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A comment I made on Quora in response to a thread discussing problems in England:

Right but this death of the middle is not just some weird British mental quirk. It's to do with the structure of the economy.

The problem with Britain is that, despite kicking off the industrial revolution, it decided that it didn't really want anything to do with industry. But it's manufacturing (and a tightly coupled product design) which is where all those middle-earning, interesting and wealth creating jobs / lives are.

When we decided to be a nation of shopkeepers and financiers we choose an economy that polarized between casual service-work in the retail sector and a socially-networked financial elite.

Without product design and manufacturing you can't hope to get rich by actually making something. You can only hope to get rich by trading (which is another way of saying you only get rich by exploiting differences in knowledge / information between the people at either end of your trade.)

But you can only get exploitable knowledge from social connections. So the elite congeal around the old-boys network (or a young hipster network of new media, social enterprise and startups); while the disconnected underclass might as well chillax and enjoy themselves because there are no other opportunities for them.

If there was manufacturing and engineering - jobs which depend on what you know not who you know - it would be worth taking school seriously and learning skills and "a trade". With a service-based economy, the only attributes that matter are the soft skills that school can't teach you and social connections that the wrong school can't give you.

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