The middle class might be developing a bit of a complex about its size. After all, rarely a month goes by without a headline about how it is “shrinking”. Sometimes the preferred verb is “hollowing out”, but that doesn’t sound too great either.
The latest shrinkage alert comes from the OECD, in a new report showing that the middle class now accounts for just 61% of the populations of member countries, down from 64% in the mid-80s.
But is a smaller middle class a bad thing? It depends. The middle class might be contracting for three very different reasons; because there are more people on high incomes; because there are more people on low incomes; or because there are more people on both high and low incomes.
Reasonable people can disagree on this point. If we want to argue about income inequality, we should do so clearly and directly, rather than doing so at one remove through a debate about the size of the middle class.
- What do you think it means to be middle class?
- What kind of inequality matters more – the top pulling away, or the bottom being left behind?
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