July 12, 2012

Pervasive Gloom About the World Economy

Chapter 5. The Winners and Losers

Emerging Economies Are Upbeat

Emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India and Turkey are upbeat about their personal and national economic situation. They generally feel they are better off than they were five years ago and that they are doing better than their parents. Nevertheless, they are divided over whether the economy is going to improve in the near future and in three of four countries most are pessimistic about their kids’ future.

The Chinese, in particular, are quite positive about their economic situation, with 92% saying they are better off than the previous generation, 83% are satisfied with current national economic conditions, 70% feel they are financially more prosperous than they were five years ago and 69% are happy with their own personal economic circumstances. But the Brazilians are even more upbeat when it comes to their personal finances (75%), and 72% say they are better off financially than five years ago. In contrast, the Turks and Indians, while positive, are generally less optimistic across a range of indicators than are their emerging market counterparts.

Thinking about the future, while strong majorities of Brazilians (84%) and Chinese (83%) think the economy will improve over the next 12 months, only a plurality of Indians (45%) and Turks (44%) agree. Regarding their children’s future, only in China (57%) does a majority think the next generation will have an easy time exceeding the well-being of their parents. And the median for Brazil, China, India and Turkey is a more pessimistic 35%. Nevertheless, taken together the four emerging market countries are much more optimistic than Americans (only 14% think their kids will have an easy time climbing the economic ladder) or Europeans (a median of 9%).

Brazilians (69%) and Indians (67%) are among the strongest believers that hard work leads to success. But the Turks (50%) and the Chinese (45%) are more skeptical.

Brazilians (75%), Chinese (74%) and Indians (61%) are among those with the greatest faith in capitalism. Turks (55%) are slightly less committed to the free market.

As might be expected, people in emerging markets who have higher incomes are generally more positive in their economic outlook, with some notable exceptions. Upper-income Brazilians and Indians are much more likely to say that their economy is doing well than are their low income compatriots. But there is no effective difference in assessment of the economy between low-income and high-income Chinese or Turks. And, given the recent relative success of their economies, it may not be surprising that Indians and Turks who are well off are particularly supportive of the current free market system.

The difference in economic attitudes between people with high incomes and people with low incomes is most notable in India, where the rich are markedly more satisfied than the poor as measured by a range of indicators. By a margin of 25 percentage points, high-income Indians are more satisfied than low-income Indians with their personal economic situation. The rich in India are more likely, by 13 points, to say they are better off than they were five years ago. By 10 points they are more likely than the less well off to subscribe to the belief that hard work leads to success. And by nine points, they are more likely to say that their children can do even better financially than their parents.

Among the 21 countries surveyed, Mexico and Russia are also often considered emerging economies by financial analysts. But, in terms of the economic attitudes of their populations, Mexico and Russia have little in common with Brazil, China, India and Turkey. Just over half of Mexicans and Russians think they are better off than their parents, compared with a median of nearly three-in-four Brazilians, Chinese, Indians and Turks. Similarly, about half of the Mexicans and Russians say their personal economic situation is good, compared with a median of two-in-three Brazilians, Chinese, Indians and Turks. And only about a third of Mexicans and Russians believe their country’s economy is doing well and that they are better off financially compared with five years ago. A median of about three-fifths in Brazil, China, India and Turkey think they are doing better and say their nation’s economy is doing well.

The Arab World is Downbeat

The general economic mood is particularly grim in the Arab nations surveyed, except in Tunisia.

Strong majorities in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt say their standard of living has either not improved or gotten worse over the last generation. In contrast, 57% of all Tunisians think their lives are better than that of their parents.

Majorities in Egypt (76%), Lebanon (73%) and Jordan (64%) also think their personal economic situation is bad. But only 43% of Tunisians agree.

Differences in economic attitudes in Lebanon between religious groups are particularly notable. Sunni and Shia Muslims are more likely than Christians to say that their personal economic conditions are bad. Sunni are much more likely than Shia or Christians to claim that they are worse off than their parents.

In all four Arab countries surveyed people without a college education are far more likely than those with a college education to say that their own financial circumstances are bad. Notably, only in Tunisia is there a generation gap with regard to personal financial circumstances. Younger Tunisians and Lebanese, those 18-t0-29 years of age, are significantly more upbeat about their own economic situation than are people 50 years of age and older. And people in all the Arab countries surveyed overwhelmingly believe that it will be difficult for their children to get a better job or to become wealthier than their parents.

The Lebanese in particular doubt the value of hard work. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say it is no guarantee of economic success. The Jordanians question capitalism: more than half (54%) say people are not better off in a market economy.