Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rich middle class vs. The Poor in Laos

I had a conversation about a recently opened new fancy restaurant and someone mentioned, it is "for the rich middle class". Let me work on this expression a bit.
First of all, question is what "rich middle class" means. Is it upper middle class? Or lower upper class? Anyway, it sounds a bit jealous, like "the ones with money". But it reveals something I hear a lot from the developing sector (the ones usually friend with every farmer out there): The scepticism about the middle class.

MIX restaurant inside

So what is the middle class in the US? They are white collar workers, owning a house (still), living in suburbs, and they are the majority of the American people.

"Depending on class model used, the middle class may constitute anywhere from 25% to 66% of households" says the almighty Wikipedia.

What is for sure is that the middle class is the driving factor in the US when it comes to consumption, but more important to influence.
Considering the overwhelming presence of professional middle-class persons in post secondary education, another essential instrument in regards to shaping public opinion, it should come as no surprise that the lifestyle exclusive to this quasi-elite has become indicative of the American mainstream itself. In addition to setting trends, the professional middle class also holds occupations which include managerial duties, meaning that middle-class professionals spend much of their work-life directing others and conceptualizing the workday for the average worker.
In Germany the middle class follows the same concept, adding the middle class enterprises who are still responsible for the Made in Germany label and the overall positive economic outlook. And the trend of a shrinking middle class is already a threat there.

So what about Laos (and other emerging countries)? They usually lack of a middle class. Either communist or autocratic or monarchy, the do have a rich elite and a poor majority. While the elites interest is in just keeping power and money, the poor just look for enough food. No development possible.

This is where the middle class comes in. One of the few advantages of NGOs is that they basically help to create this class by offering over well paid office jobs and education. Only these young people are able to develop a country, seeing a chance to earn money without being part of the elite. They create start-ups, they are the entrepreneurs a country like Laos needs. And they create (or copy) a new urban lifestyle. This is what happens in Vientiane right now.

Those who complain about it just want to keep the poor poor (and don't want to create a middle class, what is quite revealing). It saves their jobs in the developing sector, and doesn't piss off the elite, who usually has to agree to set up a development project.

There is NO WAY for a country like Laos to get out of misery without a lively functional middle class. It is yet too small, and a bit to much in consumption and less in working hard, but that just may take some time. As usual here.

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