Germany has had a streak hotter than the ’96 Chicago Bulls. The German economic model has contributed to European political, economic, and industrial success, but problems are on the horizon.

Germany’s industrial success can be attributed to three trends: a high value-added economy focusing on skilled labor, access to cheap energy and inputs from Russia, and a global trade system facilitated by the US. Now take away all three of those things, mix in an aging population, workforce shortages, and swath of geopolitical challenges, and you’re left with a very scary picture for the Germans (and Europe).

Germany’s role as the hub of multinational manufacturing means that collapse could send ripple effects across Central Europe, with political, economic and strategic implications.

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Hey everybody. Peter Zeihan here, coming to you from the Pacific. Today we’re adding another entry into things that I do and do not worry about, and this one is one that I mostly do worry about, and that’s what happens to Europe, is the German economic model fails. Well, for those of you who don’t live and breathe things German, you basically have three reinforcing trends that have made Germany an industrial superpower, especially for the last 30 years. 

The first one is an extraordinarily high value added economy that is focused on the ultra skilled labor and precision. The problem with that is the German population is aging out and over the next decade they’re going to lose the bulk of that workforce and the retirees are going to start drawing in pensions in health care, instead of paying taxes and providing the capital that’s necessary to keep that high end manufacturing base working. 

So the entire base within the German system is breaking. In addition, number two, relatively cheap, relatively bottomless supplies of energies and inputs from the Russian system, not only those obviously been constrained by sanctions in the Ukraine war, but it was the Germans who did a whole lot of the work in places like Siberia and keeping that production flowing. 

And since the Germans stopped doing that because of the war, we now know that there’s going to be maintenance issues in the Russian system, even if there’s no war damage, even if the sanctions allow the stuff to flow. Now, that’s a little bit loosey goosey. We don’t know how long it’s going to take for this up to go off line, but we know it’s coming. 

And then the third issue is the United States. The Americans have provided warble cover to the world. So that anyone can ship anything anywhere. And the Germans use this before 1990 to ship product primarily to the United States. And more recently, they’ve been using it to ship to China. Well, that’s another country that is facing demographic issues. And there’s a competition between Joe Biden and Donald Trump over who can be more economically protectionist. 

So the entire model is in danger. But the real reason I worry about this is not for Germany per say, but Germany is the hub of a multinational manufacturing system, of which it may be the central and most important part, but it’s hardly the only one. German technology, German training, German infrastructure in German manufacturing supply chains are not contained within Germany. 

They are arguably the single biggest piece of the manufacturing systems in Belgium, in Austria, in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and probably a close second in places like the Netherlands and Denmark. So as the German system fails, even if everyone else demographically is okay and they are not, you’re still looking at the broad scale failure for the entirety of the Central European manufacturing system, and that is going to have any number of rattle on effects politically, economically and strategic. 

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