Americans have lately been debating the tradeoffs we face as the global poor rise. Their gains have been enormous and unprecedented. And yet the American working class has struggled to better itself even as conditions have improved for most others:
Percentiles 80-95 contain many from the relatively rich countries’ lower-income classes; there are a lot of Americans in there. Other factors may be at work, but let’s say for the sake of argument that the gains by the global poor have on balance harmed at least some of them.
So why is this happening? Is it part of some other nation’s malicious plan? Is it China, perhaps? Or India? Or did we inadvertently do it to ourselves, through bad trade agreements or “soft” foreign policy?
It’s natural to want to make the story about us, or our actions, or a villain who threatens us. Those sorts of explanations are politically useful; they suggest that the right leader can get us out of the mess we’re in.
But maybe the correct explanation isn’t about us at all. One way to see this is to ask a slightly different question: Why is the Great Global Enrichment happening right now? Why didn’t it happen in the 1960s? It happened in the 1960s in Japan, after all. It presumably could have happened elsewhere too. So why not?