The Global Auction – why learning isn’t earning any more in the West

There have been some interesting studies of work of late, and I took a read of some of these because the general picture I am getting is that the world of work has been steadily getting more and more horrible since I quit the workforce in 2012. A gem of a book that explains a lot of what is happening to work and what happened to my job is this book, which I discovered while web-ratholing via George Monbiot’s recent column. I was always going to be a sucker for his lede

It’s untenable to let salaried work define us.

although perhaps not so much for his line on volunteering 😉

The book is called The Global Auction: the broken promises of education, jobs and incomes, and as I started reading it I immediately thought of a couple I am vaguely acquainted with who have two children. They’re not rich enough to support their desired lifestyle and send both children to public school, so they send just one. This puzzled me as it seems an obvious way to fund an army of therapists in the troubled adult future of the child who is deemed unworthy, but I suspect that it’s a terrible misallocation of capital even in the case of the Most Favoured Child. It’s not particularly that the Most Favoured one is particularly clever or the Most Unfavoured particularly dimwitted. They’re both probably slightly to the right of the bell curve, for all I know they may well be sharper than I am, but the problem is in the conventional assumptions of their parents, that learning is earning.

The prognosis in the book for Most Favoured Child1 is horrific –

We believe that everyone has a right to know that the opportunity bargain based on better education, better jobs, and better incomes can no longer deliver the American Dream.

interchange the American Dream for middle class couple expecting similar airs and graces for the fruit of their loins and it’s not looking good. Now if you’re rich enough to buy into Eton and the like and are well-connected enough maybe there’s a case, but these aren’t. I’ve thought for the last few years that there’s no point in second-tier public schooling – save the capital and use it to get your offspring on the side of Capital, not Labour from an early age, as well as teaching them the ways of the world and the value of the f**k you fund. It costs £20k a year for a public school, so if that’s from 11 to 18 that’s £140k. This is not loose change for these guys, and pumping it into the black hole of that failing opportunity bargain looks like a serious misallocation of funds if the aim is to buy this child a better life in the Britain they will grow up in.

learning is earning – just not in the West

The Global Auction deconstructs of the problem flagged by Monevator that university has become an unaffordable luxury. There used to be a promise, which held up until about 2000, that better education was a route to better jobs and better incomes. What on earth went wrong?

Globalisation, in a word. The world I grew up in and worked in up until about 2003 was a segmented world – there were ‘head nations’ –  what we know as the West, or the First World, which was where thinking went on. In the early part of my career, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was manufacturing in some select ‘body nations’. The story we told ourselves was this

Within this scenario of a free market, knowledge-driven world, the economic crash was never supposed to happen. We were often told by politicians and business leaders that rising prosperity was not debt driven but a result of smart people using smart technologies in smart ways, creating unprecedented prosperity for the most talented employees and enterprising companies in a burgeoning global economy. It was learning that was earning as the head nations supplied the ideas, technologies, and know-how, while the body nations manufactured a future for themselves. And we could all share in this prosperity if we invested in ourselves by gaining marketable qualifications, skills, and knowledge.

It was a great story, but it was a lie, because our companies have loyalty to their shareholders2 and the executive class, not to nations. The world I grew up and mostly worked had political barriers between nations which were also trade barriers. Made in China was not something I saw until I was nearly halfway through my career.

These barriers slowed technical progress, but they favoured the First World, which had got there first. They favoured me, because of when and where I was born, and I made most of my wealth in this cocooned world. For this I am grateful.

When the barriers fell away, transnational corporations could pursue a Dutch auction for skills, shifting the work to the lowest bidder. That has raised a lot of the world out of poverty and massively increased the global middle classes, but a middle class lifestyle is a lot cheaper in India or China than it is here. The water of wage levels will seek to flow downhill until it finds a balance. In a lot of Asia, learning is earning, particularly in China and India, although the business leaders interviewed in the book say that Indian graduates are easier to apply to global teams because they can speak fluent English, which is important in global teamworking.

There will be serious implications of this global auction for work. One of the ways companies respond is to be come more modular, turning knowledge work into working knowledge, and compartmentalising it more – the analogue of what the assembly line did to artisanal manufacturing. It made it more reproducible and improved productivity.

Same for knowledge work. We may ask why productivity in the UK is stagnating, and that is probably because a lot of knowledge work is being dumbed down or outsourced to where it can be done cheaper.

What’s left is about the top 10% doing well, the middle hollowed out and more low-level work being done manually. In the 1970s car washes were machines. I haven’t seen an automatic car wash for years, but hand car washes are spring up everywhere.  We have graduate baristas and call-centre workers. We have more people working lower down the value chain, as middle-level work is automated or outsourced. The RSA will pick up the narrative later.

I was fortunate enough to be able to run out of the workplace just as this wave was breaking over me. I saw a lot of the processes described in the book in the last few years at the Firm. The global Auction even calls some of the methods Digital Taylorism. I got there first (the book was published by the OUP in 2011).  Not only was there rampant outsourcing of some of the more interesting parts of the job to cheaper areas, but a command and control approach was introduced to permitted innovation and thinking, with a bunch of senior managers called the Star Chamber whose job was to scour projects and skim ideas, preferably outsourcing them and shutting down the rest. For a place that I joined as one of the premier industrial research labs this was a long slide down the value chain, and I hated the regimented approach, particularly as I had known decades of a much greater freedom to think and innovate. This book explains why this happened and the thought processes of the business leaders. It is easier to look at it dispassionately when I am out of  the maelstrom 😉

The problem with university education is twofold now. When I graduated, about 11% of school leavers went to university.

Trends in educational attainment at college level (1991 and 2007), aged 25–34 – The Global Auction, Fig 3.1

This has gone up to nearly half of school leavers. To find the money to expand this so massively, students had to front the money or borrow it, which is obviously a cost on the students. A common and understandable gripe is that previous generations paid nothing, which is true – but far fewer of those previous generations cleared the bar to get in. Three out of four current students wouln’t have made the grade.

It does seem tough that people are being made to pay to devalue the product by increasing the supply of graduates in the UK beyond the demand. At the same time the world supply of graduates is skyrocketing:

The expansion of higher education in selected emerging and developed economies (enrollments), in thousands. The Global Auction, Fig 3.2

China and India are walloping the US and leaving the UK in the dust with the number of graduates hitting the global market. They are not the only ones.

Poland has nearly as many suitable engineers as does much more populous Russia. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Russia together have as many suitable generalists as does India, which has 5 times their total population, and nearly as many suitable engineers. As a result, many countries besides China and India will play a role in the emerging global market for high skilled workers.”

Sizing the Emerging Global Labor Market, The McKinsey Quarterly (August 2005)

Faced with global competiiton from lower cost countries, it is indeed questionable whether many UK school-leavers will see any graduate premium as a return on the £27,000 worth of debt they will incur from the unaffordable luxury. There is also a sheer scale problem

First university degrees in science and engineering fields in Asia, Europe, and North America, by field: 2006 or most recent years (thousands). The Global Auction, Fig 3.2

It is pretty clear that the West will not be a leading centre of science and engineering in the years to come, simply from the numbers of people involved. I had no idea of the scale of this, and these figures are from before the financial crash.

Learning is earning outside the West. In the UK, it is probably true that to be in the top 10% of earners you need to have a tertiary qualification. However, the odds are very tough, if we guess that 50% of school leavers go to university and a degree is necessary but not sufficient to get into the top 10%3, the odds are 4:1 against you. While everybody thinks they are special and will be among the winners4, four will lose the fight. The polarisation of work is such that if you aren’t in the top 10%, you will be one of the losers, and the gale of creative destruction is increasing.

The RSA looks at the same problem from a different angle

The RSA has produced a report called seven portraits of modern work, it is good in that is takes a step back from the obvious issue of how much you get paid and conditions, to look at the individual’s setting in wider society, which in ours in particular means whether the individual is in a family with other working adults and/or dependent children5.

What should you do to have a better experience of work, according to the RSA?

You don’t have to do all of these, but without any you are probably stuffed in 21st century Britain. Having some of these is necessary, but not sufficient to haev a better experience of work –

1) Be clever, preferably in an academic way, in which case go to university and get skilled in something not too susceptible to automation. Note that this ≠ “going to uni” as it is nowadays. Some 44% of school leavers go to university now. It was ~ 11% when I went to Imperial. We haven’t all become cleverer in the intervening 30 years. Before some blighter charges me with being elitist, I suspect I am not personally clever enough to jump over this bar6, I’d guess you have a good chance of following this route if you are in the brightest 5% and happen to be bright in the way Google or high finance finds useful. If younger, these are often RSA’s High Flyers.

2) Have savings. This gets you out of the precariat – you can work flexibly but only if you have enough to smooth things out. These are RSA’s Flexi-workers –

Flexi-workers are among those with the lowest incomes, but they are fairly economically secure with decent savings.[…]

Many flexi-workers (61 percent) are able to depend on others in their household. They are the least likely of all workers to have children to support (79 percent do not have any children under the age of 18). They are nearly twice as likely to own their home outright (47 percent vs 24 percent).

These guys tend to be older. They could be Ermines, or people of my age and older. But there is another way to get ito this group, one that it as old as the hills. It is called inheritance – become a member of the new Aristocracy, if Mummy and Daddy are loaded. Think Petra Ecclestone. Think the Most Favoured Child of the couple mentioned earlier if they hadn’t blown the money on second rate public schooling. If they are younger, they tend to be the RSA’s Strivers, young people with decent savings and hefty earnings but working in hellholes like London, so limited in the housing and kidding aspects of life.

3) Work for the government as a civil servant or in the private sector in manufacturing. These are RSA’s Steady Staters, who seem content with their lot, though the RSA seems to have some pretty horrific prognoses for what will happen to these people’s jobs with automation. They include many office workers. If you are younger, you may be in RSA’s Idealists, working in education or health.

4) Earn shitloads of money. RSA’s high Flyers earn loads, often have a lot of autonomy and often own the business. I suspect these are the guys who are making working life hell for all the rest 😉

Pretty much anybody else is hosed. You can pick out some Do Not’s from the RSA’s groupings:

5) Do not carry loads of Debt – the Acutely Precarious are stuffed. Debt is both a symptom and a cause of financial distress – you get into debt if you don’t have enough coming in relative to your outgoings, but if you carry a lot of debt then that is part of the reason why your outgoings exceed your income.

6) do not be Young.

The acutely precarious are a young segment; 46 percent are under the age of 35. A considerable number are highly educated – 45 percent hold university degrees. Nearly half have  dependent children, who are typically younger than 10 years old. They are more likely to rent than the other segments (44 percent vs 33 percent) and few own their homes outright (13 percent). The acutely precarious are the most likely to be black and minority ethic (BAME).

7) do not have young dependent children

because you’re more likely to be young, in the acutely precarious and chronically precarious segments.

This is not going to a good place

The RSA’s report from the front line and the Global Auction book on the thinking behind transnational companies’ Dutch Auction for ~90% of global talent aren’t showing a lot of love for the dictum

It was learning that was earning as the head nations supplied the ideas, technologies, and know-how, while the body nations manufactured a future for themselves. And we could all share in this prosperity if we invested in ourselves by gaining marketable qualifications, skills, and knowledge.

I believed this right until I exited the workplace, and arguably it worked for me, although the backwash would have taken me down if I hadn’t exited the workplace early. I’m not clever enough to have jumped ship and gone to work for Google.

I didn’t really read that widely about the state of affairs until I left work, you need time and headspace to do that. The scale of Chindia’s progress and the numbers stagger me. There was always a certain arrogance in the doctrine of the head nations and body nations assumption. The West has primarily got first-mover advantage, but there’s no particular difference in smarts, it seems that both India and China ‘s leaderships were up to the task of bringing their workforces close enough to head nation standards of scientific endeavour, the numbers will probably do the rest.

The Global Auction also described the reasoning behind some of the loathsome performance management practices – these are all part of trying to modularise companies and turn knowledge work into working knowledge that is owned by the company not the employee. Modularity makes it easier to set up flash teams drawn from global workers to react quickly to changing customer requirements. But all the digital Taylorism, metrics and monitoring makes for a vile and inhuman workplace for most people.

Living standards in the west are going to go down, although the sum total of living standards across the world will probably go up. That reversal of fortunes makes people angry, people have grown to like the idea their children will be better off than they were. This has not held for most of human history, but the myth of continual progress is deeply embedded in Western culture. It’s the reason so many people are yelling they are mad as hell and are not going to take it any more, see Brexit and Trump

The tragedy is that they are going to take more, until wage levels equalise… The game has changed, and things that used to be ladders have turned into snakes. The world will likely be better off as a whole. In the mean time, get on the winning side, and that is capital at the moment.

The changes won’t happen overnight, but they are well underway. I am pretty sure that in 30 years’ time some common myths will have been laid to rest. Work is the way out of poverty and education is the key to a good job will be two of them. They carried a grain of truth once, but they aren’t true now for an increasing number of people in the West.

  1. The Most Unfavoured Child has the advantage here of knowing that they are unfavoured, their expectations will be lower. The Most Favoured Child will have high expectations because they were MFC, so the gap will be greater as wage levels equalize with the rest of the world. 
  2. I know. That includes anyone on the FI/RE track ;) 
  3. You need to be earning a post-tax household income of > 40k to be in that top 10%
  4. This is due to a combination of the Dunning-Kruger effect and the cognitive bias this Nature paper “Why people prefer unequal societies” summarises “when fairness and equality clash, people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality” 
  5. I started work and established myself (working, buying a house, starting to save for a pension) as a single man, and it hacked me off no end that governments taxed me shitless to favour couples (MIRAS on both earnings, FFS meant I was competing with people richer than my peer group for housing) and then threw money at people to have children when they couldn’t afford it. As the BBC said about the noughties baby boom, Tony Blair was the daddy. I applaud the RSA for widening the search to the household. Since the presence of dependent children and fewer working adults appears to be behind a lot of the misery associated with modern work, it would be good to raise the issue much higher in people’s minds that they may well not be able to afford to have children and achieve a certain lifestyle. 
  6. I was fortunate in that 30 years ago I was bright enough to get into electronics design and then industrial research. A commenter observed that in the 1960’s and 1970’s industry required an unusually high number of people at this level, and I was probably surfing the backwash of this boost. Many of the great industrial research labs of that time have gone. The place at The Firm where I worked is but a pale shadow of its former glory, places like Marconi, GEC, Plessey, Ferranti, EMI Hayes CRL have gone. Britain does have a lot of high-tech industry and research facilities, but these functions are done much more in smaller companies and often as industry/university partnerships. I am temperamentally less suited to these kinds of environments. 

35 thoughts on “The Global Auction – why learning isn’t earning any more in the West”

  1. Congratulations on the intestinal fortitude you showed by reading on after encountering the puke-provoking expression “the American Dream”. Your sterling example shamed me into reading your piece.

    The thing that strikes me is how blind our rulers and masses were to what was coming. When I was a wee lad the only Japanese stuff you saw was pathetic gee-gaws made of pot metal that you won at fairgrounds. When I was an undergraduate suddenly you could buy Japanese motorbikes that were vastly superior to the rubbish made in Britain. (And I bought one, using the cash I’d saved up from my summer jobs as a schoolboy.) Then Japanese cars arrived, and so on, and so on. So what would happen if the Chinese gave up Communism and the Indians Fabian Socialism was reasonably predictable. I suppose people might have subconsciously agreed with the early Dutch and Portugese navigators who thought that the Japanese were easily the most impressive people they’d met on their voyages, and that therefore there was no need to worry about Chinese and Indians. Actually I don’t suppose anything of the sort. I suppose people were just not inclined to think about it. Or, less absurdly, hadn’t realised the speed with which they would reform their economies. Or very absurdly hadn’t realised how numerous the Chinese and Indians are compared to us or the Japanese. Or very, very absurdly told themselves fairy tales of the “shipbuilding’s in our blood” variety.

    As for university: in my day the figures were (if my imperfect memory serves) about 5% in Scotland, fewer in England. Whether it was wise to expand from there I don’t know; I suspect the scale and speed of expansion buggered up some pretty good universities. On the other hand, there would have been a decent case for some expansion anyway as more girls wanted to matriculate. The issue seems to be international (depending on quite what “tertiary education” means).

    The children of your acquaintances: we gave the issue some thought. If you have two children and can afford private schooling for only one, then if one has a weak personality send him to private school. You don’t want him paying heed to the yobbos in your local schools who mock all academic seriousness and effort. A strong-willed child would be capable of ignoring such twerps if his own instincts attract him to learning. If your local state schools should be atypically good and both your children have a backbone, you can save your pennies, unless perhaps there’s an outstandingly good local private day school which you think might suit one or both well. I’ve never understood the attraction of boarding schools for any except a few special categories of families or children. (Though I admit that a son of acquaintances teaches at a state boarding school (did you know the category exists?) and thinks very highly of it.)

    And the young? They’ll have to learn to cope in an unfamiliar world. Many of my generation did. Being young is a grand and glorious thing unless you are a mug. They’ll just have to try and clear their minds of muggishness. It’s a pity that their schools will probably not have equipped them with better tools for thinking with, but there you are – the attempt from the late sixties onwards to bugger up the state schools was a triumphant success. And that may prove to be more important than many of the issues that the RSA discusses.


    1. > I suppose people were just not inclined to think about it.

      I was that guy. Well, at least on the speed of adjustment. Even now I really struggle to get my head round what a population of a billion people actually means – it’s so off the scale.

      The concept of a State boarding school is odd though I note that you do pay £12k p.a for the boarding. I guess it makes sense for people from the Armed Forces and the Foreign Office, if we still have such a thing and it’s taken seriously that is.

      The OECD data puzzles me, I am in the lower part of the 55-64 bracket which claims ~38% tertiary ed, which si at variance with the 11% university entrance when I graduated. So it must include a lot more than university, I didn’t realise Britain had such a large non-university tertiary education at the time. The US looks like an oddball case, too – historically they had a very high tertiary ed since the numbers for the older and younger demographic are very similar. Germany too, though they are happy and successful with only 30%, which should be telling us something…


  2. being in the role of automation I can only agree with you on your conclusions. It’s a cycle of reduction and automation to fill the void which will have inevitable consequences.

    However, the Chindia middle classes are as much at risk of this themselves. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with them you will realise that, much as our current graduate crop, they are quantity, not all quality.

    It makes me very concerned that the resolution might be more 1930s than a gradual adjustment in societies’ organisation.

    Dearieme ‘learn to cope in an unfamiliar world’? You clearly have no idea of what is happening in business currently, if you think post war was a time of change then get ready to be astonished….

    As a little rant: that total &@£#&£ Gove saying the UK will be all electric cars by 2040 – of course it will, by 2030 latest, the manufacturers wouldn’t keep petrol just for one small and poor nation….expectation management I guess.

    Nothing like a free promise is there.


    1. > Chindia middle classes are as much at risk of this themselves.

      The book did acknowledge that, although there was a piece in one chapter on how China is actively managing this by establishing a cluster of lower-cost countries in its sphere of influence. We are more exposed because the general cost fo living is higher here than many places, as shown in the Big Mac index for instance.

      I did have the pleasure of dealing with IT outsourcing in a former life, and agreed, there was plenty of variability. Never, however, were the depths plumbed so deeply as when one British graduate asked “what is the formula for percentage” which I found very disturbing in a graduate 😦


      1. “the attempt from the late sixties onwards to bugger up the state schools was a triumphant success.” We are agreed, then?


      2. > We are agreed, then?

        I went to a grammar school, so escaped that, just about 😉 I did understand in a theoretical and intellectual way the argumts of teachers that I gained and those who failed their eleven plus lost, and that the idea behind comprehensive education was for the academically inclined to drag up the dim bulbs, but observation shows that the dim bulbs tend to gain life satisfaction by thumping the swots. So in that particular area I am similarly reactionary.

        I was taught to read by my mother before starting school, at some point in primary school they paired up the kids that could read with those that couldn’t because they had insufficient teaching staff. I have done my bit for dragging up the dim bulbs there. As a rugrat with no mental model of how people learn, and heck, little mental model of that others are different, it simply baffled me why this was so and I couldn’t see any way other than repetition to improve things, which was boring as hell.

        So no, I am not a believer in mixed ability education, plus to fight Chindia I’d say we need to prioritise the academically able – have a university intake of ~30% and then can fees and get behind these guys. Seems to work for Germany. But I can also see the argument of why the dustman’s taxes should pay for people who will earn more. I guess my taxes paid for schooling though I am child-free, although I do get some benefit from keeping them off the streets 😉 A tough one all round, but it didn’t exercise me since I don’t have a dog in this race.


    2. “if you think post war was a time of change …”: change for whom? For hicks like me to move to a city, to work in what was at the time high-tech industry, to make a living doing mathematical modelling, of all things: that was an enormous change. Or my pal, son of a rural plumber, who became a Regius Professor of Law: no small change either.


    3. > Chindia middle classes are as much at risk of this themselves.

      More in some ways, the West outsourced the low hanging fruit, the easier jobs. These are exactly the roles that will get automated away first. I just read about Foxconn (Apples manufacturer of iPhones) laying off 10,000 staff this year and replacing them with robots.


  3. Agreed.
    Also, I think another reason why productivity is suffering is because we have an army of middle aged junior office workers doing manual labour on skilled salaries – punching numbers into computers under guidance. Perhaps 25 years ago when not everyone could use a computer this was skilled work. Nowadays however, everybody can use a computer just as well as they can use a shovel.
    The only reason why these jobs are not automated yet, is because they are being done cheaply. A so-called robot (which is just a piece of software, really) costs $35k (£25k), is tax deductible just like salaries and there’s no pension or employer NI on it. But there is the hassle factor, since algorithms need maintaining (whenever any of the inputs change even slightly it needs amending). People who are able to do the maintenance are hard to find, expensive, and I personally think it’s better to train in-house resource to do it than try to buy skills. Regardless, this creates a key person dependancy, and you need sufficient scale to justify the overhead.
    In theory with about 4 robots you could replace about 10 employees (robots work 24 hours, don’t take loo breaks) BUT there’s system downtimes, backup processes (mostly scheduled at nighttime and with human employees in mind), so you’d need about 5 maybe 6 robots to replace 10 people, plus the cost of the robot supervisor, that would be c. £70k plus bonus, pension and NI. In such cases when there’s no massive scale to justify automation, there’s an equilibrium point where – so long as humans are cheap – they can be as cost effective as machines. But whoever thinks that there’s a lot of room for growth in salaries are deluding themselves.
    That’s why I think Brexit is dangerous. 1% of 7 billion is 70 million and I’m not among the 1% of the smartest by any definition. What Europe did was smart – they bunched together so there’s enough critical mass to keep the hive warm, and then built a wall around it, so the wealth accumulated by robbing the rest of the world since the times of Alexander doesn’t seep out as quickly as it might otherwise. Now Britain is leaving the boring lagoon to try its luck on the other side of the reef.
    Well, I hope it doesn’t end like this:


    1. I’m with the hawk. The world doesn’t need more rodents 😉 Maybe not in the context of the rest of the analogy, though!

      I spent most of my career trying to stay in that “key person dependancy” zone – heck the last three years as I saved enough to run out early was because I was the only guy in The Firm that understood a particular technology 😉 I am Ermine, not a Number and all that.

      Interesting take on the EU. As Chirac said, in the battle between the sword and the shield, the sword always wins, but that accumulated capital is an extra trick for the shield. The sword will gain by compounding, of course, but perhaps the time the capital buys would have been good for a generation.


      1. It might have been enough for several generations. The sword may lose interest or find an easier target, and in the meantime the winds of change may change in both strength and direction. In yacht racing, when you know you’ll have to tack to reach the buoy, start out on the tack that takes you closest to the buoy – wind can change direction while you’re sailing towards it.


  4. You forget everyone over 18 in the west has a vote. People seem to be just rediscovering they can use them like toddlers learning to walk


  5. @ Ermine – thank you for the thoughtful analysis, it is fascinating, what is most surreal is reading that, then looking out of my window, seeing people wandering around with their daily lives & knowing that most are absolutely oblivious that things have changed forever. It puts us in the advantageous position of having an eye in the valley of the blind – not even because we’re necessarily smart, just willing to look through the gaps between our fingers when peeping at the scary, scary future.

    Every empire eventually dissolves …..& while that might not be due to complacency alone, complacency always plays a role in precipitating or exacerbating the decline & fall. The arrogance of the 1st world, for the last generation or two has allowed the likes of China & India to quietly, patiently play us at our own game of exploiting the rest of the planet – only, by being hungrier & not underestimating us, they’re better at it, while we’re rusty. At the root of our complacency is arrogance born of ignorance, the belief even if only subliminal, that we’re superior to other cultures, still on display by colonel Blimp types today yearning for the good times of imperialism, even while denying that that was just a thinly veiled enslavement of others. Even now, with the evidence all around us that we’ve ceded the baton of global power to the East, you get the various dinosaurs publically declaring that Britain is the best in the world at this, that or the other.

    The quality of our leadership rises & falls naturally with time, but here, when wisdom is needed most, it is plumbing the depths of the light brigade …….charging out of fortress Europe to trust in better treatment from everyone else – most of whom are still smarting from their experiences at our hands under colonial rule – in living memory. What could possibly go wrong?


    1. I don’t think it’s subliminal at all. BoJo muttering the road to Mandalay FFS, there was once a time when you’d get sacked for that sort of thing. You can think it all you like, just keep yer effing gob shut and behave. And as for that fellow Jacob Rees-Mogg, this is a dude who’s the spitting image of Bertie Wooster but without the charm, and more intellect. Of course he want to bring it on, he’s rich enough to survive the fallout, and have a jolly good wheeze in the fallout. Jeeves will clear up the mess, in the same way as Nanny will clear up Sixtus’ mess – he’s never had to learn to take responsibility for his actions. That’s quite disturbing for a putative leader


      1. ‘I don’t think it’s subliminal at all’ – agreed, I was being diplomatic for the swathe of the populace that claim they’re not bigots, while comically not realising that they’re actually so bigoted that they can’t even see it. Quick example, complimenting foreigners born here for speaking intelligible English, while having no other language themselves, casual, mindless ignorance, where no harm is even intended.

        I had the good fortune to travel a bit in life to date & always took any opportunity to learn/study – both of which expose you to other peoples & therefore cultures. I noticed as a result, that since a lot of the former colonies were freed in the early-mid 60’s, their rulers today are of an age where they saw their elders humiliated, their countries pillaged & their cultures defiled in the colonial ‘civilisational’ effort. I studied in the UK at various universities with the children of this generation & once their trust was gained, it was discomforting to realise, but totally understandable how much resentment they still had. Those who rise to power are the elites of their places of origin, so their families would have most likely been involved in resisting foreign occupation & paid the price, in lost business, land, members etc.

        I’m not even making a political point here, just stating obvious facts, the wheel of life has turned, it’s payback time, former colonials of all nationalities go now as ‘business-people’ to hustle for contracts to the very people who’ve waited their whole lives to avenge what happened to their families from us. Injustice is ingrained in all primates at least, there are comical experiments showing how angry monkey get at favourable treatment shown to others, why would humans be different, I’m just stating the facts; so in the shoes of people we oppressed would I be different? Hell, no, I have no interest in being a saint.

        People are hugely resistant to change, so the only way I see anything meaningful changing, is when the current ruling generation die out …….& this is the one thing money can’t buy, as time marches on, irrespective of who you are & it is only what the next generation wants that will count. In the UK, all the young have evidence of, is: no job, accommodation, health or old age security, to look forward to – so I’d be surprised if they respect the advice of their elder generations who created this situation for them.


      2. their rulers today are of an age where they saw their elders humiliated

        Yeah, I’m surprised at many off the older toff Brexiters fond memories of Empire and their feeling that the erstwhile Commonwealth will be so joyful in getting together again with these golden memories. Some of the stories I heard about the Partition are absolutely blood-curdling. Indians are probably happy about having English as a lingua franca nowadays, at least for their upwardly mobile people, but I’m not sure the love will go that much further than that… Particularly if the tin-eared BoJo is going to be our ambassador to the world!

        In fact the whole of Britain seems to be afflicted with a strong sense of the inward-looking navel-gazing, which isn’t really the go-getting outward-looking trading buccaneering spirit we are supposed to be having. It baffles me that the band of Brexit-negotiating wing-nuts have failed to get a single concession out of the EU that I can detect so far. There’s probably not a tremendous amount of animus between the EU and the UK at the moment, God knows what it’ll be like when we try and negotiate with the US or the Chinese. @hosimpson’s hawk springs to mind.


  6. You can sing “Ein feste Burg ist unser EU” as loudly as you like. You’re being as deluded as all those people who ranted on – I do remember them – about how British motorbikes were better than Japanese.


  7. I think you missed something off your list – get a non-academic, skilled job. From where I sit I can’t see automation replacing the need for skilled tradespeople anytime soon, even with the shift to off-site manufacturing. It might not appear as palatable to people brought up with the notion that university is the only option for someone with good grades but many roles require clever people and can be more rewarding than being an office goon. Clearly everyone becoming a tradesperson is not going to work either.


    1. Absolutely agreed, I should have picked this up even where the RSA missed. One issue that seems to be for people doing this kind of work I know of is that cashflow seems to be a bear, not only in regard of tools and plant but also frequent retraining to keep up with regulatory change. But most are doing well.


  8. ‘ get a non-academic, skilled job. From where I sit I can’t see automation replacing the need for skilled tradespeople anytime soon’

    until those trades become commoditised. Once items become so cheap it is more cost effective to recycle and replace than repair. When was the last time you called a TV repairer? I rcall businesses in town that specialised in repairing white goods once.


    1. Perhaps you mean electricians and the like? I’m almost certain their income is somehow a proportion of the national median income, reductio ad absurdum as we mathematicians like to finish with.


      1. I repair consumer electronics myself, though not for anyone else 😉 But then most trouble is power supplies, connectors. Having said that I repaired our dishwasher, which was a question of replacing the heating element that had gone leaky to ground. I was surprised to discover that there were people who would come out and repair white goods. It was a little bit of a struggle to work out which way to go with that one, because I had to test conclusively the old element was at fault. A repairman would know the most likely component to give that fault and simply change it, I had to infer it from first principles and then test the hypothesis, else I would be changing costly parts needlessly.

        The bargeboards and soffits need replacing on my house, I can’t be bothered with wrangling that sort of aggravation up on a ladder, so I’m happy to pay someone to do that – skilled trades will still have a place. True, as the national income goes down fewer people will be able to afford that.

        However, the 10% will probably continue to do well. They will probably be time-poor and cash-rich. After all, it was just over a hundred years ago that the lord and lady upstairs had a bunch of domestic staff to run their households. Jacob Rees-Mogg is trailblazing the way there, where Nanny deals with the mewling and puking aspects of his infants. I suspect that is one way things could go.


    2. I think theres an efficency limit on the commoditisation. Even if that is the case, someone has to replace them. Existing assets/buildings have not been built in a way which allows for easy replacement. Sure you can replace a tv, but currently it a required a lot more skill for an hvac or electrical system and that isn’t an easy thing to automate on our rather varied stock of buildings and assets.


  9. Ermine, it seems difficult to imagine any domestic small or sole trader business directly tied into uk consumer spending will avoid to be correlated to that., unless they have some edge….they would, by definition, not be your ‘average’ tradesperson.


    1. I think it will metamorphise – after all in the past we had people catering to the rich. A lot will be shaken out, for sure, from serving say 50% of people now to serving 10%. There are some things now that make my jaw drop, dial-a-dog-wash, people who will stand in line for you to get the latest iFad, people who will post you snacks


      1. In Australia it is already the case that skilled but not university educated people do well. Not only that but these trades are held in high esteem and viewed as a viable option for those who are not academic. It would not be uncommon in an Australian family for one child to be a professional (eg accountant), another to be a policeman and another a tradesman. The fetish of a university education is not as pervasive here. I suspect the problem in the UK is the corrosive, ugly class divide. The idea of being seen as working class even if well off is unbearable for middle class Britons.


  10. Well that was a depressingly logical post. Glad someone else thinks 50%of people going to uni is madness I’m 37 and was brought up in private education. Most kids who went to my primary school went on to Eton, Bradfield oratory etc. I actually chose a more normal albeit still fee paying school because I said to my dad at the time (who comes from working class background) if I carry on in this I’m literally not going to be able to relate to normal people. I never went to uni in the end but did further education in my job and the best thing I learnt to be honest is the ability to talk to all sectors. I think alot of people from that background have everything handed to them and it’s a shock to find out in the real world they aren’t that special


      1. You can take a look at some of Hans’s Trendalyser data on various human development indicators yourself on the Google version of that. Interestingly there’s the possibility of using that on your own data – could be tempting to try feeding it my HYP data, in terms of stock date purchased and the accumulating returns. I have this data in a spreadsheet, collated yearly.


  11. ‘It does seem tough that people are being made to pay to devalue the product by increasing the supply of graduates in the UK beyond the demand’

    A work colleague has a child who’s just been accepted [by more than one university] with shocking grades, for actual serious subjects – IT & math related. When I started work, a school leaver would have had to go to the back of the queue with those results just to get an ordinary job – I had to repeat a couple of exams just to get an overall score high enough to get into university.

    Seeing how the present-day higher-education system has morphed into a university-industrial complex, [whose primary aim is profit maximisation via the harshest corporate practices, as opposed to educating people] I can only assume they are so flexible on the intakes’ grades because they’re irrelevant to their goal. This is actually cruel to the next generation, they’re being blatantly sold an expensive, outright lie that they can’t afford, so will start life with a handicap as opposed to the advantage stated on the promise. If the real qualifier to enter ‘higher education’ now is only the ability to borrow in these easy-money times, then it must be a warning that the products [degrees] are probably worthless. As such, it may not be illegal, but on the duckwalk test, its miss-selling that dare not speak it’s name.


  12. I don’t think the situation is much different in Canada than it is in the UK. Comparing the prospects of young Canadians 50 years ago when I started to today:
    STEM and Business grads:
    THEN – You had an excellent chance of a decent career and life.
    NOW -better get a postgrad degree. You’ll face brutal competition but if you work your butt off you’ll be okay.
    Arts and Social Science grads:
    THEN – You had to hustle but you could make it.
    NOW – You better have a secondary skill or you’ll be a barista. My niece who trained as a history teacher is having fun working as a cruise ship entertainment director. She can dance and schmooze with the best of them.
    Skilled Trades:
    THEN – Always in demand and employed.
    NOW – You may be freelancing and benefits aren’t as good, but you can survive.
    High School and Less:
    THEN – You’d be on an assembly line but you could feed your family and you had a decent pension at the end.
    NOW – You are really screwed.


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