Abstract

With the growth of the middle classes throughout Latin America we also witness growing discontent and protest. The same has happened in Asia, Africa and even Europe (see the other contributions in this issue). More welfare and freedom is apparently accompanied by more demands towards governments, as well as equally more disappointments. Sassen (2013, pp. 125–126) explains this by pointing to the fact that the middle classes have been the main beneficiaries of the liberal welfare state. Now, however, ‘they are protesting against the state because the state is failing them – “austerity politics” is one important manifestation of this failure’. The question emerges: Is the increase in protests in Latin America really related to the growth of the middle classes? And if so, what would explain this dissatisfaction? For some it is an easy explanation: Middle-class people simply want a steady and ‘good’ job that allows them to build their career and that of their children, including good health and education (Banerjee and Duflo, 2008, p. 26). This perspective is increasingly under pressure now that inequalities are rising again because of the impact of the global economic crisis (Birdsall et al, 2014). Therefore, this contribution to the debate on what can be expected from the middle classes in a period of crisis focuses on some of the largest countries in Latin America in which middle classes have grown substantially over the past decade: Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile. I will zoom in on Brazil, as this country by far has led middle-class growth in the region. Key questions that will be examined are: What are the implications of expanding ‘new’ middle classes in the larger Latin American societies for inclusive development strategies? How have their mobilizations and claim-making over the past few years benefited the poor? And following Wiemann’s (2015, p. 3) important question in this debate: Have the new middle classes really played a progressive role, in this case in Latin America? Below, I will address these questions by first providing a brief overview of the origins as well as the scope of the new Latin American middle classes, followed by an analysis of their changing roles and emerging contradictions, the street mobilizations of recent years, and how they perceive the limits to growth and the environment. In the concluding section I will try to answer the question whether, in the context of the current global economic crisis, it is likely that the new middle classes will be siding with the poor, or, rather, will choose to link up with the upper classes and their policies.

Additional Metadata
Keywords development economics, Latin America, middle classes
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1057/ejdr.2015.7, hdl.handle.net/1765/78146
Journal European Journal of Development Research
Citation
Biekart, K. (2015). The choice of the new latin american middle classes: Sharing or self-caring. European Journal of Development Research (Vol. 27, pp. 238–245). doi:10.1057/ejdr.2015.7