chapter  6
67 Pages

THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OF GERMANY 1815-70

In the eighteenth century some regions of Germany were amongst the most developed parts of Europe. Not only was this the case but they also had significant advantages for further development. What evidence we have suggests that the western German states were relatively rich countries where per capita incomes were in some cases as high as anywhere in Europe. There was a considerable diversity of manufactures and a plentiful supply of labour already partly employed in industry and practising a wide range of skills from spinning to metal-working. The statistician Dieterici estimated that in the 1820s only about 73 per cent of the population of

Germany was dependent on agriculture for a living, a lower proportion than in late nineteenth-century Russia.1 It was nearer to 60 per cent in Prussia, the largest state. About one-half the value of Prussia's exports in 1828 was manufactured goods, but for Germany as a whole the pattern of foreign trade was still that of an undeveloped country. About 70 per cent of her exports in 1830 consisted of food and raw materials, mainly to the industrialising western countries. In the western areas and in the north-west, the peasantry was less burdened by feudal dues and by central government taxation than in France and most contemporary observers agree that the standard of living of the west German peasant seemed higher than that of his European counterparts. Many states, including Prussia, maintained a system offree primary education and the level ofliteracy was certainly higher in Germany than France. But in the more easterly states the evidence sugg~sts a different story, scarcely any development of manufactures and much lower per capita incomes than in France and its neighbouring areas. In addition the eastern states had less frequently practised policies of peasant protection and the power of the nobility and the importance of the great landed estate as the basic unit of production were both relatively much greater than in the west and as a consequence the social structure was more rigid. In spite of these great differences which persisted throughout the nineteenth century, and which can hardly be described as regional since they were differences between different German countries, the point must be restated that Germany, like France (where there were also, and still are, great regional differences in income and development), was, in eighteenth-century terms, a relatively developed country.