Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The growing middle class of Laos



Last Saturday I went to see Bodyslam, a famous Thai rock band, at a big stadium built quite far outside of the city centre (more like in the middle of nowhere at the end of a dark road) for the purpose of SEA games in 2009. The concert itself was good and well organized. What was very eye-opening however was to see the huge crowd of a growing middle class generation. There were thousands and thousands of young people, dressed up like young people in any western country would do. No signs of the traditional sin- skirts whatsoever. Of course you see these young people in central Vientiane, too, but seeing this mass of them made me realize what a huge impact they could and would have on the future development of this country.

Obviously this generation wants the same clothing, same gear and other equipment as any other teenager and twenty-something in Europe, Japan, Australia, North America etc. This generation of urban Lao people will not settle for anything less and they’ll grow up in such a different country than their parents grew up in. This group of urban young middle class is also growing due to urbanization. Many young people decide to move to Vientiane for a job to find their way to the middle class. In practical terms this growing middle class will demand electricity for the housing and electrical appliances and gasoline for vehicles (The number of vehicles in Vientiane has doubled in just one year!). They will demand modern housing, modern shopping possibilities, they will want to travel and they will demand any other entertainment and services we have in the west.
At the same time there is a huge number of people still living in poverty, both in rural and urban Laos. Outside of the stadium you could see the striking contrast of ‘the haves’ and ‘the have-nots’ as people were collecting bottles and paper for their living. It makes you think about the drivers of development in Laos and if there is any chance that in the future the wealth would be more evenly distributed among people. Laos is a country rich in natural resources which, in theory, could take this country and most of its people out of poverty. In reality, of course, things aren’t as straightforward.

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