"China's rapid growth has been a kind of anesthetic that keeps political discontent manageable," says Brink Lindsey, whose book "The Age of Abundance" links America's post-World War II prosperity and its mind-opening educational opportunities to the social and political upheaval of the 1960s and '70s. "But already [in China] things are dramatically different. People have much more freedom in their lives."
That's a sneak preview, he says, of what lies ahead for developing countries – particularly the awakening giants of the middle class: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the so-called BRICS economies.
Far from Rio de Janeiro's beaches and boutiques, Shopping Jardim Guadalupe is emblematic of the global economic boom fueled by Brazil, India, and China. "I want your store in my mall," reads a recent ad for the megacomplex due to open in November. It will be a hub of middle-class aspiration with not just a food court, eight anchor stores, six "megastores," and 250 smaller shops, but also a university, private high school, gym, medical center, movie theaters, and a bowling alley. More than 84 percent of the property has been sold.
Millions have long lived in Rio's poor suburbs, but only recently have they had enough money to attract a mall developer. From 2003 to 2008, 24 million people left poverty in Brazil, where the middle class now accounts for more than half of its roughly 191 million citizens. At home, they enjoy color TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners. Half have a computer; more than a third have Internet access.