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Can the planet handle more middle-class humans?

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Historically, the growth of the middle class has presaged democracy. Middle classes throughout history have wanted a government that reconciles their differences and reflects their interests. Since Athens, they have rejected the idea that one person born into privilege or good with a sword or deemed to be divinely ordained is entitled to rule.

“Non quis sed quid” is the ancient motto: “not who but what.” If you can do the job, you’ve got the job.

The middle class is not uniformly virtuous, of course. Too many middle-class Germans voted for Hitler. Too many middle-class Americans and South Africans supported institutional racism. Those in the middle have fallen for propaganda and fads. Because only a slight drop in income can cause them to fall back into poverty, they are susceptible to fear and doubt.

There’s more that’s not great. Affluence multiplied by billions of Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, Africans, Latin Americans, Arabs, and Southeast Asians devours resources. That leads to rapacious extraction, rising prices, and competitive clashes. More consumption also means more waste. The United Nations 2010 “World Development Report” worries that with the carbon footprint of today’s middle class, carbon emissions will triple by mid-century.

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