Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Mexico’s Middle Class, Poverty in India, and More

by Isobel Coleman
March 23, 2012

A customer pays for merchandise at a Walmart store in Mexico City, November 17, 2011 (Henry Romero/Courtesy Reuters).


Charles Landow features a range of developments in this edition of Missing Pieces. I look forward to your thoughts.

  • Mexico’s Middle Class: A Washington Post piece chronicles the rise of a little-noticed Mexican phenomenon: the middle class, which is “fast becoming the majority” of Mexico’s 114 million people. The article credits NAFTA for booming investment, leading to a surge of jobs and increased consumption of homes, cars, and more. Fertility rates are down and educational attainment up. One potential implication for the United States: reduced immigration as more Mexicans find opportunities at home. CFR’s Shannon O’Neil discussed Mexico’s middle class in a video and blog post last year.
  • Poverty in India: Following the release of Indian census data last week and World Bank global poverty estimates the week before, India’s Planning Commission published its own poverty estimates. Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the commission said, poverty fell from 37.2 to 29.8 percent overall, with rural poverty dropping from 41.8 to 33.8 percent and urban poverty from 25.7 to 20.9 percent. A Wall Street Journal blog post reports that some critics charged the commission with lowering the poverty line in order to pad the reductions. This is untrue, as a New York Times post explains. But the thresholds are still low: 672.8 rupees, or about $13, per month for rural Indians and 859.6 rupees, or about $17, for urban ones. India’s government recognizes that these cutoffs miss the true scope of need, saying they will not be used to determine access to entitlements.
  • The Turkish Model: As CFR’s Rob Danin reports in a blog post, a recent poll shows that about three-quarters of Arab respondents favor Turkey’s political system as a model for transitioning Arab states. But a article argues that Ankara’s example is flawed. With the Kurdish conflict unsettled, the world’s largest number of journalists in jail, and sprawling judicial investigations, the piece contends, “Turkey’s own democracy continues to show signs of rot.” Without reform, this could cost Ankara influence with the West and in the Arab world. CFR’s Steven Cook discusses these issues in an analysis of Turkey’s upcoming constitutional reforms.
  • The Singaporean and Brazilian Models: Two pieces weigh the merits of other models for developing countries. First, an Economist blog post dismisses Singapore’s suitability. Though many believe it transformed from “malarial swamp” to wealthy trading hub in “only a generation or two,” the post argues, Singapore’s development actually began in the 19th century, when it prospered as a British outpost. This “very unusual history will be impossible to emulate or reproduce, and others should probably just quit trying.” On the Huffington Post, a World Bank official makes a more sanguine case for African states to follow Brazil. That country’s macroeconomic stability, fair treatment of investors, openness to international competition (including for its state-sponsored firms), agricultural innovations, effective cash transfers, and democratic politics make it “worth imitating in Africa.”

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