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Half the world is now middle class or wealthier (2018) (brookings.edu)
133 points by mpweiher on Jan 20, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 84 comments

Incorrect use of the term "tipping point". Reaching this point may be noteworthy, but there is absolutely no evidence or reason to believe that the remaining poverty will diminish much more rapidly, which is what "tipping point" implies.[1] Nor do they actually claim this in the article, they just keep on misusing the term.

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).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_point_(sociology)

The authors' argument for why this is important is made here:

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.

grandparent's point, as I understand it, is that there is no substantial difference between 49% and 51%.

The middle class would be driving choices at 49% too.

> China's meteoric rise in the last two decades was born from the rise of the middle class

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 1950, 27% of people died before age 15.

In 2017 it was 4.6%. Still horrifically high, but a staggering achievement in the history of our species. [0]

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.

[0] Source: https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2019/06/Mortality-rates-o...

Reducing the infant mortality rate depends on getting out of poverty, and the line above with infant mortality rates stabilize is way higher than the $1.90/day definition of “poor” that is used in this article, in fact in a lot of the world, the income needed to escape high infant mortality is as high as what the authors of the posted article have decided to call “middle class”. See for example https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/RBPLTechPub.pdf

> I think it's sometimes hard to fathom just how bad the human condition has been for most of our history.

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!

For those interested, there's a great course on models on Coursera[1] where they (amongst other models) talk about tipping points

[1]: https://www.coursera.org/learn/model-thinking

"tipping point" implies nothing of the sort.

Schelling described no acceleration associated with it.

Then he has a very bad choice of language. Tipping point means physically that once it is reached then the scales (or whatever is in balance) tip 100% to the other side.

I don't think this is true. Per Wikipedia[1]:

> 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).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipping_point_(sociology)#Hist...

It sounds like you would have preferred your community to stay poor? I think you need you need a dab of humility - let people make their own decisions. If they choose to eat crap and get fat, that’s not a reason to delay economic progress and take away individual freedom.

Right. How would you like it if someone 1000x richer than you decided that it was unfortunate that you were (Playing video games / watching netflix / eating unhealthy food ) too often and said that it is not that great that you got a large income boost because you are spending your time doing those things

I don't want to be involved in the health decisions of the poor. But I'm required to fund dealing with the consequences. My money my vote. If you don't like it, don't take the money.

I doubt you have an accurate picture of how much of your money you are 'required' to give to the poor.

I know exactly how much goes into Medicare and Medicaid. The idea that I shouldn't have a say in how my money is spent or what strings are attached is morally bankrupt. If I owe you insulin just because you're morbidly obese in my country then you owe me to never drink soda. It's not that complicated.

How is that so many American libertarians fail to get the concept that you pay taxes because you benefit directly in terms of infrastructure and public services? And why do you often focus much more on social welfare "mooching", which is a miniscule amount compared to the amounts paid into corporate and military-industrial welfare?

I'm left wondering: if it ends at insulin, where does solidarity begin for you?

The state threatens to throw you in a cage if you don't give it your money. You give the state your money. The state then gives medicine to one person and drops a bomb on another person. Where in this story were you showing solidarity?

Many libertarians are generally obsessed with rejecting humanitarian principles and facilitating the suffering of others as an expression of freedom.

I say this as someone with libertarian ideals who does not identify with the majority of self professed libertarians.

The state is morally bankrupt, but an individual complaining about an insignificant fraction (compared to the amount spent on bombs) of money used to help a sick person is not?

I only stated my help comes with strings attached. I'm happy to pitch in for your insulin, but not if you're still drinking soda. I'm happy to be on the organ donor list. But if you're still drinking, you don't get my liver.

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.

> And all those new middle-class consumers are doing a real number on the environment,

They are enjoying life, good for them!

> but education and public health have not improved significantly, and possibly even declined for the lower middle-class.

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.

"starving fat" is not an oxymoron. You can absolutely get fat from excess calories while literally starving from malnutrition, i.e. lack of essential nutrients.

Starvation != malnourishment.

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.

> Starving fat doesn’t exist. If people choose to eat bad food that’s their choice.

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.

Except this isn't really supported by the evidence. We have examples of fast food being restricted, and it has virtually no impact on obesity or health[1]. We now have tons of data regarding the Federal government's efforts to build full-fledged grocery stores in low-income areas. And the results show virtually no impact on health[2]

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.

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/03/20/393943031/wh... [2] https://www.vox.com/2015/12/22/10644738/food-desert-evidence

i deserve to be downvoted for lack of evidence. and i have a skewed view of things. i have lived in two separate "food deserts" in the rural US in the past three years, where the nearest food sources are either fast food, "comfort food", or dollar general/family dollar, with the nearest grocery store a 20-30 minute drive. both towns have a local farmers market during growing months, but prices are very expensive compared to local wages. i see your point, but still don't think that all blame can be placed on poor consumers.

>We have examples of fast food being restricted, and it has virtually no impact on obesity or health[1]

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.

> Ouch. Lower classes genetically inferior? That's a real dangerous road you're on pal.

Decades of twin studies have consistently shown that IQ[1], obesity[2], educational attainment[3], and lifetime earnings[4] 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[5]. GWAS has confirmed that obesity is also highly polygenic, involving at least 400 SNPs[6]. The majority of those SNPs occur on genetic loci relating to brain function[7].

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.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_IQ [2] https://academic.oup.com/epirev/article/29/1/49/437222#35942... [3] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01065905 [4] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2253264 [5] https://www.nature.com/articles/mp201185 [6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6028139/ [7] https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/274654v2

The problem with this theory is that it's lazy. It's quite probably true to some extent that some of the negative outcomes disproportionately experienced by poor people are not a direct consequence of poverty, but due to common intrinsic factors that make them poor in the first place. Some of these may even be heritable. Great, now what? Short of eugenics, there's nothing you can do about that. But, and here's the thing, such common intrinsic factors cannot account for all of the negative outcomes we see. There has to be some element of poor circumstance, some lever we can push - we surely can influence outcomes positively one way or another. This whole discussion is about exploring those ways. So why on Earth would you bring up the stuff we can't change, except to shut down that discussion?

Let me draw an analogy with baldness. We can agree that baldness is a problem for humanity. Maybe not the biggest problem, but every year many people go bald and are unhappy about it. So, if we could eliminate involuntary baldness that'd be great.

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.

Social factors require social responses. Your analogy doesn't follow.

Your idea falls apart as soon as you consider the economic growth in the past. Did genetics suddenly change over the last 200 years and made everyone smarter but not in developing countries and suddenly their genetics are improving as well?

Food deserts are a problem of lack of demand, not lack of supply. Where there are people who want fresh produce people will sell it to them. See any US neighborhood mainly populated by recent immigrants from countries where people cook.

> 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.


>Meanwhile fast food is cheap

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.

Oh, wait...

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CO0COAI https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007S9ULGY

Free shipping anywhere in the US. If you keep telling people they're a victim soon they'll agree.

> It's actually terribly expensive compared to a bag of rice and potatoes

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.

I've cooked a week's worth of rice in about 30 minutes and you can cook a potato in the microwave in 5 minutes.

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.

> I've cooked a week's worth of rice in about 30 minutes and you can cook a potato in the microwave in 5 minutes.

It takes rather more effort to make an appealing and nutritious meal than microwaving a potato.

[Edited to avoid pointless arguing]

>Brown rice is better than white rice

The cultures that have for thousands of years depended on rice for most of their calories have used mainly white rice.

I don't think that's true. White rice is processed brown rice. Brown rice surely has a much longer history.

I wouldn't buy food from Amazon until they get a handle on their counterfeit problem. It's gutter-oil-at-scale waiting to happen.

>I wouldn't buy food from Amazon

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.

I don't think that argument fails, generally. The availability of rice, beans, and potatoes in bulk quantities on Amazon still does not make them accessible to the poor. The poor are frequently unbanked, and prepaid card schemes with predatory fees are not an improvement. They also are more likely to live in neighborhoods where packages are stolen.

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.

The term "food desert" is defined in such a way as to exclude most forms of inexpensive vegetables that poor people actually eat, such as frozen or canned, and many other foods which are approximately just as healthy. These people don't lack access to healthy food, they simply don't have the money to buy expensive boutique fresh foods that only the odd cultural elitist thinks is necessary for healthy eating (and absent any scientific evidence). We've defined "food desert" to mean "nobody buys expensive, unnecessary food", which sounds suspiciously like poor people are demonstrating good judgment.

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.

It's not really "their choice." Try eating well when you live 2km away from a grocery store, work 2 jobs and have to consider a bus ticket's impact on your budget. Unless you're very determined, you're going to have fast food.

I don't know the realities of the weird city life Americans experience, but the places I've lived in Europe make this trivial.

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 don't know the realities of the weird city life Americans experience, but the places I've lived in Europe make this trivial.

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.

> I don't know the realities of the weird city life Americans experience, but the places I've lived in Europe make this trivial.

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.

When I got laid off, my family and I ate beans and rice for a month or two. Beans and rice make a complete protein and we'd occasionally add something like a sweet potato or peas for vitamins or flavor. Like most habits the first week or so is a little hard and then it gets easier. But you can feed a family surprisingly healthy food for a few bucks a day if you're willing to eat very simply.

If you have access to cooking facilities and a fridge you can absolutely do that. I used to have to watch my budget carefully and I ate a lot of frozen vegetables fried in butter among other cheap and nutritious things like porridge. If a bus ticket will meaningfully move your budget beans and rice are cheap as hell and nutritionally complete, as are potatoes and milk. If you’re not determined that’s a choice.

This isn't something the average urban poor family is going to think about or attempt for many, many reasons, and I don't consider that to be their fault. I think we have a fundamental disagreement about responsibility that won't be resolved on an internet forum.

> If you have access to cooking facilities and a fridge

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).

Is this comment based on personal experience?

Not my own experience, but close 2nd hand.

This framing is extremely suspect IMO; the article and figure 1 calls people in extreme poverty “poor” and people in poverty “vulnerable”. Extreme poverty is not just “poor”, extreme poverty is a line below which one cannot afford enough food to keep them alive, and doesn’t include housing or anything else. The “vulnerable” line is below $11/day, and some economists have argued the definition of global poverty should be higher than that. These dollar numbers are in adjusted PPP (purchasing power parity) so you can compare them to what you make & spend in the US, for example. $11/day is $4k/year, which is very far below what we call poverty in the US (our line is almost $12k), so why are we okay with calling that poverty elsewhere? People earning the equivalent of $11/day are not going to movies.

There was an enlightening article & discussion about this last year on HN https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19133221

> the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty

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 numbers are supposed to be purchasing power parity adjusted. But then, they're supposed to be purchasing power parity adjusted to reflect US purchasing power, and $11/hr certainly isn't middle class in most parts of the US. [the reality is that PPP adjustments are impossible to do accurately; some people earning $11PPP have big houses, servants and privately educated kids and some people are actually earning $11/hr in the US or Western Europe]

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.

It's $11/day, not $11/hr.

Yes, the authors are either using a poor interpretation of PPP, or a very inclusive definition of middle-class.

It’s $11 ppp per person per day of “spending”, so for a household of 4 people that’s $16k. I would think that world would be both discretionary spending and non-discretionary spending. While that would certainly classify as extreme poverty in most of the highly developed world, the definition of middle class seems to be (roghly) ‘able to pay for minimal housing and purchase durable goods without starving.’ I can by that that is possible in emerging markets for $16k ppp for a household.

Also, that’s the absolute bottom of the range, it goes up to $100/day/ per person.

> By our calculations, as of this month, just over 50 percent of the world’s population, or some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered “middle class” or “rich.”

> 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.

Emphasis mine

I suggest you read the linked methodology about how they concluded their definitions. It's pretty thorough.


While I agree, at least things seem to be moving in the right direction.

Whether things are moving in the right direction depends on how you measure things and who you believe. There are lots of signs in the positive direction, but Jason Hickel famously argued that things are moving in the wrong direction everywhere except China (https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2019/2/3/pinker-and-global-...) and that even including China, at the current rate it could take 200-500 years to resolve global poverty (https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2019/4/27/200-years-to-end-...)

Reminds me of Hans Rosling's talks, for example https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_the_best_stats_you_ve....

> enough discretionary expenditure to be considered “middle class”

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.

> 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.

This is only true in one direction.

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).

Back when most wealth was inherited (before 1800 say), upper class families used to practice primogeniture, or giving all the money to the oldest son. If they didn't do that, then the kids in the nth generation would get something like a 1/2^n share. In that case, nobody in the family would have enough money to support a presence at court to lobby for the family's interests, and eventually their claim to noble status would die out. Upper class parents concluded that having some wealthy sons was better than having no wealthy sons eventually.

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.

If you’re born a baronet, go to Eton, take a commission in the Guards, but end your days alone and penniless in a care home then I think you’re still upper class until the day you die.

Likewise I could win the lottery tomorrow but I’d never have the background and connections to become upper class.

Hmm, yeah, you're right there (on both examples).

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).

> on benefits, hitting up the food bank?

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.

Perhaps you would prefer the term "middle income." I think your conception of the term class and the one used in the article are different. By substituting the term "middle class" for "middle income"this issue is sidestepped.

> Class is about things like background, education, tastes, social status and connections. Not cash.

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.

Although this definition is not in use as much as it used to be for those in the American middle and lower classes, it is very very much alive and well in the American upper classes. If you don't live in the "good" neighborhoods and you went to public school and you've never been to Europe then you're going to get looked down upon. Yes, there are people that made their money in one generation. These are the Nouveau riche. They may find that they are not as accepted as the guy that drives an old Mercedes and wears second-hand clothes. It's about how your were raised. And accessorizing. :-)

In that sense, the archaic definition of upper class exists and is being as a mechanism for social prejudice and exclusivity; as a way to keep new money out. I don’t disagree it exists, but I’d argue it’s socially harmful and that we should actively strive to replace that definition with the one that’s actually measurable, rather than arguing against socio-economic status as a synonym for social class like the GP’s comment did.

It does to Americans though, or at least to some and is the definition being used here.

The only reason it gives you the illusion of beeing richer then our previous generations is, that you can now buy tons of cheap Chinese shit for which your grandparents had to buy very expensive western utilities (the stuff that still works).

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.

half of what world? certainly not earth?

When will half of the world be upper class, where making more money won't increase their happiness? That is $75,000 per year in 2013 USD.

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.

I think we can do things better for sure, and it's a tragedy for all those in poverty that it will still take time, perhaps outside their lifetime.

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.

The idea that you can arbitrarily label a dollar value as the the point of the no return is pretty absurd. Even forgetting the differences in cost of living for different areas.

Wealth classes are relative to the purchasing power and cost of living.

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.

The article gives a definition of what they mean by middle class in absolute terms: - being able to afford durable goods such as motorcycles and washing machines - not having to fear extreme poverty due to illness or unemployment right away

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.

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