The middle class is what allows a 3rd world country to become 1st world. The explosion of our mortgage bubble seems to have blown Ireland's middle away. A chunk of people, about a third, who are doing Okay but not enough to be properly rich.
I'm talking about economics, of course, not wishy-washy stuff like "values" and all that.
A lot of people ask me why, given that I never mortgaged up during the bubble, I want some kind of partial debt forgiveness for the people who did. The answer is not generosity, but rather that I really do not want Ireland to become a third world country. And in the absence of a large middle class, nothing else is possible. Right now, a large proportion of people who were born in the 1970s are underwater on the mortgage, and that's killing the economy.
We can see a similar process going on in Spain. Not only that, it's the same thing all over again for them. After Franco took over, a nascent middle class was wiped out and living standards went back to 1880s levels for most of Spain.
Even if you are upper-class, you really should be scared of Ireland taking the 3rd world route. Who's going to take care of you when you're old and sick? It's doubtful that, in a 3rd world situation, governments will be able to get away with subsidising high-quality private health care for the rich with doctors for the poor. The rich are going to have to pay the considerable costs of health care all by themselves. That means that unless you're in the top 1%, you will end up being thankful if you manage to get a trolley in the hall.
Health, infrastructure and other trappings of the 1st world set are all predicated on a large, prosperous middle class. With only a small middle class, those things will necessarily get scaled back.