Are We Entering The Bullwhip Curve?

Published by Chris Oestereich on

The Economist took on a recent Oxfam publication which predicts that the 1% will own half of the world’s wealth by 2016.  (The chart on the left below shows the Oxfam forecast.)  The article in The Economist admonishes the Oxfam pub for their choice of dates (2010-2014) in projecting the trend, stating that starting instead in the year 2000 would push the milestone out to 2035. (Some solace.)

Income is a better measure to worry about, says The Economist piece, and as data from Branko Milanovic shows (chart on the right below), the global middle class has made great strides in recent decades.

It’s hard to argue against the movement of millions out of poverty, but I wonder if the gains are ephemeral.

When I first saw Mr. Milanovic’s graph, I called it the “Elephant Curve.” It featured a large hump to the left and an upturned trunk to the right.  I’ve since thought a bit about how this curve might change in the future.  If current trends continue, I suspect we’ll see something akin to the backside of the Kuznet’s Curve wherein the fortunes of the global middle will slowly reverse. If that occurs, rather than an elephant, the curve might resemble a bullwhip as the global middle class watched their gains stall.  This “wave” might then continue on down the income distribution.

[bctt tweet=”The curve might resemble a bullwhip as the global middle class watched their gains stall.”]

I assume some event(s) would eventually break the cycle, but I can’t see how it would happen without a demand, as enlightened self-interest seems a thing which demands a swift kick in the rear to get it going.

Yet another gloomy prediction in which I fully hope I’m wrong.
We shall see.