We Americans are used to being wealthy. Heck, by global standards, even the poor among us are rich. Where else do the poor have an obesity problem? We’re so wealthy that immigrants sneak across our borders, work jobs so demeaning and low-paying that no American would ever want them, and then make enough money to send back home to support their families.
It’s been this way for as long as any American can remember. Yet things are changing. India’s middle class, in absolute terms, is bigger than America’s. China now has billionaires. According to Just One Minute, China is growing so fast that building building two nuclear plants a year will barely scratch the surface of its expected energy needs.
So here’s something I’ve always wondered about. There has never been a moment in history when the entire world was like the United States, where even the poorest of the poor could be assured they would never go hungry (I realize there are a few exceptions to this, but on a global scale, U.S. poverty is virtually nonexistant). If we ever do get to that point, would it be sustainable? Or must there necessarily always be an underclass in order for capitalism to work? We enjoy a high standard of living here because we can buy cheap DVD players, computers, appliances, sneakers — nearly everything, really — from people who make ten dollars a day or less. What would happen if no one in the world made less than, say, six dollars an hour?
Would a $39 DVD player even be possible? Or is there something I’m missing? Maybe in order for China to rise, as now seems inevitable, someone else has to fall. Maybe it will be America. If I’m wrong about this, I hope someone will let me know.