To deal with this subject in full and in detail would take many thousands of words. This bare sketch can only be a slight introduction. The word “Mittelstand”, see Wikipedia, is German and refers to the extent of middle and small sized businesses at the heart of the economies of Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
Such businesses were also at the heart of other western economies at one time and the changes that have occurred are part and parcel of the deteriorating conditions that are affecting so many of these others.
Essentially, between 1950 and 1990, Germany and Austria were no longer powers with any major military commitment or much of a role on the world stage. They were able to attend to their own affairs and concentrate on wealth creation, trade and building democratic and socially integrated nations. In this way they followed Switzerland who had kept out of wars and major foreign commitments.
In Austria the peculiar situation meant that Vienna did not exert the economic dominance over the rest of the country that occurred elsewhere. Switzerland has been a Confederation for centuries with Bern as its political capital since 1848 but with economic and other controls highly dispersed.
In West Germany the political capital was Bonn, a small town with the economic clout elsewhere, notably Frankfurt, but with extensive devolved authority to other major cities and centres of trade.
It was a Federal State and the consequence of this between politics and finance was to support and assist industry and trade across the board, large and small, creating a formidable strength and depth.
When I began to revisit Germany in the late 70’s the contrast between what was going on in the UK and the extent of the revival and capability of German economic activity came as a shock. The contrast with the Germany I had seen under Occupation with that of 25 years later was stark, almost as much as the decline I was witnessing in the UK.
The USA being very big, a Federal State and with its belief in enterprise and the creation of wealth also had an economy which was not the same as that of the German, but certainly widely dispersed, vigorous and allowed to develop without too much in the way of control. Also, middle and small companies had good access to capital and funding and were integrated politically into its democratic system.
In the USA now the events of the last decade coupled with the errors of the previous one have now triggered what could be a severe decline in this Mittelstand and maybe with the risk of collapse. Financial power has become too concentrated on Wall Street and Washington DC has become too inward looking and dominating in economic affairs.
The loss of flexibility, incentive, capital and the gross distortions of the financial markets in the USA have all conspired to seriously damage the basis and the functioning of the middle and lower and have shifted too much power, control and money to too limited a group of big business operations. This is not capitalism, it is oligarchy.
In the UK recently we have opened our doors to and showered favours and finance on the oligarchs of the world. But between 1950 and 2010 the centralisation of government, the concentration of economic decisions, the extensive and costly interference across the board have imposed intolerable burdens on the middle and lower sectors of business and trade.
Between 1945 and 1980 in order to prop up large scale declining industries and activities the political imperatives were to extract from profitable business so much as to deny it the ability to create its own capital. Central controls of capital made matters worse.
Neither the banks nor the City did much if anything for the UK Mittelstand, essentially chasing financial butterflies across the world instead, with the encouragement of one government or another, all London centric.
The result was to put areas with a strong UK Mittelstand into decline without saving the old industries. Given the extreme centralisation of the Westminster system the UK economy became more and more dependent on the City and other service activity. Our Mittelstand is now only a shadow of what it once was.
Just look at the UK political parties and their actual membership and see where their money comes from and who they work for. It is certainly not the middle and lower reaches of the economy, it is all for the big boys with deep pockets and the ability to walk in the back doors of 10 and 11 Downing Street at any time.
In Germany their prime concern about the Euro and its troubles is not just the issues for its many banks, it is for the Mittelstand at the heart of their economy. They now have the problem that Berlin may have become too powerful.
The USA is in economic cardiac arrest. In the UK the vampires have already done their worst.
How can the UK begin to rebuild its Mittelstand? Because if it cannot; then the game is well and truly up.