What is the future of the American middle class in a world where manufacturing can be done so much more cheaply in Asia and Latin America? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
For me the answer about the "American middle class" starts with the recognition that versions of this question are being asked in every single country around the world. Obviously the rich-country version of the question is different from what people are asking in becoming-richer economies in Southeast Asia and Latin America, and in still mainly poor economies in parts of Africa and the Middle East. The point is that the pressures of this era of globalization and of technology -- the globalization making labor markets around the world more and more one big market, the technology dramatically increasing returns for some people at the top and putting pressure on many people in the middle -- are being felt everywhere. So each society has to come up with its version on a response. These same pressures are making the world richer "as a whole," and "on average." And in countries like China they have dramatically improved the welfare of hundreds of millions of people. But they're not making everyone better off at the same time or in an equal way.
Reading note interlude: a quarter-century ago, this whole question, and the preceding paragraph, were much more controversial issues. In those days more people in the U.S. clung to the simple view that a growing world economy would necessarily help everyone everywhere in a more-or-less equitable way. I was living in Japan in those days and made my version of a contrary case in articles like "" and " ."
I belabor this point to say that the middle-class issues is not simply a question of "China / Mexico / etc is stealing our jobs," as so often stressed in the campaign. They are having middle-class problems of their own. But there is a version of "stealing our jobs" that is worth paying attention to. And that, in my view, is that different societies can position themselves better to deal with these pressures in a way that leaves their members better- rather than worse-off.
The details of that are beyond my scope here, and in this hour. I hint at some of them in the ending to: essentially, fashioning this era's version of Progressive-era remedies and protections, to allow our society to respond to this era's counterpart to Gilded Age pressures. But I'll leave it at this for now.
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