Can the Global Middle Class Effect Change?

Editor’s Note: Russia Direct interviewed a number of pundits about the role that U.S. and Russian middle classes play in improving bilateral relations and the impact they might have on geopolitics. Below is Senior Fellow Carol Graham’s interview excerpt.

First of all, the two middle classes share what all middle classes share, which is being beyond poverty and vulnerability but not being in the ranks of the wealthy. As such, they are usually professional or semi-professional cohorts with aspirations for themselves and their children, with technical or higher education, and with some sense of support for market economies and democracy – e.g. the system that they live under.

Of course, that distinguishes the two classes, as the U.S. system, for all its flaws, has been in place for a long time and the sense or belief in the middle class as a backbone of sorts for the system has also been there a long time.

In contrast, in Russia, the system is still in flux and the nature of democracy there is also quite different. The modern (e.g. post Soviet) middle class is a fairly new phenomenon and its identity is still developing.

Its frustration with the system, meanwhile, was evidenced by the protests of two years ago.

So, can the two middle classes have joint ventures? Possibly, but not likely, as these things are more easily established when there are joint business interests, and those are usually identified by the leaders of businesses, large or small, but most likely large.

[Regarding their impact on bilateral policy], the only way that the middle classes can influence bilateral relations is in the amount of support (or not) that they demonstrate for their respective regimes and their policies.

While all recognize that the middle class is important, it is still a relatively amorphous concept, and the nature of its influence is hard to identify precisely. As such, stretching that to its influence in bilateral relations is even harder.