I know families where three or four people live in a five bedroom house with a two car garage and a swimming pool. Yet they feel oppressed by the fact that they don’t have enough space. The kitchen needs to be remodeled. The bathrooms are outdated… We all get distracted from real needs and confuse them with superficial desires.
It sometimes helps to see the world from an entirely different perspective. What does the actual global middle class looks like? By “middle”, I mean… take all 7.3 billion people on the planet and line them up according to material wealth like a statistician. Then look toward the center. Almost all North Americans, Europeans, Australians, and Japanese are going to be at the far end of that spectrum – even the ones who would describe themselves as “very poor.” Many urban Mexicans, Chileans, Brazilians, South Koreans, and coastal Chinese will still be pretty far in the “rich” end of the display even though these are often described as “middle income” locations. So who’s the real “middle” and what does that look like?
The real middle looks like this. A family of four living in two rooms totaling about 200 square feet. The house is comfortable, spotlessly clean, very well organized, and provides everything the family needs – including a few luxuries like a nice TV, cell phones, a fridge, and a gas cooktop. They eat enough, although not extravagantly. Food is expensive in India. Since these are good Hindus they don’t eat meat at all. But eggs and dairy are enjoyed at many meals. This neighborhood in central New Delhi is safe and stable. The two sons go to a private school. Medical care is expensive, but just within the grasp of the family budget if they work hard, are frugal, and maintain creative arrangements with the right people. (This is India…)
Outside in the courtyard is a sink, toilet, and bathing room which they share with the family next door. There are two or three billion people on the planet who would consider such things magnificent improvements over their current circumstances. This family isn’t poor. By world standards they’re the true middle. And like all middle classes their position is precarious. They aren’t wealthy enough to be completely secure in their status. They need to work very hard to maintain what they have. And if they fall behind they don’t have a big cushion. But overall, life is pretty good.
Let’s go back to the North American model. The people who live in these homes are fantastically rich. Magnificently well off. God has shined on them. But they don’t know it. And really, they don’t need most of what they have. It’s nice. But it’s all just froth. It’s extra. And having more isn’t going to increase their happiness. Having a little less, if they’re surrounded by family and friends, might not hurt at all.
This piece was originally published on Granola Shotgun, Johnny's blog, and is republished with his permission.