In the Fast Lane to the Middle Class

Article excerpt

A world with more middle class than poor by 2022 may be a challenge to social values. A rising middle-class materialism needs a spiritual response.

Humanity is only a decade away from a major milestone: By 2022, it is forecasted, more people will be middle-class than poor.

And this shift is moving swiftly: The size of the global middle class may also double in two decades.

A world that is mostly urban and well-off will bring added freedom and new ideas to more people. But with that come challenges to social values, especially a keep-up-with-the-Joneses materialism and new uncertainties.

Those challenges are most acute in Asia, home to more than half of the rising middle class. China itself has lifted 300 million of its current 1.2 billion people out of poverty in three decades. India's middle class will boom to nearly the same size soon.

India still has strong traditions, such as family fealty, that may constrain nouveau-riche pressures on values. But China, with its rush to riches, clearly does not. So says the prime minister, Wen Jiabao.

Last month, he warned that "the fostering of the moral culture is lagging." He cited recent scandals over deliberate contamination of food, such as infant formula. …