No matter what time period you are referring to, no matter what country or region of the world you are referencing, there is a single claim that you can make that will always be true and will never be challenged, not even by Malcolm Gladwell himself: the middle class is always in the process of emerging.
The Locust Economy
I was picking the brain of a restauranteur for insight into things like Groupon. He confirmed what we all understand in the abstract: that these deals are terrible for the businesses that offer them; that they draw in nomadic deal hunters from a vast surrounding region who are unlikely to ever return; that most deal-hunters carefully ensure that they spend just the deal amount or slightly more; that a badly designed offer can bankrupt a small business. He added one little factoid I did not know: offering a Groupon deal is by now so strongly associated with a desperate, dying restaurant that professional food critics tend to write off any restaurant that offers one without even trying it.[more inside]
Buying useful things, like roads and universities and health care and solar energy and spaceships, should be better stimulus than fighting wars.
"Liberals have not always been very good at communicating why liberalism works. There’s many reasons for this, but part of it is that it can be hard to defend the obvious from an absurd and deceptive attack. For half a century you had to be a crank to oppose what Roosevelt accomplished; liberals got out of the habit of arguing for their beliefs. I hope this page will help. Liberals don’t need to apologize for their vision of how American society should work. Liberalism saved American capitalism and democracy, defeated Naziism, created a prosperous middle class, and benefited every sector of society, from the back streets to Wall Street. " Mefi's own Zompist (previously) on Why Liberalism Works.
The comparative experience thus suggests that for inequality reduction, it is the quantity of taxes rather than the progressivity of the tax system that matters most. Affluent countries that achieve substantial inequality reduction do so with tax systems that are large but no more progressive than ours [America's]. [more inside]
The Global Middle Class Is Bigger Than We Thought A new way of measuring prosperity has enormous implications for geopolitics and economics.[...] the number of passenger cars in circulation serves as the most reliable gauge we have about the size of a country's middle class.
“You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.” Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher of the NY Times give an in-depth report on Apple's migration of electronics manufacturing to Asia and its impact on middle class Americans.
Over the past three weeks, Israel has experienced what may perhaps be the largest, spontaneous / grass roots social protest of the secular middle class that it has witnessed in decades. Thousands of demonstrators in cities and towns throughout the country have been protesting cuts in government funding to health care and education, and massive, exorbitant rises in taxes and housing costs -- and demanding change. Tent cities have sprung up in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and in public gardens and parks throughout the country. And they may not be going anywhere: polls indicate Israeli support is "exceptionally high". [more inside]
The housing bubble was the last chance most middle-class families saw for grasping the brass ring. Working hard didn’t pay off. Investing in the stock market was a sucker’s bet. But the housing bubble allowed middle-class families to dream again and more importantly to keep spending as if they were getting a big fat raise every year. - How the Bubble Destroyed the Middle Class