the bus was a luxury.
I'm not saying that given a set of circumstances, there aren't people who are capable to pay for fast food, and forced into doing so. What I am saying is that these circumstances arise over a lifetime of choices(not necessarily just theirs), and at some point you have to throw up your hands and say "well, stop doing that".
I have lived in poor rural America. Here is some information for you that might help: There are no forms of public transportation. You are required to own your own car or have someone drive you. Work is usually 1 hour or more away. The grocery store is usually 30 minutes to 1 hour away. There are usually fast food restaurants within a few miles. Don't forget that America is gigantic in area and very spread out in the rural areas. However after telling you this, when I was a child we did go grocery shopping and ate things like crock pot roast beef and hamburger helper.
Every time I've visited Europe, I've been able to find a Monoprice (or a Carrefour, etc.) within walking distance of my hotel. They all had fresh meats and vegetables at reasonable prices. Nothing similar exists in most U.S. cities.
A lot of people have inconsistent access to both of these. They may not have a fridge at all; they may only have a microwave. Or they may have a fridge and a cooker, but not have the money to pay for electricity to run them.
Most poor people would benefit not from fridges, but from freezers. These allow you to buy frozen veg and keep it for a few months, and they allow you to batch cook and freeze.
> beans and rice are cheap as hell and nutritionally complete,
Absolutely not nutritionally complete - you're missing vitamins A & D and some minerals (eg, calcium).
There was an enlightening article & discussion about this last year on HN https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19133221
This isn't a definition of middle-class I've ever encountered, the bar is surely a bit higher than simply 'not poor'.
They've used $11 PPP as the lower bound. That's totally ridiculous, in most of Europe that's not even liveable. Perhaps they mean discretionary income? That would make a bit more sense.
Otherwise, it seems like they've chosen figures such that middle class ~= median global income, which is a circular definition.
The other dimension is what they're doing to earn that sort of disposable income. There are people doing some very unattractive or unsafe jobs for mid to high income by local standards.
Yes, the authors are either using a poor interpretation of PPP, or a very inclusive definition of middle-class.
Also, that’s the absolute bottom of the range, it goes up to $100/day/ per person.
> Our “middle class” classification was first developed in 2010 and has been used by many researchers. While acknowledging that the middle class does not have a precise definition that can be globally applied, the threshold we use in this work has the following characteristics: those in the middle class have some discretionary income that can be used to buy consumer durables like motorcycles, refrigerators, or washing machines. They can afford to go to movies or indulge in other forms of entertainment. They may take vacations. And they are reasonably confident that they and their family can weather an economic shock—like illness or a spell of unemployment—without falling back into extreme poverty.
I don’t think money makes you ‘middle class’. You can be a millionaire but working class, or destitute but upper class. Class is about things like background, education, tastes, social status and connections. Not cash.
I agree. But not everyone would. I think England's class system has broken down in the sense that it is no longer the case that everyone agrees what the classes are and who belongs to them. There are people who perceive class in terms of level of education, and there are people who perceive class in terms of money, and probably there are still a few people who perceive class in terms of ancestry and heraldry and Burke's Peerage.
You can be wealthy and working class, sure. But the converse is simply impractical.
How many upper class individuals are there living in a rotting house share, on benefits, hitting up the food bank?
There's a minimum amount of capital required to be able to meaningfully participate in social activities at different levels. That might not mean fantastic wealth but neither does it mean working in the corner shop (unless by choice).
The dynamic of the younger, educated, connected but poor son of a noble family is pretty important in history, even if it isn't interesting to us in the egalitarian West. But such people did sometimes succeed in making themselves rich, and probably more often succeeded in impoverishing themselves further. A lot of them ended up as bandits.
Likewise I could win the lottery tomorrow but I’d never have the background and connections to become upper class.
I'm still not so sure though. That's something of a special case, the extreme upper end and also at the end of one's life.
It feels like you at least need to at _some_ point have the wealth if not necessarily personally (e.g. whilst growing up).
While you can't be sure of their net worth (current or planned), It's not uncommon to see people in /r/leanfire and /r/financialindependence/ talking about how to keep their income below poverty thresholds to qualify for medicare and other government assistance when they decide to retire with some occasionally chiming in that they are doing that exact thing successfully right now.
Fortunately some of these programs also look at your investment and bank accounts to prevent people from doing just this.
This is an archaic definition that doesn’t really even work anymore (see tech billionaires, for example). In economic discussions, class means ‘socioeconomic status’ which is defined as net financial worth, e.g., income plus savings. It is not just common for class to be defined by cash, I guess it’s probably the most commonly used definition now. In any case, it’s very common and perfectly acceptable to draw the line between classes using income brackets.
Otherwise, we are, on average, poorer then our parents. Our kids, if you are still consider having them, will be poorer then you.
A necessary result from capitalism with fiat money. However, if your wealth exceeds a certain threshold, currently something around 1.5-2 million €, you will benefit from this system and earn more all the time.
This second transition almost certainly won't appear like the last. There are reasons to believe it may not be gradual like the transition from poverty to middle class.
Will the population be launched into wealth piece by piece, as subgroups of developed economies get access to education and then the capital necessary to make the salary of a Bay Area software engineer, for example? Are there any "natural" forces within capitalism to proliferate this prerequisite education and capital? Can a person with enough intelligence to work in a factory but not enough to get a tertiary degree hope to make this transition into wealth "on their own"?
My only bet is that the current global state of "business as usual" is completely insufficient to make the second transition for any significant proportion of the world's inhabitants.
But to suggest there is some wall to the second transition seems unfounded, as "business as usual" is what lead us here in the first place.
With many more reaching middle class it just means that the threshold to be considered middle class increases, so the bottom of the middle class will simply be downranked at some point as even though they're making more money, their power diminished.
In many developed nations, this definition would comprise a large majority of the population, and some people who would be considered poor on relative terms there (i.e. make less than half the average income) would comfortably fit into this definition of a global middle class.