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The Skills Delusion

Everybody agrees that better education and improved skills, for as many people as possible, is crucial to increasing productivity and living standards and to tackling rising inequality. But what if everybody is wrong?

LONDON – Everybody agrees that better education and improved skills, for as many people as possible, is crucial to increasing productivity and living standards and to tackling rising inequality. But what if everybody is wrong?

Most economists are certain that human capital is as important to productivity growth as physical capital. And to some degree, that’s obviously true. Modern economies would not be possible without widespread literacy and numeracy: many emerging economies are held back by inadequate skills.

But one striking feature of the modern economy is how few skilled people are needed to drive crucial areas of economic activity. Facebook has a market value of $374 billion but only 14,500 employees. Microsoft, with a market value of $400 billion, employs just 114,000. GlaxoSmithKline, valued at over $100 billion, has a headcount of just 96,000.

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