You can’t build a successful community without a middle class

First it was Thomas Piketty with his call for a global wealth tax. Now it’s Oxfam with a 7-point program that is as unlikely to be adopted as Piketty’s global tax. A socialist approach (it would have to be government-mandated to have any chance of working), it would require a level of international cooperation far in excess of any treaty on climate change. And pigs will fly. It is not going to happen and it shouldn’t.

When I hear people come up with such unrealistic global “solutions” that require nations as different as Iran, China, the US, Italy, Jamaica, Singapore, and Nigeria to agree to a sweeping reduction in their sovereignty to meet the needs of the fading elite of the North Atlantic, I suggest they first go to school.

The classroom is Europe. When and if the European Union (sic) and its eurozone are able to work out a common policy on financial matters and implement it successfully, that will still not be enough to guarantee adoption of a global policy, but at least it can be called a “proof of concept”. Until then, these calls for global action are just a means of gaining publicity and maybe funding. Well, that’s the free market in ideas at work. I have no problem with that, but it won’t work and it doesn’t confront a fundamental problem.

I also am very unhappy with this concentration of vast wealth in the hands of a small minority too. It is dangerous and such an extreme imbalance has a very bad track record. A similar situation seemed to require a massive global intervention in the 19th century and some people (Karl Marx comes immediately to mind) could only see it as a conflict between their definition of “capitalism” and their definition of “socialism”. Terms like “private enterprise”, “market economy”, and “mixed economy” never occurred to them and, as a result, their simplistic views collapsed in the face of changes beyond their comprehension. They did not create the new world of the 20th century. A rising middle class with a sense of being “stakeholders” in their community did the real work, regardless of the ideological outcome.

Don’t worry about the folks at Davos. Whatever their ideological perspective, they are totally globalized. The wealthy can afford to “go global” and they have done so with great enthusiasm as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of China to the outside world have allowed.

Unexpectedly, the poor have become more globalized as well. In search of employment or relief from authoritarianism, many of them have more experience living in nations other than their home nations than is true of most Americans.

If the wealthy face problems, they can buy their way around them. If the poor face problems, they have organizations (like Oxfam) to represent their interests.

The missing element in this emerging global community is a globalized middle class. I say “globalized” because without experience outside their home nations, they won’t fully appreciate the need for change or feel any stake in seeking it. Addressing wealth disparities does not benefit from either the fiat of governments or foreign NGOs. It will come from a middle class that insists on it from its own experience, and it is far more likely to be balanced and successful as well. The proof of concept lies in the histories of many economically successful nations with far less of an imbalance in wealth today.

Through neither fiat nor design, we are developing a “global community”. It does not require a world government and will not. In nearly five decades of work in economic development, frequently for NGOs like Oxfam, in nearly as many nations that included interaction with politicians at every level, I never met one who was the least bit interested in turning over their authority, at whatever level, to some distant “world government”. Forget it, they’re not interested. If Europe can’t do it, the world isn’t even thinking about it.

If you believe, as I do, in the growth of a sense of global community (the need to work together for a common human cause) than focus on the middle class. Many of them are willing to relocate. I have written twice on this topic for Barron’s with statistics demonstrating that desire in the US and others have done the same for other nations. Once again, look to Europe and you will see it in action.

Although money can move freely across borders and goods and services can now move far more easily across borders, middle class people still face major obstacles. They don’t have to be forced to “go global”, they want to and by personal decision, not by fiat. Yet from visas and work permits to moving their personal effects, they face major problems without the money to get around them easily or the special interest groups to plead their case.

Many of these problems have solutions that aren’t obvious to newbies, but there are substantive things that can be done to make the transition easier and acceptable to the host nation’s people too. But no one gives the middle class any help, they have no global advocate, so we lose many who never even visit, convinced that it won’t work. It can work and it does.

For those who think the middle class can be ignored while this nascent global community is being built around them, I can only say what I have said before.

Watch Europe.

——-

This is a personal blog, more of a notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. It is where I jot down thoughts that are important to me and may potentially be used in other commentaries for general publication. I write when time and spirit allow. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. I already have too many in my “address book”. Rest assured, yours will be kept private.

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