Counting the Cost

A middle class revolution?

We look at the global rise of the middle class and explore what is stoking the waves of protest around the world.

Last Modified: 04 Aug 2013 14:27
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The Arab Spring has been about the removal of dictatorial regimes, but mostly spurred on by the lack of economic opportunities.

And when we look at the protests from Brazil to Turkey, India to Russia, this is something that is being explored by social commentators and economists across the globe.

When "better off" is not necessarily good enough, we see that bigger phenomena may be involved. Protests may not merely be about leaders overstaying their welcome, but also a case of missed economic opportunities.

So, is a middle class revolution what lies behind the recent waves of protest across the world?

Speaking to Counting the Cost, Ruchir Sharma, the head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, helped to futher define this 'middle class' phenomena.

There has been a rise of the middle class in emerging economies across the globe, but who is the new middle class? According to the World Bank, in Latin America they earn more than $10 a day. The Brookings institute defines the middle class as those who spend $10 to $100 per day.

In the 20 largest emerging economies, the middle class has grown by an average 18 percentage points over the last 15 years. They now account for more than half the population.

So governments have done well to lift people out of poverty, but growth in the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China has been slowing since 2010.

The International Monetary Fund says developing nations will grow five percent this year, down from its previous forecast, and an average growth of almost seven percent in the past decade.
At the same time, China is slowing, with Finance Minister Lou Jiwei saying the economy may miss its target growth rate.


But what triggered all these protests has not been the same. In Brazil, protests were spearked by bus fare increases; as demonstrations gained strength, corruption, education and lack of investment in infrastructure became issues.

In Russia, what started out as protests against alledged voting fraud, turned on Valadimir Putin and his United Russia party, which has been in power for more than a decade.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced unprecedented protests which began over government plans to redevelop an Istanbul park. And depsite more than a decade in power, many still back the prime minister. A recent survey in Turkey though, shows that the number of Ergodan supporters has declined since the Gezi Park protests.

Meanwhile in Mexico, the country also has a rising middle class, which currently accounts for almost 40 percent of the population or 44 million people. But Mexico has not seen any protests. 

President Enrique Pena Nieto is hoping the auto industry can be one of the engines of growth in his country, removing even more people from poverty.

Mexico has become the world's fourth largest auto exporter and last year it broke its own record and produced three million vehicles.

OPEC - Decline of an empire?

Also on Counting the Cost, could fracking in the US upend the dominance of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)?

America's shale gas revolution is shattering the old world order. Some OPEC members have seen demand for their crude decline. That has raised concerns that OPEC nations are not moving fast enough to diversify thier economies.

That certainly is the thinking of Saudi billionaire investor Prince Alwaaed bin Talal.
In an open letter addressed to the Saudi oil minister, Ali Al Naimi, he warned that his country's oil-dependent economy is increasingly vulnerable to competition from the US shale revolution.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest crude oil producer, and last year it earned $336bn from petroleum exports, which accounts for 90 percent of the country's export revenues, according to OPEC.
The country has outlined plans to spend $500bn to reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons.

OPEC nations saw a record windfall of $1.3 trillion from petroleum exports last year.

We speak to Manouchehr Takin, a senior petroleum analyst at the Centre for Global Energy, who also spent nine years working for OPEC.

Watch each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2230; Saturday: 0930; Sunday: 0330; Monday: 1630. Click here for more Counting the Cost.

Follow Kamahl Santamaria @KamahlAJE and business editor Abid Ali@abidoliverali


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