Last month I commented on Francis Fukuyama’s essay on worldwide political turmoil led by the new middle classes in emerging countries and the degree to which it is being driven by the failure of governments to meet the rising expectations of the newly prosperous and educated.
Recently, Alan Murray, President of the Pew Research Center, reported on a somewhat related Pew study released in the spring, which surveyed nearly 40,000 people in 39 countries on middle class aspirations. Unlike the Fukuyama focus on the failure of government to meet expectations, Murray highlighted the responses to the question of to whom or to what these emerging middle class populations will look for role models. The results were a mixed bag for America and the West in general and should be instructive for us. For example, 37% of respondents in emerging countries said it was good that U. S. ideas were spreading, while 32% said the same about Chinese ideas, and in the same countries, 51% said they liked U. S. ways of doing business, while 42% said the same about China. To be fair, the gaps in the responses from the developed countries were generally wider, but the point is well taken–the jury is still out on which role model will be dominant for these newly emerging and prosperous middle classes. Murray makes the point that, unlike the first such middle class surge in the 19th century and the second one after World War II, this third surge will not necessarily be rooted in Western values. This would seem to have significant implications for our economic and political role in the world and suggests that we had better get busy about recommitting ourselves to understanding, transmitting, and practicing these values as well as insuring their spread if we are to have hope for their survival. It is clear to me that this re-commitment must begin with our leading institutions of higher education, whose infatuation with moral relativism and multiculturalism has played a leading role in undermining these values for several decades.